Types of Guitar Pedals: The Ultimate Guide

Types of guitar pedals unlock a whole world of tonal possibility for us as guitarists. In this guide we’re going to tell you everything you need to know about guitar pedals.

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In this free lesson you learn:

  • 20 pedal types that every guitarist must-know.
  • Our top 10 favourite guitar pedals of all time.
  • 5 easy tips which will transform your guitar tone and make you sound amazing.

An Intro to Types of Guitar Pedals

The guitar pedal world is a universe all its own inside the guitar world.

  • Every type of musical (and non-musical) effect you can think of has at some point been packaged into a guitar pedal and sold to the music world.
  • Guitar pedals are a fantastic way to help us create new sounds with our instrument and explore the sonic universes inside our head.
  • Be warned before we jump into this article – Once you’re exposed to all of the unique types of guitar pedals, you’ll be fascinated and (most likely) become obsessed.

Don’t say we didn’t warn you. Now let’s talk tone.

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Why Should We Use Guitar Pedals?

Different types of guitar pedals offer us different approaches to our guitar tone. 

  • These pedals can be organised into broad categories based on their function.
  • One of the best parts about being a guitarist (besides playing the guitar) is building your own pedalboard.

Once we have educated ourselves on what different types of guitar pedals do and how they function, we can combine and wire them together to help us construct our individual guitar tone.

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Learning about different types of guitar pedals is beneficial as they help us tap into a world of tone beyond our amplifiers.

Guitar pedals are fantastic as they can be triggered off and on at will, and many guitarists will perform with a pedalboard of some sort at the front of the stage to help them better control their sound.

Guitar pedals give us control over our sound and dynamics, and as guitarists we all would like a bit more say in how we sound.

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Let’s break down the different types of guitar pedals below:

Types of Guitar Pedals: Gain Effects

Gain effects control our loudness, as well as how much our signal distorts and breaks up. 

  • Often simply referred to as ‘distortion pedals,’ gain effects actually consist not only of distortion pedals, but overdrives and fuzz pedals as well.
  • Overdrive pedals are designed to simulate the sound of a tube amp ‘breaking up’ to give our signal a boost.

These are often also referred to as boost or crunch pedals. These make great additions to the rig of any lead guitarist.

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Distortion pedals house the sounds we often here in punk and metal – simulating a hard-clipped amp and oozing with bite, these pedals are great for the rhythm or lead guitarist that likes to go to 11.

Fuzz pedals are often associated with the sounds of Jimi Hendrix, who would push his Marshall amps to their absolute limits using a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face pedal to break up his signal. Fuzz pedals have a nastier, grittier tone with less definition than an overdrive or distortion pedal.

Pedal Recommendations: Fulltone OCD // Ibanez Tube Screamer // BOSS DS1 // Dunlop JDF2 Fuzz Face

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Types of Guitar Pedals: Compressors

These types of guitar pedals are a fantastic way to tighten our signal and brighten our tone without experiencing any signal loss. 

Compressors bring our guitar’s dynamic range up-front and balance the difference in tone between the bass and treble strings.

A balanced signal and volume is important. The guitar is an extremely dynamic instrument, and being able to keep a consistent volume and dynamic range helps us sound great.

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Have you ever heard a funk song with a really spanky guitar sound that’s thin, but still warm instead of cold and brittle? That’s the sound of a compressor keeping things even.

  • Think of a compressor as a pedal with a floor and ceiling that can be raised or lowered.
  • These types of guitar pedals also help us stay loud and audible even at low volumes, making them ideal for use in a recording environment.

Whether you’re at home, on stage or in the studio, compressors are a great addition to any guitarist’s rig regardless of genre.

Pedal Recommendation: Diamond Compressor

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Types of Guitar Pedals: Pitch Effects

As the name implies, these types of effects can affect the pitch of our guitar in different ways. 

  • Harmonizers, Octave pedals, Pitch Shifters and even Tuners all fall under this category of guitar pedal.
  • Harmonizers are fantastic for creating the illusion of two guitars where there is only one. They can also be dialed to simulate different types of harmonies (perfect 5th, major 3rd, etc).

Octave pedals are designed to raise or lower the octave we are playing in. Due to the fact guitars are limited in their frequency range, these types of guitar pedals are excellent for helping us hit those low notes we could not hit otherwise.

Check out ‘Blue Orchid’ by the White Stripes to hear an octave pedal in action.

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Pitch shifters can move the pitch of our guitar around more freely in different musical intervals, rather than just by the octave.

  • These can be paired with expression pedals to control the pitch of our guitar more accurately.
  • Check out the demo of the EHX Pitch Fork here to see more of what that sounds like.

Pitch effects can help us unlock new dimensions of tone through blending the sound of our guitar naturally with different harmonies. Don’t be afraid to experiment!

Pedal Recommendations: TC Electronics Quintessence Harmonizer // Digitech Drop // BOSS PS5 Super Shifter // TC Electronics Polytune 

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Types of Guitar Pedals: Modulation

Modulators are all of the weird and warbly sounds we can get with the guitar. 

Effects such as Chorus, Flanger, Phaser and Vibrato all fall under the modulation umbrella.

These sounds are made to simulate different varieties of rotating speakers and their various characteristics.

Fun Pedal Fact!

Many of these effects were produced using a doubled track played through a rotary speaker that would rotate at varying speeds, creating different effects to accompany the original track.

Years after their discovery, many of these sounds were packaged into the different types of guitar pedals we know now.

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Chorus pedals create a beautiful, watery atmosphere and are made by doubling your guitar signal and throwing it slightly out of time (or what we call ‘out of phase’). This creates a light warbling sound, giving motion to the guitar.

Flangers function the same by doubling your guitar signal, but are closer to the sound of tape being slowed down than a Chorus.

