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Guitar Pedal Buying Guide for Beginners

From distortion to overdrive, learn about the different types of guitar pedals for beginners with Fender.

While learning to play guitar is a lifelong journey, one of the biggest milestones on that journey is buying your first guitar pedal and experimenting with different effects. In this guide, we’ll explain some of the most common guitar effects pedals, how they affect your sound, and share our picks for some of the best guitar pedals for beginners.

What Are Guitar Effects Pedals?

Guitar effects pedals are external devices that can change the sound of your guitar by modulating its signal (or output). There are a variety of different effects pedals on the market today and each has their own distinct function. They can be used individually – with just one pedal being plugged directly into an amp to alter the sound of your guitar, or can be linked together to create a customized effect.

What Do Guitar Pedals Do?

Guitar pedals allow you to add cool effects to your playing. Guitar pedals can help you do a variety of things, from adding a layer of distortion or fuzz to your playing, changing your acoustics and tone, and many more ways to carve out a unique sound of your own.

Guitar effects pedals can also help you emulate the sound and style of some of your guitar heroes. Chances are, there are a few guitarists who may have prompted you to want to start playing in the first place. Using guitar effects pedals can help you achieve a sound similar to some of your favorite players.

How to Use Guitar Pedals

Depending on the sound you want to get out of your guitar, there are different types of pedals you can use. If you’re just starting to experiment with guitar effects pedals, you may want to stick to one and hear how it tweaks your sound before using multiple pedals. This can help deepen your understanding of what each pedal does and how they may work together.

Guitar pedals form a bridge between your guitar and your amp – plugging into both in order to take the signal from your guitar and convert it (via the pedal effects), then “amplify” that signal through your amp. Here are the steps (and equipment) you’ll need to plug in your guitar pedals and get them working for you.

How to Plug in a Guitar Pedal

If you’re using just one guitar effects pedal, you’ll need two cables. We’ll call them Cable 1 and Cable 2:
Cable 1: One end of Cable 1 plugs into your guitar itself, while the other end plugs into the “input” jack of your guitar pedal.
Cable 2: One end of Cable 2 plugs into the “output” jack of your guitar pedal. The other end then plugs directly into your amp.

How to Plug Multiple Guitar Effects Pedals Into Your Rig

Using multiple guitar pedals at the same time is sometimes referred to as “chaining effects.” This is due to the fact that each pedal forms a “link” in a chain of pedals strung together by various cables. The number of cables you’ll need depends on the number of pedals you have, which would be one cable per pedal plus one additional cable that goes into your guitar and the “input” jack of your first pedal.”

For instance, if you have two pedals, you’ll need three cables:
Cable 1 has one end that goes into your guitar and another end that goes into the “input” jack of Pedal 1.
Cable 2 has one end that goes into the “output” jack of Pedal 1 and another end that goes into the “input” jack of Pedal 2.
Cable 3 has one end that goes into the “output” jack of Pedal 2 and another end that plugs directly into your amp.

If you have more than two pedals, the last pedal in your signal chain will always have a cable with one end going from its “output” jack and the other end plugging into your amp.

So as not to have a jumbled mess of cables connecting your pedals to each other, you can buy shorter patch cables designed to link your effects pedals together without worrying about getting your foot tangled in the wires when playing.

Generally, there are no hard and fast rules as to how to chain your effects together, although there are some recommended best practices to consider when creating an effects chain. The positioning of each pedal in your signal chain impacts the final output and determines the sound you get. (We’ll cover each of these groups and their respective pedals in greater detail later!)

Types of Electric Guitar Effects Pedals

As mentioned before, there are several different types of guitar effects pedals, each of which fall into more distinctive categories. We’ll go through those groups and their respective pedals here, giving you the scoop on what each pedal does, how it impacts your sound, songs where you can hear a clear example of that pedal, as well as an affordable, high-quality pedal that beginners can get started with. Let’s go!

Gain Type Pedals

Gain pedals are sometimes known as “boost pedals.” These types of guitar effects pedals can help you to boost the volume and signal of your guitar without cranking your amp. It also works well when positioned in a chain with other pedals to help enhance other effects like distortion or fuzz.

