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How to choose your effects?

The advent of amplified music in the 60’s led musicians to expand their sounds with the help of diverse effects such as saturation, modulation, frequency filters and reverberation.

How to find the processor(s) that correspond to your needs and expectations amongst the hundreds of references currently available?

In order to help you determine the effects which will allow you to enrich and beautify your sound, here is some useful information necessary to consider before making your purchase.


It all starts in 1947 with the invention of the transistor and of miniature electronic circuits. From the 60’s, this technology was adopted by the musical industry (with the apparition of the first saturation fuzz in 1962).

The apparition of the numeric in the 80’s revolutionised once again the musical sector. The effects that used strictly analogic circuits found themselves equipped with new functionalities and expended capacities.

However, numeric effects sound colder and do not please all musicians. Providers will then challenge themselves to try and reach for the warm grain of the analogic vintage pedals while keeping the numeric technology in order to optimize the control of parameters.

More recently the technology of modelisation appeared and pushed forward the performances of processors. By realistically imitating the sound and the behaviour of lamp- amplifiers, modern effects offer an incredible sound quality. At the head of the line is LINE 6, with all the derivative products of the legendary POD and recently Kemper, whose Profiler is used by the greatest artists.

Effect pedal operation

The effect pedal is a small box connected between the instrument and the amplifier. It contains a circuit that generates the desired effect: saturation, modulation, depth, equalisation, etc...; which can then be applied to the sound of the instrument at will while it is still being played.

Effects pedals can be powered by batteries or by plugging them to a power outlet. They usually contain a switch allowing the musician to activate and deactivate the effect, a light communicating the state of operation of the pedal and some diverse parameters controlling the variations and intensity of the effect.

Main effect categories

There are four main effect categories:
- Gain modifying effect > saturation, boost, volume, compression
- Frequency modifying effect > equalisation, wah/envelope filter, pitch shift/harmonisation, octaver
- Modulation effects > chorus/flanger, phaser, tremolo/vibrato
- Time modifying effects > delay, reverberation

Saturation, compression and volume

From the simple volume boost to the heavy distortion, from compressors to subtle overdrives, these uncontested popular effects will participate to the making of your musical identity.

If you enjoy the sound of your amplifier but would like to be perfectly heard during your solos or some specific part of the track, you will need a booster (MXR Boost MC401) or a volume pedal (ERNIE BALL VP); both usually positioned at the end of the effect channel.

A booster can also be used as a very light overdrive, noticeably on lamp amplifiers, as it thickens and warms up the tone. For this purpose, it is advised to place the booster in the first position of your chain of pedals.

In the case where the saturations generated by your guitar and your amplifier do not perfectly meet your expectations, the acquisition of an additional pedal like an Overdrive, a Distortion or a Fuzz might be the answer to your issue. Such a choice will then depend on the colour you wish to obtain with your sound.

Overdrives were originally created to imitate the saturation of lamp amplifiers. Hence, they were greatly appreciated for they warmth, reactivity and natural compression by Blues and traditional Rock guitarists. They can nevertheless be used in more aggressive registers as they smoothly combine themselves with already saturated sound coming from your amplifier or from other pedals.

The most established references in this category are the IBANEZ TS9 Tube Screamer and the BOSS SD-1 Super OverDrive, but many other brands offer remarkable products like the SEYMOUR DUNCAN 805 Overdrive or the fantastic FULLTONE OCD.

Hard Rock and Heavy Metal guitarists looking for more gain and aggressiveness should turn towards Distortions instead. They provide a more powerful and cutting sound than overdrives do.

Amongst the most recognized models can be found the BOSS DS-1 Distorsion (noticeably used by Joe Satriani), MXR Distortion+ M104. We also recommend other pedals such as the MARSHALL GV-2 Guv'nor Plus, or something more potent like the MXR EVH 5150 for which the conception was supervised by Eddie Van Halen.

Punk, Grunge and Indie guitarists aiming for a more radical sound will find what they are looking for Fuzz saturations. They provide less accurate saturations than overdrives and distortions do with a predominance of medium and high frequencies; such characteristics fit more aggressive musical styles. Kurt Cobain’s sound is one of the legendary applications of a fuzz.

In terms of emblematic models in this category we find the different ELECTRO HARMONIX Big Muff derivatives as well as the PRO CO Rat2; the MXR Super Badass Variac Fuzz M236 is also worth suggesting.