Phasers double our signal as well, but rotate the second signal in and out of phase with the first to create a deeper sense of motion.

Vibratos modulate our doubled signal to sound as though the pitch is constantly being pushed slightly up and down, similar to a whammy bar.

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Pedal Recommendations: Danelectro FAB Chorus //  BOSS BF-3 // MXR Phase-90 // TC Electronics Shaker Vibrato 

Types of Guitar Pedals: Volume Pedals

Volume pedals do exactly what you think they do – They control or affect the volume of our guitar. 

  • These types of guitar pedals are constructed on what we call a rocker.
  • Put your horns down, it’s not that rocker.
  • Rockers are pedals that we can lay our foot on top of and ‘rock’ back and forth with.

Volume pedals are made this way to enable us to slowly ‘swell’ our volume up and down, as well as to quickly turn ourselves up when needed.

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Writer’s Recommendation: Volume pedals like the Ernie Ball MVP can also have a Gain function that can help us add a touch of bite to our signal.

These pedals are fantastic for the guitarist who is building a medium to large-size pedalboard and wants more overall control of their signal.

The springs that control the rocker function of the pedal can wear with use, but they are a cheap and easy fix!

A volume pedal should definitely live in every guitarist’s pedalboard.

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Types of Guitar Pedals: Filter Effects

These types of guitar pedals focus on filtering in (or out) different parts of our guitar’s sound, and will change the shape of any sound that is run through it.

  • EQ pedals help us to craft our guitar’s sound through better frequency control. The guitar is a dynamic instrument, and sometimes when playing with other musicians, it can become muddy in the mix.
  • EQ types of guitar pedals help us filter out any unwanted or unneeded frequencies.

Wah pedals add their own element to our playing, and were made famous by Jimi Hendrix in ‘Voodoo Child’

Like a volume pedal, Wah pedals are built on a rocker so we can adjust the filter of the wah as we play.

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Envelope filters are also referred to as auto-wahs and can serve a similar purpose as a Wah pedal without the rocker system.

Envelope filters can be set to affect and change certain parts of our signal, resulting in an often quacky-sounding guitar tone.

These types of guitar pedals are great for funk music. Click here to hear to the EHX Q-Tron.

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Types of Guitar Pedals: Time-Based Effects

Time-based effects are amazing for adding some space in our guitar’s sound.

  • Delays produce an echo effect that can be set to different note values and durations of time.
  • Many delay pedals will have a reverse function as well, so you can experiment with ambience in your tone.
  • For more ambience, reverb pedals add ambience and space under our guitar to make it sound wider and larger.

These types of guitar pedals can also be set to different time values to prevent them from washing out your signal.

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Pro Tip: For the ambient musician, pairing delays and reverbs together with plenty of time and space can create a beautifully massive guitar tone that can fill a room.

For the lead guitarist who wants a wider sound, pairing these pedals together with a short decay time will give you the boost you need to stand out.

Check out Andy Othling pairing a reverb and delay pedal together here

Pedal Recommendations: BOSS DD-7 Digital Delay // TC Electronics Hall of Fame

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Types of Guitar Pedals: Loopers

Loopers bring us into a whole new universe of sound and possibility by letting us record ourselves and have recently been made famous by artists like Tash Sultana.

  • ‘Loops’ are layers that we can record and play back through the use of a looper pedal.
  • These types of guitar pedals have given rise to many different one-person bands over the years who specialize in creating grooves and melodies from the ground up.

Loop pedals will record and play whatever is played into them, so many can be hooked up to keyboards and microphones as well as massive guitar pedalboards, creating lush landscapes of sound.

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Writer’s Recommendation: The BOSS RC-30 Loop Station is a fantastic tool for any musician looking to start looping.

  • With two channels for recording and built-in effects, we are able to trigger 2 unique sections of recording on and off.
  • This can lead to really interesting song structures and dynamics.

You can check out the RC-30 in action here.

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Types of Guitar Pedals: Multi-Effects Processors & Modellers

Multi-effects Processors are larger-scale types of guitar pedals with a variety of built-in effects.

Over the years, these units have made pedalboard experimentation a lot easier for many musicians who don’t want the fuss of wiring several individual pedals together..

Pedal engineers have answered the call to make things even more accessible, and this has given birth to what we call “modelling”

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Although multi-effects processors are fantastic, these types of guitar pedals have begun to fall in the shadow of newer amp and pedal modelling technology.

Newer pedal and rack-based units like the BOSS GT1000, Line 6 Helix, Fractal Axe-FX and Kemper Stage have given guitarists a whole new level of control over their guitar tone.

With the capability to model a library of different amplifiers and guitar pedals, as well as the ability to create our own custom pedalboards, modellers are incredibly efficient.

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In the long run, modellers may also save us time and money from buying a variety of different pedals as well as the materials to build our own pedalboard.

Another advantage to modellers is their ability to integrate with other types of guitar pedals. Many of these units have an effects loop that can be used to pair our modeller with our favorite pedals.

Writer’s Recommendation: The Line 6 Helix is a powerhouse pedal unit designed to help you create your guitar tone from the ground up.

Not only is it great for building rock-solid guitar tones and simulating amps, but it’s also a great tool for learning more about how guitar tone works. Click here to hear it.

Where do I go from here?

Want to further your knowledge of different types of guitar pedals? We recommend:

  • Check out the Anderton’s Music Co. guitar channel for pedal reviews and education.
  • Watch That Pedal Show on YouTube.
  • Rent some different pedals from your local guitar shop and experiment with different sounds.
  • If you already own guitar pedals, try building a pedalboard!
  • Play around creating ambience with a delay pedal and watch time fade away.

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If you liked this article about different types of guitar pedals, check out some more of our free lessons below!

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