Guitar Pedals or "stomp boxes" are amazing tools to have throughout your guitar playing career. They can define your sound, create amazing sound effects to add to your playing, and even change the sound in to another instrument! It's no surprise that guitarists use stomp boxes in their careers, as they require very little effort to program and work straight out of the box. Pedals are usually put on a "pedalboard" similar to the picture below. This is just a space where the pedals will fit comfortably and save the hassle of putting them together before a gig. They are usually placed in a certain order that we call the "chain". There isn't a definitive way to order your pedals, but some pedals work better in certain places. There are quite a few different effects to choose from, some I would recommend more than any others, and for those I will be adding stars around the effects.
Guitar without any effects
* Tuner * - This is possibly the most important pedal you will have on your board. It is there to make sure your guitar strings are in tune and can also be used to cut the sound all together; a great feature if you need to leave the guitar on stage after soundcheck rather than turning the amp off and on!
Dynamics refer to the volume and level of the guitar. These usually go at the start of the pedal board chain.
* Compression * - Compression is a subtle tool that when used well, can take your playing a lot further. In a nutshell, compression makes the quiet sounds louder, and the louder sounds quieter, making everything you play the same volume level. This can be great when playing Pop or Funk, as the playing is usually quite punchy and consistent. This makes it sound the same throughout which usually helps the song sound so tight.
Volume - Some guitarists have a volume pedal on their board. This is useful in a few ways. They can fade themselves in, change the sound of the guitar (depending on where it is in the chain), and can be used with other effects to create some strange sounds (try using a volume pedal and a delay pedal together!)
Boost - A boost pedal does exactly what it says on the tin. It makes your guitar signal louder at the press of a button. They are usually straight forward with a dial that you turn up depending on how loud you want it to be when it's on.
Distortion is an umbrella term for that gritty crunchy sound you hear in a lot of rock and metal songs. It is usually divided in to 3 different types of pedal, each with an increase in the 'grit'.
* Overdrive * - This is the most tame of the 3. It can be used to thicken the sound when used lightly, but a good overdrive pedal should be able to give a crunchy sound when turned all the way up. Whether you're using it for the distorted sound or just to thicken your sound up, a good overdrive pedal is a great edition to any board!
Distortion - This takes an overdrive pedal to the next level. These bad boys can create heavily distorted sounds and can make a guitar sound much meaner than the overdrive can. They can usually start off quite tame but quickly go to a much thicker, and harsher sound that the overdrive simply cat reach. Perfect for Rock and Metal players!
Fuzz pedal - Fuzz pedals take distortion and put it to shame. These pedals have slightly similar sounds to a distortion pedal but can distort it so much it sounds incredibly unnatural. Some liken the sound of fuzz pedals to velcro as they have that distinct ripping/buzzing sound. Check out Muse - Plug In Baby to hear this effect in action!
Modulation is where things can get... weird... What modulators do is change the sound based on the 'time' set on the pedal. Without going too deep in to them, they all have their own unique sound and are flexible with what you can do with them.
Phaser - A phaser sounds a little bit Owen Wilson saying "Wow" over and over in your guitar. It basically changes the EQ of the guitar signal to give that "wow" sound that some people refer it too.
Flanger - A Flanger sounds slightly similar to a Phaser. Flangers tend to sound more like an aeroplane taking off with the slow rising 'woosh' that can be heard in the background. Flangers play an EQ movement under your guitar playing that makes it sound a little bit like a Wah pedal playing under the guitar sound.
Tremolo - When looking at tremolo as an effect, it means an adjustment to the volume continuously. It will change the volume from full to a lower volume or even off depending on what you change the setting to. Green Day's Boulevard of Broken Dreams is a great example of a tremolo pedal in use.
* Delay * - When delay is turned on, it will repeat whatever is played in to it as many times as the pedal can. The timing can be changed also. This is great to give that iconic "larger-than-life" rock solo sound and it can also be used as a rhythmic effect such as Temper Trap's Sweet Disposition.
Chorus - A Chorus pedal creates a thick sound by doubling the guitar sound and moving it slightly out of time and sometimes changing pitch, giving the illusion that multiple guitars are playing at the same time. This is heard in a lot of 80s tracks and is almost a staple sound to that era.
* Reverb * - Reverb is essentially space. When you play a note and reverb is applied, it will sound like you are playing the guitar in a hall, church, or wherever the pedal can replicate. This is great for thickening out your sound or adding a sense of space rather than a boring guitar sound. It makes the instrument sound a little more 'real' and 'live'. Having a reverb pedal is a great tool and is a great edition to your board!
Wah pedal - If you have heard any Rock solo in the 80s you've definitely heard a Wah pedal! The name speaks for itself, it makes the guitar sound like it is 'Wahing'. This gives an interesting sound and can make solos and rhythm playing more diverse and adds another texture to your sound.
That is a run down of the more common guitar effects you will come across. I would recommend looking in to the ones that are starred to begin with. These will give you a good starting point as they are all used in the majority of genres. If you wanted to try out all of the options, you can go for multi-effects units, which take the majority of effects and put them all in to one handy box. You can save a lot of money this way and also take advantage of their 'patches' that you can save, so you don't have to worry about turning 3 different pedals on all at once, they can be controlled by one switch from one patch to another. A great unit I used when I was starting out was the Boss ME-25. It has plenty to play with and gives you a good idea of what each pedal does and how you can use them together.
But Lewis, why aren't multi-effect pedals more popular than single pedals since you get so much for your money?
The thing is, some people prefer the separate pedals as they are easier to program than the multi units and they can be customised a lot easier on the go with their options. They also tend to sound very different to multi-effect units as some pedals are analog and multi-effects are usually digital. My advise would be start off with a multi-effect unit as their value for money is amazing. See which effects you use the most, and later down the line look in to single stomp boxes and see how that sound compares to multi-effect units. You may prefer the stomp box sound, you may not. It's all down what you prefer so have fun experimenting with different sounds and find out what sounds YOU want to have!