Examples of gain stage type guitar pedals include Distortion, Compression, Overdrive, and Fuzz. Let’s learn a bit more about each of these pedals!

Distortion

As the name implies, a distortion pedal “distorts” your sound - bending and twisting it to give it a heavy, darker tone. Without a pedal, cranking the volume on your amp can kick it into overdrive, giving you a warped sound. A distortion pedal replicates that, well… distorted sound without having your amp turned all the way up.

Listen for distortion pedals in songs like:
• “Foxy Lady” by Jimi Hendrix
• “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones
• “American Woman” by The Guess Who (later covered by Lenny Kravitz)
• “Sabotage” by Beastie Boys

Our pick for a distortion pedal for beginners: Hammertone™ Distortion
An affordable choice for beginners, the Hammertone™ Distortion pedal doesn’t sacrifice versatility and punch. This small-yet-mighty device has an internal trim-pot that allows you to pre-set any adjustments to calibrate your sound. Sticking to the mid-range lets you add more growl to your distorted sound and the tone controls ensure your amp doesn’t give you any high-frequency feedback.

Compression

At first listen, compression doesn’t sound like it’s doing much of anything. Sure, it lacks the recognizability of such pedal effects like wah or distortion. But a compressor is a stealth effect that gives more snap to your playing. You might not be able to pick out use of a compression pedal in any specific song, but it keeps signal dynamics in check without overwhelming your sound and helps provide balance. When used alongside a distortion pedal, a compression pedal helps keep your sound even without the distortion running away with the show!

Our pick for a compression pedal for beginners: Compugilist® Compressor / Distortion
The Compugilist® Compressor / Distortion pedal is a 2-in-1 pedal that allows you to switch between compression, distortion, or combine the two effects. Not only does this pedal give you the option to play with unfettered distortion, it also gives you the option to dial it back with compression. As an added bonus, the Compugilist also features a bass boost switch to enhance your low end.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=XCu42-D6tLI

Overdrive

An overdrive pedal lends versatility to your sound, giving it a slight bit of distortion – as if you’d cranked your amp up all the way, minus the danger of rattling or blowing out your speakers – but without the bendy, twisty, warped sound of a full-on distortion pedal. An overdrive pedal can help you achieve that grittier, dirtier tone without getting an annoying crackle or “break up” from your amp.

Listen for overdrive pedals in songs like:
• “Sunshine of Your Love” by Cream
• “Ace of Spades” by Motorhead

Our pick for an overdrive pedal for beginners: Hammertone™ Overdrive
The Hammertone™ Overdrive packs a wallop at a budget-friendly price ideal for beginners. Use the control knobs to adjust mid-range for a sound with crisp bite. Then use the internal tone control to tame high frequencies – perfect for giving your amp a brighter sound or enhancing single coil pickups.

Fuzz

Whether you call it a fuzz pedal or a fuzz box, the sound is unmistakable. This guitar effects pedal increases the amount of sustain on your sound, giving it a “fuzzy” feel. It’s distorted, but that distortion is more tightly controlled. Instead of warbling all over the place, a fuzz pedal blurs and confines that distortion.

Listen for distortion pedals in songs like:
• “Now I Wanna Be Your Dog” by The Stooges
• “Voodoo Child” by Jimi Hendrix
• “Satisfaction” by The Rolling Stones
• “Freak Scene” by Dinosaur Jr.

Our pick for a fuzz pedal for beginners: Hammertone™ Fuzz
Follow in the fuzzed-out footsteps of such guitar greats as Jimi Hendrix and J. Mascis and find yourself enveloped by the warm distortion of a fuzz pedal. Beginner guitarists who want to try out a fuzz box effect can opt for the Hammertone Fuzz pedal. Its built-in octave switch helps kick your tone up higher, adding more treble and decay to your playing.

Time-Based Pedals

Time-based effects pedals tinker with the timing of your guitar’s signal. These types of pedals can be used to create an echo that carries a note or chord beyond where it would terminate if you were just playing clean, or delaying your guitar’s signal . Examples of time-based guitar pedals include Reverb and Delay.

