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Guitar distortion pedals. Delay pedals. Overdrive pedals.

So many pedals, so little time. If you’ve ever wondered why you see such expanding rows of electronic devices laid out at guitarists’ feet during live shows, it’s all because of pedals (“guitar multi effects pedals” for long). Pedals, also occasionally called stomp boxes, can be lined up in rows as part of what’s called a pedalboard and synced up with each other to create a guitar player’s signature tone.

Ever heard The White Stripes’ “Seven Nation Army”? Though the main riff that propels that song sounds like it was played on a bass, it was actually done with Jack White’s signature vintage red Gretsch guitar filtered through an octave-lowering pedal. Along with amplifiers and guitars themselves, pedals are probably the most important pieces of sound equipment that musicians bring with them on tour as well as in the studio.

So, which ones should you start experimenting with? In short, all of them. But for a more practical player, here’s a beginner’s guide to pedal essentials.


What It Sounds Like: These are technically two different tones but they’re often grouped together because of the similar crunchy, scratchy tones they produce. Metal musicians use guitar distortion quite extensively in order to achieve a darker, heavier sound, while fuzz boxes tend to provide a bit more warmth and less screeching.

How Much It Costs: Depends on which ones you go for, but most decent starter packs will run you at least $50. As you improve your dexterity (and your ear), you can opt for the bigger stuff like Pigtronix’s PolySaturator for $100 and up.

Delay, Loop, Echo

What It Sounds Like: With their inherent dreamy qualities, delay pedals, loopers and echo tones do wonders for creating atmosphere within your guitar’s general sound. All are more or less self-explanatory in name, but the point is to blend them with other effects (like fuzz) in order to achieve a tone that’s entirely unique and richer than a generic clean tone.

How Much It Costs: Cheap echo pedals can go as low as $15, but those won’t hold up in a professional studio. For serious players, consider anything over $75 — but again, it’s not about the cost of the equipment but how it sounds inside your ears (and how it feels when you kick it into action).

Phaser, Flange, Chorus

What It Sounds Like: Use chorus pedals to make your guitar sound like five guitars. Use phaser and flange to digitally manipulate your sound and twist it around on top of itself for an entirely spacey, psychedelic creation. Use all three together to blast off into the cosmos. Any questions?

How Much It Costs: You’re not going to run into any starter-level pedals that cost an arm and a leg, but keep in mind that it’s about tone, not price tag. It’s always best to try out the effects you like right inside the guitar shop before you take one home to try out in your bedroom.

If you have to start anywhere, though, start with guitar distortion (and a I-IV-V power chord progression). That’s the foundation rock and roll was built upon. Ger more information on this topic here.