Guitar Pedals 101: Adding Effects To Your Playing

Ayla Tesler-Mabe  /  Lessons UPDATED Feb 14, 2022

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Pedals are a HUGE part of your setup and sound! They can take you from sounding amateur to sounding professional, but there are so many options to choose from. So how do you know where to start? Well, that’s what The Beginner’s Guide To Guitar Pedals is all about, helping you understand which guitar pedals you should purchase first!

A reverb pedal? A compressor? Delay? Distortion? Modulation? And to add – What kind of reverb? What type of distortion? Is there an order in which I should purchase these? The short answer is, it depends. But that’s what we’re going to discover together. 

If you want your guitar to sound more lush and rich then a reverb pedal might be your first purchase. If you’re going for that Kurt Cobain sound then maybe it’s a distortion pedal you get. And if it’s that U2 type delay that gets you inspired then you should probably start there. In this guide, Ayla breaks down the basic kinds of pedals you might add to your setup and what they can do for you and your guitar tone. By the end of this article, you will find out exactly what guitar pedals you should buy and what adding effects to your playing can do for you!

Tuner Pedal
Being in tune is the fastest way to improve the sound of your guitar! Throughout this guide, you’ll find all Ayla’s pedal recommendations for each category. Here’s her favorite tuner:

TC Electronic PolyTune
Buy now: Sweetwater

Gain Effects

No matter what style of music you play these pedals are useful. Depending on the tone you’re going for, there are a few different categories of gain pedals. Starting with overdrive which is the least aggressive option. If you’re looking for something that’ll make your guitar sound heavier, then a distortion pedal is the way to go. For a more extreme “amp blowing up” type of tone, a fuzz pedal will be your best bet. Gain effects are a great place to move on to once you’ve got yourself a good tuner.

The least saturated type of gain pedal. Overdrives tend to give your amp just a little push and add some hair and character to your notes and chords.

Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer Overdrive Pedal
Buy now: Sweetwater

Distortion is common in rock and other heavier genres. It’s more compressed and aggressive than an overdrive. If you’re looking to nail Nirvana tones, this is your go-to pedal choice.

Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal
Buy now: Sweetwater

Fuzz is an effect that was designed to emulate the sound of a broken guitar amplifier. It’s the most noticeably distorted of all the gain effects available.

MXR Brown Acid Fuzz
Buy now: Dunlop

Time Effects

When we talk about time-based effects we’re usually referring to reverb and delay. These two effects are perfect for adding depth and width to your guitar tone.

Ayla’s desert island effect – reverb makes your guitar sound like it’s in a larger room. There are many different styles of reverb but ultimately, they all achieve the same goal.

Fender Marine Layer Reverb
Buy now: Sweetwater

Delay is a flexible effect that can do a lot of different things. From a subtle slapback to long repeats à la David Gilmour’s solo tone.

Boss DD-8 Digital Delay Pedal
Buy now: Sweetwater

One pedal that isn’t always mentioned in guides like these is looper pedals. They are an incredible practice and songwriting tool. By simply tapping the button you can layer guitar parts together and jam with yourself!

TC Electronic Ditto Looper
Buy now: Sweetwater

Multi-Effects Units

It’s important to mention multi-effects units in an article like this. While they may not give you the same tactile experience as individual pedals, they can be a great way to save some money or have a more compact rig. Some guitar players feel like there might be something a little synthetic about the tones you get from multi-effects units. However, as technology gets better and better, units like the Line 6 Helix or Fractal Axe FX.

Other Pedals Ayla Uses

Here are some more pedals you’ll find on Ayla’s pedalboard. Even though they weren’t thoroughly covered in the main part of this video, they can be equally as important to shaping your unique guitar tone.

Boss CE-2W Waza Craft Chorus Pedal
Buy now: Sweetwater


MXR EVH Phase 90 Eddie Van Halen Phase Pedal
Buy now: Sweetwater

Dunlop JHM7 Jimi Hendrix Univibe Chorus/Vibrato
Buy now: Sweetwater

*This article contains affiliate links, which means we might earn a small commission from the product seller if you make a purchase. For more info, check out our privacy page.

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