Getting a Great Guitar Tone: Part 2

As discussed in my last post, tone is a very personal thing and what I enjoy may not be loved by each and every person.  With that in mind, this will be a general article. I’m not going to tell you to buy this or that, but rather try to encourage you to explore your options. I would highly recommend that you experiment and research what your looking for so as to not waste time and money. A tip is to use websites like craigslist or ebay, where great or hard to find gear can be acquired at pennies on the dollar. I know many guitarist and musicians in general do this with great success. So on to the article……

SMG_Guitar_Pedal

This week I would like to discuss pedals and effects. Besides having a quality amp and a great guitar, owning a few or several pedals can open up a world of tonal possibilities you may never have even knew existed. Guitar effect pedals are usually left between the guitar and front of the amp, although some pedals can be run through the effects loop with better results (delay pedals) or different sonic ranges.

Another cool thing with pedals is how they interact with one another and how putting them in different orders between your guitar and amp can yield vastly different tones. Remember that you must experiment a bit to find the tones you hear in your head.

The most common effect pedals are; overdrive, distortion, chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo, wah, reverb, and delay. Some other effects not as commonly used but just as cool are ring modulators, harmony/pitch shifting pedals, compressors, looper, octave, and synth. Lets look at each one individually.

Overdrive: Overdrive pedals are cool in a few ways that I know of. The first is in front of an already gainy Marshall type amp. If you crank the level, keep the gain low and the tone in the middle you can
make your amp a tight hard rock/metal sounding monster. When this is done the amp gets added compression and punch so playing seems easier and the amp is more fluid sounding. Many players like Zakk Wylde do this for their core sound. Also, in front of a clean amp you can use an overdrive pedal to get a nice gritty sound for blues or some classic rock.

Distortion: Distortion pedals are cool for many of the same things I mentioned with overdrive pedals. The difference is that these pedals have more gain and can get a much heavier sound when used with a clean amp.

Chorus: Chorus pedals add a nice sparkle or depth to your tone. When I think of chorus pedals I think of guys in hard rock bands using them to add a depth or width to their tones. On the other hand, using chorus pedals can add a certain wetness to your sound which take away from the amp’s attack and punchiness. I use the beginning of Knocking on Heaven’s Door by Guns N Roses as a reference.

Flanger: My personal favorite effect…sorry I had to interject that point. These pedals can give you the jet plane taking off sound, to a crazy vibrato warble, to just about any crazy demented sound you have in mind. They are similar to chorus in that they thicken the tone as well, but add a certain wetness that some won’t like. Listen to Van Halen’s Unchained for a good example.

Phaser: When I think of phasers I think Eddie Van Halen. He would often leave one on for many rhythm and lead parts. It would add this sort of rising and falling sound, which is the phasing sound. Again, these are similar to chorus and flanger pedals.

Tremolo: This effect is often heard on old 50s and 60s surf rock. It sounds like the amp is increasing and decreasing in volume. When sped up super fast they sound intense and kind of like a chocking on and off sound. Think about the beginning of Green Day’s Blvd of Broken Dreams.

Wah: The most used, abused and often overused effect. From Clapton, to Hendrix, to Slash to virtually every rock player, this effect is king. It mimics the sound of turning the tone pot from bass to treble on your guitar. It’s a very vocal effect and can be used to express yourself by making the guitar speak. My favorite wah song is Hendrix’s Voodoo Chile.

Reverb: Reverb is basically another way of saying echo. Its like standing in a big room and letting the air and largeness of the room hold your sound.  Also in front of a clean amp this effect makes your sound insanely lush and pretty, a la Santana.

Delay: Delay is another personal favorite of mine. Delay is basically a step past reverb in that it is echo but it also adds repeats to your playing. So you can play a note and that note will keep echoing or repeating for a length of your choosing. Playing lead guitar with some delay added in is an amazing sound that can make you sound like a million bucks. Also add it to your rhythm playing like the Edge from U2 for a cool layered type sound.

For other effects like synths, ring modulators and pitch shifters look into what is out there. Musician’s friend and other online music stores have a huge catalog on gear. I would investigate into what you like and see how it is done. Also check out effects on youtube because people like to post videos showing off the cool tones they are getting from their gear. Often times as a kid I would try and read articles on my favorite players to see the gear they used. Now you can simply google “Slash Guitar Gear” and within seconds have an idea of how Slash gets his sound.

While you now know about the basics of using guitar effects, remember that effects are meant to take your playing to a new level, and not to make up for not being able to play. Start with your dry or ‘uneffected’ sound and go from there. As you begin to add in effects, remember that it all starts with your hands and most importantly, your guitar.

  • Mickey Richardson

    I haven’t ventured into effects much. This gives me a very good starting point for how to search and go about finding that sound I need. Great post, thanks Brian!

Subscribe to SMG Podcasts!
Download the latest show
from iTunes >>>