In a different register, Compressors modify volume, dynamics and the length of the sound in order to balance low and high output levels. By doing so they they boost the signal’s definition which particularly benefits specific music genres such as Country Music’s Chicken Picking technique, Sliding or the symbolic clear/crunch tones from band like the Police.

The BOSS CS-3 Compression Sustainer and MXR M102 Dyna Comp Compressor are the main references in this compressor family. However, pedals like TC ELECTRONIC HyperGravity Compressor and EBS MultiComp are also unanimously praised.

Equalisation, Frequency filtering and Harmonisation

Equalisers, Wah, Envelope Filters and Harmonisers are effects that affect frequencies. They are generally placed after the saturations in the chain of pedals.

In certain cases, an amplifier can lack controls which will become a problem when the musician attempts to precisely sculpt the frequency spectrum of his sound. And equalizer pedal would solve such issue.
Most devices propose equalizers between 5 and 10 frequency bands and are therefore easy to apprehend. The big references in this category are the MXR Six & Ten Band EQ and the BOSS GE-7 Graphic Equalizer.

If a single Filter effect had to fit in the Guitar Pantheon, the Wah filter would be it. It contributed to shape the musical identity of the greatest guitar players including Jimi Hendrix himself.

The Wah is a very rhythmic and expressive effect imitating the modulations of a human voice by going up and down the frequency spectrum thanks to a mobile plateau managed by the musician’s foot. They are many big names in the world of Wah pedals but it is impossible not to mention the JIM DUNLOP Cry Baby Classic Wah GCB95F, the VOX V847 Wah and the FULLTONE Clyde Standard Wah.

Auto-Wah pedals also called Envelope filters automatically travel along the frequency spectrum and thanks to different set of controls generate very original sounds with no need for any interaction between the musician and the pedal. The EHX Q- Tron and the BOSS AW-3 Dynamic Wah rest at the top of this category.

Octavers, Harmonisers and Pitch Shifters are useful to give contrast, thickness and amplitude to your sound. Les Depending on the references, it is possible to simply double the signal with higher or lower octaves (E.G. BOSS OC-3). It is also possible to create more complex tones like the Twin- guitars effect, dear to Hard-Rockers ; or like Tom Morello’s Sci- Fi tones achieved thanks to his DIGITECH Whammy.


By affecting the combination of several parameters like gain, frequency and temporality, effects such as can become great partners to create original and beautiful atmospheres.

The Tremolo and the Vibrato are classic effects used in Rockabilly, Surf or Blues music. They respectively modify volume and pitch (in a similar way to a rotary cabinet) In most cases you can control both the intensity of the effect and the modulation speed.
Here are some unavoidable models to check out :the MARSHALL VT-1 Vibratrem, the MXR M68 Uni-Vibe Chorus/Vibrato, the BOSS TR-2, l’ELECTRO HARMONIX Super Pulsar Stereo or the FULLTONE Supa-Trem.

Effects like Flanger and Chorus are extremely popular and are often confused for one another. However they have different influences on the signal: the former generates a radical ascending/descending sound while the latter produces a more enveloping and crystalline sound. In both cases the signal is doubled and it is the second layer that is modified by the pedal.

In order to clearly differentiate the two effects, listen to the intro of Van Halen’s Ain’t Talking About Love (flanger) and Walking On The Moon by The Police (chorus). Once again there exist a very large panel of references in the domain but the BOSS CH-1 Chorus, the ELECTRO HARMONIX Electric Mistress (flanger) nd the Small Clone (chorus) as well as the TC ELECTRONIC Corona Chorus or the MXR M117R Flanger are unavoidable.

In the line of an attenuated and subtle flanger, the Phaser remains a tasteful choice to add colour and texture to your sound. Many popular guitarist are known to have used a phaser. For example Eddie Van Halen on his mythical solo on the track Eruption ir David Gilmour on the Dark Side Of The Moon. The MXR EVH90, the EHX Bad Stone or STRYMON Mobius (in a higher quality range) are guaranteed to offer interesting results.

Reverberation and Delay

After saturations, Delays and Reverbs are undoubtedly the most used effects. Musicians of all genres combined have always enjoyed adding a spatial aspect to their sound; starting with amplifiers equipped with in-built reverbs.

The Delay found in most pedal boards reproduces the exact sound, note or chord generated by the instrument. Controlling the number of repetitions (feedback), the time between the repetitions and the volume of the feedback will give you the impression of playing in different, more or less spacious environments.

