A Brief History of Guitar Pedals.
There are three components to any Electric Guitar rig. The most obvious being the guitar itself and just as important is the amp. These leaves on last piece, pedals. Guitar Pedals allow you to change the characteristics of your guitar sound with the push of a button. There are thousands of pedals out there that affect your sound in many different ways. Some are more straight-forward adding gain or sustain to your signal. Others create crazy and wild sounds that you would never believe a guitar could make. Guitar pedals are an optional piece in any guitar rig, but we are pretty sure once you start experimenting with these, you’ll always want at least a few on hand.
The first Guitar Pedal
The first pedal ever created was in 1948. It was a tremolo pedal released by DeArmond called the Trem-Trol. Any other effects were typically built into an amp, and only consisted of tremolo, vibrato, or reverb. This was before the common use of overdrive and distortion, although the effect was quickly becoming popular.
In the early days the only way to get the drive tones we all know and love, players literally had to push their amplifiers to the limit. This is what to sound is called overdrive. In an attempt get achieve this overdrive effect easier, players would pull tubes out of their amps, turn the volume all the way up, and sometimes even rip holes in their speakers. Finally using an electronic transistor, the 1962 Maestro Fuzz-Tone saved the day. This pedal is well known for its feature on The Rolling Stones hit “Satisfaction”. As the story goes Richards used to fuzz tone to emulate a horn for the guitar hook in this song. He recorded then line as a demo planning to go back and re-track it with horns later. They ended up keeping the part, and the single hit the top of the charts. After that Gibson sold 400,00 units of the Fuzz-Tone as it became a highly sought after sound.
The Evolution of Guitar Pedals
The ‘60s saw several other pedal firsts including the wah-wah pedal, and other Modulation pedals. Warwick Electronics released the fist Wah-wah, the Clyde McCoy, in 1967. In ‘67 we also received our first octave pedal, the Octavio, named by Jimi Henrix and released by Kelsey-Morris Sounds. The next year Univox released the Uni-Vibe pedal, and we officially had our frst handful of weird effects. The Uni-Vibe aimed to recreate the effect of a Leslie Rotating speaker and was another favorite of Hendrix. This era of innovation and creation allowed guitar players to create using tones they never dad available before. By the time the seventies rolled around new effects were available every where. This included Phasers, Ring Modulators, Chorus, and Flangers. These pedals would end up being played by all of the big names and really dominated ‘70s rock and roll.
80’s Rack Mounted effects
In the 1980s the use of single stompbox pedals slowed down in favor of rack mounted effects units. These new units allowed the use of several different sounds and presets within one box. Many players now look back on this era of guitar history poorly. The market was shifting away from organic rock and felt a little more corporate as glam rock became a thing. However, there is one player form this time period famous for his use of the Korg sdd-300 delay unit. In case you haven’t already guessed, this would be u2’s Dave Evans, or as we all know him “The Edge”.
With the ’91 release of “Nevermind”, grunge rockers Nirvana brought stompboxes back into relevancy. Armed with a Fender Jaguar Kurt Cobain was after fuzz and distortion tones unlike anything we had heard before. With wall to wall sound on their records Nirvana inspired guitar players everywhere to return to our Fuzz and Overdrive roots.
2000’s /Current Era
With pedals now at an all time high in popularity we have seen a new resurgence of innovative pedal builders. New companies are popping up all the time with amazing pedals creating new and wild tones. Many of these pedals are recreations and Adaptations of famous circuits from the past years, but there are still plenty of brand new ideas to inspire creativity in playing styles and songwriting.
Types of Guitar Pedals
Overdrive – adds a “gritty” characteristic to the tone of the guitar. This effect emulates the sound of an amp turned all the way up.
Fuzz– This effect is similar to overdrive, but has more bass frequencies left in the mix. Fuzz was one of the original guitar pedals ever created.
Boost/Volume – Just like it sounds this pedal will boost your signal and volume without adding gain. Many players use this as a sort of pre-amp.