Delay

Delay pedals are time-based effects pedals – meaning, they are programmable and can be “time-released” at any point you choose. A delay pedal lets you repeat a certain riff over and over again, helping you achieve a more layered sound by use of the delay. So, even if you’re a lone guitarist, you can beef up your sound significantly by using the delay pedal.

Listen for delay pedals in songs like:
• “Welcome to the Jungle” by Guns N’ Roses
• “Echoes” by Pink Floyd
• “Where the Streets Have No Name” - U2

Our pick for a delay pedal for beginners: Hammertone™ Delay and Hammertone™ Space Delay
We couldn’t pick just one delay pedal for beginners – mostly because it depends on how ethereal you prefer your delay to sound. For a more traditional sound that can have a bit more grit and growl, we recommend the Hammertone™ Delay, which will make fans of surf rock, country, and a more crisp-meets-warm tone pump their fist in the air. For guitarists who like their sound to be a little more out-of-this-world, try the Hammertone™ Space Delay. Its Analog Dry-Through mode allows for a purer tone, while three separate delay patterns allow for different rhythmic patterns. Finally, the Space Delay pedal has a modulation switch that kicks in a swirling choral effect that can be adjusted for rate and depth.

Reverb

Whether you’re in a small room or a packed concert hall, a reverb pedal can create a tone that delivers the echo and acoustics of a specific location. Unlike a delay pedal that can be programmed to repeat a section and played as often as you’d like, a reverb pedal focuses on creating an atmospheric feel, bouncing sound around as if it were reverberating throughout a given space.

Listen for reverb pedals in songs like:
• “In the Air Tonight” by Phil Collins
• “Venus in Fleurs” by Grimes
• “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin
• “Miserlou” by Dick Dale

Our pick for a reverb pedal for beginners: Hammertone™ Reverb
The Hammertone™ Reverb crams powerful reverb effects and versatility into a small, sturdy package. Great for beginners trying out new tones for size, this pedal delivers three different reverb effects – Hall, Room, and Plate – that can be used in a multitude of ways.

Modulation Type Pedals

Modulation effects pedals alter the signal of your guitar in a variety of ways. This can involve tweaking its pitch, volume, and other aspects of a clean signal to give you something entirely new.

Examples of modulation type guitar pedals include Chorus, Tremolo, and Phaser pedals. Learning more about how each of these pedals work to change the output of your guitar’s signal can help you choose the effect that speaks to your style.

Chorus

A chorus pedal splits your guitar’s signal, then duplicates it so that it sounds like more than one instrument is playing the same thing, The end result is a richer, beefier sound. It’s like having a chorus of voices singing along at the same time, but that sentiment is applied to your guitar’s sound and signal. And, like a vocal chorus, a chorus pedal modulates the pitch of your guitar’s signal, producing a higher or lower pitch to give variance and a choral effect.

Listen for chorus pedals in songs like:
• “Come As You Are” by Nirvana
• “Purple Rain” by Prince
• “Get Lucky” by Daft Punk
• “Spirit of Radio” by Rush

Our pick for a chorus pedal for beginners: Hammertone™ Chorus
For an easy-to-use chorus pedal that delivers versatility, look to the Hammertone™ Chorus pedal. Armed with three different chorus tones and knobs that allow you to adjust the mix, you can add heft and dimension to your playing with just a stomp of the pedal.

Tremolo

While many guitars come equipped with a tremolo bar (or whammy bar) built right into the instrument’s bridge, don’t confuse it with a tremolo pedal! A tremolo bar alters the pitch of your strings by loosening or tightening the tension on them due to its positioning on the bridge. By contrast, a tremolo pedal raises and lowers the volume of your guitar’s signal. While it won’t bend the notes, it creates a warbly effect by rapidly switching between higher and lower volume.

