Effect Pedal Purchase Guide

Many musicians (including me) buy & sell & trade pedals more than they would like to admit. I occasionally get questions about how & why to choose a pedal.

To make things easier, I would like to follow the Two Factor Theory approach and categorize the pedals into two main categories.

Hygiene Pedals

Those are the pedals you pick to solve a certain audio problem. Questions leading to a hygiene pedal are:

  • What exactly is my audio problem?
  • Can I solve it without a pedal?
  • (If not) Which pedal(s) can help me solve it?

If your guitar has a hum problem, you might get a noise gate or Hum Debugger.

If you need to even out the signal, you might get a compressor.

If you slap too hard, you might get a limiter.

If you need to fill a larger sonic space, you might get an octaver.

You get the idea. Such pedals would get you from the point of dissatisfaction to the point of “no dissatisfaction”.

Motivator Pedals

Those are the pedals you pick to get a certain sound. Questions leading to a motivator pedal are:

  • What is the emotion I want to project?
  • Which sound would project that emotion?
  • Can I get it without a pedal?
  • (If not) Which pedal(s) can help me produce it?

If you want to project ambient emotions, you might get a reverb / delay.

If you want to effectuate the 80’s era, you might get a synth simulator.

If you want to awaken adrenaline, you might get a high gain pedal.

If you want to be funky, you might get an envelope filter.

You get the idea. Such pedals would get you from the point of “no dissatisfaction” to the point of “satisfaction”.

Mind you that not all emotions can be labeled as I did above. The trick is to “feel it” first (not label it), and then to “hear it” in your head first (before reaching for a pedal).

The Rest

In my humble opinion, pedals falling outside those categories are mostly garbage or toys. But hey, one man’s garbage can be another man’s treasure; and toys can be fun!

Just be mindful of where each pedal belongs to. Unnecessary pedals cost unnecessary money, space; and are potential sources of audio problems.

Some Tips

Finally, here are some general tips.

How a pedal sounds on your home amp might be very different from how it sounds on a real PA and within the mix. Be ready to tweak your pedals during the sound check, and too many pedals might make a complete tweak nearly impossible in some gigs due to time limitations.

This leads us to the conclusion that simpler is better. In fact, many pro players get by without any pedals at all, and they sound just fine for their respective genre.

Be mindful of analog vs digital pedals. Analog pedals produce more organic sounds, while digital pedals usually give you more control over the sound. However, digital pedals rely on audio-to-digital converters, which might ruin your tone if the converter is not high quality.

Single pedals dedicated to a certain effect usually sound much better than multi-effect pedals; with some exceptions here and there.

Some pedals might add noise to your audio, but that problem can (sometimes) be solved.

Conclusion

Playing around with your sound is part of the fun, and it is a never ending process. Your technique, style and musical taste will change over time, and you will probably be looking for new ways to express yourself. Pedals can help you with that, but getting a pedal without a purpose is really a waste of resources.

Don’t let the gear companies make you feel inferior to sell you unnecessary pedals.

Author: Dr. Kerem Koseoglu

Mostly harmless

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