Compressor – These guitar pedals help control your guitars dynamics. Think of it as a third hand that help rides your volume knob.
Noise gate – remove unwanted noise from your signal (you will never need one of these)
EQ – Boost or cut different frequencies in your signal. Change your tonal characteristics without changing guitars.
Talk Box – This pedal takes the guitar sound and using a tube projects it into the players voice. The player can then use vowel sounds to direct that sound into their Mic. This can be heard on Joe Walsh’s “Life’s Been Good”
Wah-wah – This pedal creates a sweeping frequency filter across your signal. It is a little like turning the q knob on a frequency back and forth quickly.
Chorus – Chorus is created by doubling the tone and adding a slight variation between the two. This can be heard in real life when you have to singers on the same pitch, but you can hear a slight warble when they are on slightly different pitches
Flanger – This is another sweeping type modulation, but it is time based rather than frequency based. This effect was created in the studio by pushing down on the physical tape of a recorded track.
Tremolo – This effect is created by slight rapid variations in volume. These guitar pedals create a choppy effect in your signal and add a unique texture to your tone.
Vibrato – Similar to Tremolo this adds variations to your tone, but Vibrato affects pitch rather than volume. When engaged this effect can add an interesting warble to your tone.
Pitch Shifter – These pedals can add extra pitches to your signal, or change your original pitch all together. One of the most famous of these pedals is the POG by Electro-Harmonix
Delay – This effect creates repeats or echoes of your playing. These come in all types. Digital Delays provide an exact replication of your playing, while analog delays become grittier and lose signal as they repeat.
Reverb – Reverb is made up of thousands of delays or different times and tones. These units look to replicate how sound reacts in different environments. Newer reverbs will even invent environments for a unique effect. One example of this is “Shimmer Reverb” More questions about reverb? Be sure to check out our post dedicated to the topic.
Looper– These pedals make quick recordings of your playing and instantly play them back. Players can use these pedals to layer various parts and make a backing loop for themselves during live performances. There is no limit to how creative you can get using one of these pedals.
How to order your Guitar Pedals
There is no standard order when it comes to setting up your guitar pedals, but there is a standard practice. Most Players tend to follow this standard order:
- Compression Pedal
- Volume Pedal
- Pitch Shifter/octave
Time Based Effects
Again, this is not the ultimate order, but it as good a place as any to start.
Powering your Guitar Pedals
There are two important things you need to know about each one of your pedals when determining how to power them.
Voltage is denoted with a V and referee to how much power your pedal will need. When powering a guitar pedal the voltage of the supply you use must match exactly. Using to high of a voltage will cause your pedal to burn out, and too low can damage some pedals as well. 9v pedals are most common, but there are plenty that require 12v or 18v.
Current is indicated using the symbol mA. Pedals only draw as much current as they need. As long as you are providing the minimum amount of current required you will be in good shape.
There are three standard ways to power your pedals. Batteries, Daisy Chains, and Isolated power supplies. If you are only using one or two pedals an internal battery is a great option. Since these are isolated to each pedal there is no interference between each pedal, and your signal stays quiet. A daisy chain is a cost effective way too power multiple pedals, but it comes at a cost. Daisy chain’s tend to get pretty noisy and some pedals react weird when they are in a chain with other pedals.
The best option for powering multiple pedals from one source is an isolated power supply. This is the most expensive option, but it will pay off in the long run. Each output basically acts as an individual battery for each pedal. This prevents any interference or noise bing added into your signal. These power supplies typically offer varying voltages and current so they can power a wide variety of pedals. One of our favorite is the Walrus Audio Phoenix.
Go Get Started!
Welcome to the wide world of Guitar Pedals. It is every growing and always changing. Feel free to experiment and see what you like best. There are plenty of great sites that sell used pedals from Facebook forums to resale sites like Reverb. Find a pedal you think you might like in one of these places. If you don’t quite vibe with that pedal you should be able to trade or sell it for the price you paid. Good luck and happy playing!