Guitar effects (or FX) are devices that you plug between your guitar and amplifier to alter the sound. Guitar effects are usually implemented as pedals. There’s a vast selection of these little devices from a variety of manufacturers, and in all price ranges. You can buy individual guitar effects or get a suite of effects in an all-in-one package.
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Guitar Effects Pedals or “Stomp Boxes”
Most guitar effects are pedals or “stomp boxes” that sit on the floor. You set up the effect with the various knobs and settings. When playing, you step on the pedal to turn it on or off.
There are all sorts of flavors and types of guitar effects. Some of the more popular guitar effects include:
- Distortion/overdrive: Distortion is technically not an effect. Any amp can be driven to distortion. The distortion pedal lets you control the distortion and the volume level, giving you a variety of distortion and overdrive sounds.
- Chorus: This popular guitar effect creates the sound of many guitars playing at once. This fatter, warbling sound is common in pop records from the 1970s to the present.
- Delay: Delay is one of the oldest guitar effects. Before the microchip, this effect was created by recording a magnet tape loop and playing it back moments later. Today, this effect is created digitally.
- Wah wah:
This device and the term “wah wah” referred to the sound produced by trumpeters who held a mute at the bell of the horm and fluttered it to create wah wah sounds. Unlike a stomp box pedal, the player creates the wah wah effect by rocking the pedal back and forth. Jimi Hendrix made the wah wah a popular effect in his day.
- Reverb: This is an echo effect like playing in a large, empty room. Some amps include a reverb setting, but a pedal effect gives you control over the shaping of the reverb sound.
- Pitch shifter: Also known as a harmonizer, this guitar effect splits your signal into two paths. One path is the original signal, the other path is set by the player, such as a major third. This lets you play harmony by yourself. A popular fixed-interval shifter is an octave shifter. This lets you set the interval at one octave, two octaves, or both. Jimi Hendrix used this effect in his music.
Single guitar effects vs. multi-effects units
You can buy individual guitar or multi-effects units. Individual pedals are convenient because you can buy them one at a time. You can chain multiple pedals together and choose to use them in the chain or not.
Multi-effect units are programmable. You can store different settings in the effects and store them in the the single housing with multiple pedals. Multi-effects units can do virtually anything that single pedals can do. Guitarists who use a lot of effects eventually buy one. You can use individual pedals with multi-effect units. The price range for guitar multi-effects units is $150 to $1,500.