Listen for tremolo pedals in songs like:
• “Crush With Eyeliner” by R.E.M.
• “Gimme Shelter” by The Rolling Stones
• “How Soon Is Now?” by The Smiths
• “A Change Is Gonna Come” by Otis Redding

Our pick for a tremolo pedal for beginners: MTG Tube Tremolo
While you don’t need a master’s degree in acoustics, the MTG Tube Tremolo is designed to make you sound like a guitar genius, equipped with three different oscillator wave shapes to help you craft your sound. This tremolo pedal captures vintage tube sound with modern innovation. A dedicated tap foot switch and speed controls help you dial in delay and rhythms without missing a beat.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZriKprZUQ24

Phaser

Phaser pedals create an almost psychedelic, whirring sound – originally intended to replicate the sound of an organ but in a heavier, slightly more distorted way. These distinctive effects pedals have different rate and depth controls, giving you the option to speed up or slow down the output of your signal to create a sound that punches through the atmosphere like a rocket jettisoned into space!

Listen for phaser pedals in songs like:
• “Eruption” by Van Halen
• “Little Wing” by Jimi Hendrix
• “Soma” by Smashing Pumpkins

Our pick for a phaser pedal for beginners: Lost Highway Phaser
The Lost Highway Phaser creates ear-bending guitar effects that add dimension to your sound. The pedal allows you to control the rate and depth of your effects, creating a phased effect that’s as fast or slow as you want it to be. While phasers are often associated with psychedelic sounds of the ‘60s and ‘70s, don’t let that stop you from using the Lost Highway Phaser when playing a diverse array of genres, from country to pop.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=S2_lceI1h5s

Frequency

Frequency pedals are similar to modulation pedals in that they tweak your guitar’s signal, however, these pedals create peaks within the signal that create a unique style of expression. One of the most common frequency style guitar effects pedals is the Wah pedal.

Wah Pedal

Sometimes called a “wah wah pedal,” the wah pedal is a filter effect that changes your guitar’s tone and frequency. It’s equally at home in genres ranging from funk to metal to everything in between. By pressing down on this foot pedal, a wah can make your guitar sound more like a human voice. (Think: the teacher from the Charlie Brown cartoons or the “wocka-wocka-wocka” sound heard in so many ‘70s funk anthems).

Listen for wah pedals in songs like:
• “Theme from Shaft” by Isaac Hayes
• “Bulls On Parade” by Rage Against the Machine
• “White Room” by Cream
• “Money For Nothing” by Dire Straits
• “Enter Sandman” (solo) by Metallica

Our pick for a wah pedal for beginners: Tread-Light™ Wah Pedal
Portable, powerful, and designed with both beginner and experienced guitar players in mind, the Tread-Light™ Wah Pedal is easy to use – and easy to see. Its adjustable 3-way frequency selector allows you to control the signature “wah” sound, while an internal buffer offers even more options for a classic wah sound or a more buffered tone. Equipped with LED under-treadle lights, you can spot this pedal in the dark or on stage.

Embedded content: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6JTDTsLeKBQ

Types of Acoustic Guitar Effects Pedals

When it comes to using effects pedals, electric guitars don’t get to have all the fun! Acoustic-electric guitar devotees can also benefit from pedals made with their style of guitar in mind, too. While these pedals don’t veer into heavy distortion territory, they can enhance and change your sound, giving you more tones to play with.

The Acoustic Preverb effects pedal works to enhance the naturally beautiful tone of an acoustic guitar, offering three reverb settings meant to complement hollow-bodied guitars. Notch filter and Polarity controls help to diminish feedback, while the adjustable Tilt EQ knob helps you to better equalize your sound.

Want something a little heavier? Check out the Smolder® Acoustic Overdrive pedal, which adds light distortion to your acoustic electric guitar. What?! Distortion on an acoustic guitar? That could make for some janky sounding feedback, right? The Smolder Acoustic Overdrive pedal was crafted by Fender tone experts to combat excessive feedback via its pickup compensation control, Drive knob to control distortion, and 3-band EQ and Filter controls to get creative while customizing your sound in a way that works with your instrument – not against it.

Get Inspired with Fender Play

Learning to play guitar – and stick with it – requires time, patience, and practice. A little inspiration doesn’t hurt, either! Finding new songs and techniques to experiment with can be rewarding. So can branching out with new effects.

Fender Play can help you find added inspiration through bite-sized lessons that allow you to learn to play guitar anywhere, any time. Browse through our library of hundreds of songs and start playing something new. Sign up for your free trial of Fender Play today!