Newbie Series Part6 : Effects Explained

Neal Beedie April 28, 2011 14

The subject of guitar effects is far too complex to cover in a single article, so this page will serve as a very basic primer for new players.  Hopefully through reading through this information you will gain a decent idea of where you will need to start.

Effects come in a huge variety of different formats: individual pedals, multi-effects units, software based, amplifier based etc etc.  But how do you know which option is right for you as a beginner player?  Perhaps all you need is simply a couple of pedals in front of your amp, or maybe you need the choice and added features of a multi-effects unit, or perhaps you would benefit from the advantages of software based modelling.

As a new player I would absolutely suggest at least picking up a cheap multi-effects unit – either standalone or computer based.  These will allow you to sample all of the different effects and give you a great understanding of how they all function.  Using this information you will then be able to fine-tune exactly what you will require to unlock your dream tones.  The best way to learn is through trial and error – do it inexpensively with a multi-fx unit rather than with thousands of dollars worth of individual pedals!

Let’s first take a quick look at some of the more popular types of effects to see what they do…

Effects Explained

Chorus: The chorus effect is used to create very full, somewhat dreamy sounds.  It does this by creating a slightly detuned and delayed signal and playing it back with the original sound.

Compressor: A compressor basically averages out the signal produced by your guitar  It does this by boosting the quiet notes and reducing the louder ones.  This adds a more consistent, flowing feel to your sound.

Delay: When sound is reflected from a distant surface, a delayed version of the original signal is heard a short time later. Delay units electronically recreate this natural effect, by either analogue or digital means.

Distortion: Distortion pedals make your guitar sound….distorted..duh! Generally, this has come to mean everything from smooth tube overdrive to all manner of nasty, dirty, “my amp is exploding” tones and “scooped mids” pedals for heavy metal insanity.

Flanger: A flanger is another popular effect which adds a real ‘spacey’ kind of vibe to your sound.  It does this by creating a moving comb-filter effect that results in a sound with a series of ‘whooshes’.

Harmonizer: This is also known as a pitch-shifter. This effect has two main uses. It can enrich the sound of a guitar, using a harmonizer to add overtones which are in harmony with the original signal (sounds similar to chorus). The harmonizer can also generate a harmony note.

Octaver: This analogue effect (an early forerunner of the harmonizer) adds a single note either an interval of an octave above, or an octave below the original signal.

Overdrive: A more subtle type of distortion. Think of a blues guitar tone rather than a metal guitar tone.

Phaser: The sweeping, swooshing sound produced by a phaser is similar to a flanger but more subtle.

Reverb: Reverb is the effect of sound bouncing around a room or space. It’s the reason that you spend so much more time singing in the shower than you do in the Family Room.  By applying reverb to your tone you will sound as if you are playing in a much larger room.

Tremolo: This is a rapid, continuous up/down change in volume. It comes built-in to many guitar amps and is used quite a bit in country and surf music.

Wah: This is a foot operated pedal which can be used to create a talking effect with your guitar. With the pedal flat a very high treble sound is produced and as it is raised the tone will become more bassy.

Multi Effects Units

As a beginner you’re probably anxious to try out all of the different effects above and then some – obviously a very costly endeavour to undertake, and where to start!?!  If you’re taking your first tentative steps into the world of guitar effects then a much more money efficient option is a multi-fx unit!  These will generally contain the majority of the effects listed above, enabling you to sample each one and find out which you like the best. As a bonus, multi-fx units will often contain other useful features such as a built-in metronome and tuner.  Other benefits include greater portability and ease of setup.

Good budget examples include the RP Series from Digitech, the POD Series from Line 6, The V-AMP Series from Behringer, the ME Series from Boss, the AX Series from Korg or the G Series from Zoom.

Multi-Effects Units

Computer Based Effects

Another excellent alternative option to floor based effects are computer based units.  These are generally hardware interfaces that connect your computer via USB with the processing being handled by your computer through specially designed software.

The main disadvantage to using these types of unit are that you must always be at your computer for them to function.  However the much larger interfaces provided by the software are far easier to use and more in-depth than the fiddly menus on a standalone effects unit. You also have the big advantage of everything being in one place, for example…

  • Want to jam along to your favourite song?  Fire up iTunes/YouTube!
  • Need a backing track in E Minor?  Load up a backing track website!
  • Unsure how to sound like Hendrix?  Download a Hendrix patch!
  • Need to record a new riff?  You’re already hooked up and ready to go!

The list could carry on but as you can see, if you have access to a computer the benefits are great.
Good examples include the Studio Series from Line 6, Amplitube from IK Multimedia, GuitarRig by Native Instruments and ReValver from Peavey.

Software Based Effects and Modelling


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Part One : Important Tips Before You Buy

Part Two : Beginner Electric Guitars
Part Three : Beginner Acoustic Guitars
Part Four : Beginner Bass Guitars
Part Five : Amps
Part Six : Effects
Part Seven : Accessories
Part Eight : Lessons

14 Comments »

  1. LeftyNoob1000 June 4, 2011 at 1:33 pm - Reply

    Wow another great guide, Thanks! One question, can/should you use effects with a bass guitar?

    • Neal June 4, 2011 at 7:19 pm - Reply

      You can yes, whether or not you should is up to you and the type of sound you're after. You will find specific multi-fx units for bass. For example I listed the Digitech RP series multi-fx above, but their bass range is called the BP series, e.g. the BP50.

      • LeftyNoob1000 June 5, 2011 at 11:28 am - Reply

        Thanks again, I will have a look at different effects.

    • Thomas June 28, 2012 at 11:06 am - Reply

      yeah dude look up cliff burton he did it all with frickin distortion to wah-wah to a combo of those hes was amazing

  2. Kevin Howard-Tripp April 27, 2012 at 7:57 pm - Reply

    Hi I WOULD LIKE TO know how would one conect your guitar to the computer to use say amplitube and where would you purchase the connection. thanks in advance

    • Neal April 27, 2012 at 8:04 pm - Reply

      You’d need an interface. If you like the look of Amplitube, they sell a variety on their site http://www.ikmultimedia.com/Main.html?interfaces/index.php

      Similar deal with the others. With Line6 you buy a Studio GX/UX1/UX2 interface and it comes bundled with PodFarm.

  3. Ross Byron October 9, 2012 at 4:43 am - Reply

    Very helpful I must say been playing acoustic for a long time with diffrent tuning recently bought a boss me 50 multi effects pedal and this article allowed me to navigate the sound i was looking for for the content of my songs

  4. Tera Gerner November 26, 2012 at 9:54 pm - Reply

    Wow, what a thorough guide! Awesome, and so very resourceful. Thanks for the excellent work, I am gonna link up to your guide from my guitar effects pedals blog

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