It is also possible to create a very specific and wildly appreciated sound that prevails in U2’s “Where the streets have no name” album, or that you can here during the solo of the Nuno Bettencourt’s “Flight of the wounded bumble bee”.

We guarantee that pedals like the BOSS Digital Delay, TC ELECTRONIC Flashback or the fabulous STRYMON Delay are very reliable choices.

The Reverb is a derivative of the delay; it is in fact a succession of really fast repetitions. It is an effect which should be used sparingly because when used without caution, it can drown and deteriorate the original signal. On the other hand, when precisely set, a reverb will add depth and produce beautiful ambiances. The BOSS RV-6, the MXR M300 and the STRYMON BigSky/BlueSky are all more than recommended.

Mini Pedals

Thanks to the recent progress in miniaturising the components, the size of electric circuits has been greatly diminished, allowing effects to be contained within smaller and more compact boxes. Mooer initiated the trend with its Micro Pedals and many brands have followed since then. We recommend X-TONE mini pedals. We believe that the quality of their tones and their affordable prices will appeal to you.

Layout of effect pedals

We are frequently asked questions concerning the order in which pedals should be arranged. Although there is no definite order you must necessarily follow, the logical and usual progression of the signal goes as follows: guitar > saturation/volume/compression > equalisation/wah > modulation > delay/reverb > amplifier.

Multi-effect processors

Multi-effect Processors were extremely popular in the 80s and 90s (we can still remember the massive racks used during live performances). However, with the rising interest in vintage sounds, they lost their throne to more compact pedals. Recently, with the democratisation of prices and the arrival of modelisation technology, multi-effect racks have made a comeback. Accessible, functional (settings programming, USB and Bluetooth connectivity, in-built tuners...), extremely polyvalent, transportable and more importantly astonishingly performant, they are an excellent alternative for beginners wishing to acquire a wide range of possibilities for affordable prices. BOSS, ZOOM and LINE-6 thrive in this area.

Other processors

In the recent years Loopers have become very popular and are now part of many pedal-boards. Thanks to the different functionalities of a looper, the musician is now able to record a few bars in real time, loop them and then play over them very easily. He can also stop and start the recording again at will.

While the looper plays the recording, the musician can keep playing and is therefore able to autonomously accompany himself. Loopers work with all types of instrument, including strings, winds, percussions and voices. BOSS Loop Stations, the TC ELECTRONIC Ditto & Flashback and the DIGITECH JamMan are the biggest references amongst loopers.

Loop Switchers (not to be confused with loopers) become necessary when the need to stop several pedals simultaneously arises. They are not effects in themselves, however they allow you to program diverse combinations of pedals that can all be activated with a single application of pressure by the foot to the switch. We suggest the MOOER L6 as well as the TONEBONE Loopbone.

True Bypass vs. Buffered Bypass

This dichotomy has left many guitar players wondering and has done so for a long time.

To simplify, a pedal equipped with a True Bypass circuit does not affect your signal while it is not activated. By doing so it prevents the degradation or the colouration of your sound. However, after a certain number of pedals daisy chained to one another, the signal eventually gets impacted and deteriorates. A pedal equipped with a Buffered Bypass will slightly taint the sound even when deactivated but its impact on the overall signal will remain the same regardless of the number of pedals in the chain. Its buffer will add dynamics to the signal and will limit the loss of high frequencies induced by the accumulation of electronic components and cables. If all of your effects possess a True Bypass, there are Buffers which can help you regulate your signal : the JHS Little Black Buffer, the MESA BOOGIE High-Wire, the TC ELECTRONIC Bonafide Buffer.

Power supplies, cables and pedalboards

In order to optimise the overall output of your chain of pedals, we recommend investing in a power supply providing multiple power outlets. Such a purchase will simplify your cable logistic and guarantee a stable, continuous and quiet tension deprived of parasite sounds (MOOER S8, MXR Brick, STRYMON Ojai).

Do not underestimate the importance of high quality jacks as links between each device. It might seem like an expensive investment at first, but bad cables can heavily deteriorate the quality of your signal and hence your sound (LAVA Cables).

To make sure that your performances run smoothly, have a look at pedal-boards. All your pedals and cables will stay in place, be protected and will be ready for intensive use (BOSS BCB, T REX Tonetrunk).

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