I have a Squier Tele and cheap Fender Frontman.

I have no ambitions beyond playing a bit in my man cave.

But the clean tone of my guitar discourages me so much

I want a bit of punch and crunch. The Frontman has a built in Overdrive which helps, but what else could I look at?

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    This seems to be a shopping help question which is off-topic. Check here about what's on-topic and what's not: music.stackexchange.com/help/on-topic – Matt Mar 23 at 8:42
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    Unless you are allergic to digital technology, I'd recommend looking at digital multi-effect pedals - a good modern digital pedal is capable of a passable version of most basic sounds, and you'll potentially waste much less time experimenting with the possibilities in a digital multi-fx than hunting for the best separate pedals. – topo Reinstate Monica Mar 23 at 9:29
  • I'd be happy for this to reopen if it didn't sound like looking for recommendations for specific gear, but reflected the answer provided by piiperi Reinstate Monica. – Tim Mar 23 at 12:16
  • The question could be understood as: "I want something more to proceed in my guitar playing, but I'm not sure what exactly or how to find it". This problem can be solved and answered. A digital multi-effect such as the Mooer or Zoom has everything - including things you didn't know existed - in a usable little box, with the required expression pedal and switches. At the price of ONE regular Boss overdrive pedal. Get one of those multi-effects and start exploring. I think a pedal like that should be included as a bonus accessory, learning material on introductory electric guitar courses. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Mar 23 at 13:17
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    @piiperiReinstateMonica the title still reeks shopping recommendation issue and it's currently on HNQ... – Andrew T. Mar 24 at 3:23

I initially voted for closing because this sounded like asking for product recommendations, but on second thought, this is a relevant question and answerable.

There are so many different types and categories of guitar effects, a beginner cannot possibly know which way to go and what the effects actually do in practice. By getting a cheap digital multi-effect you can get familiar with the world of guitar effects, and then you'll have a way of knowing what you're interested in.

There are products such as the Mooer GE100 and Zoom G1X Four (neither of which I have touched or tried in any way) which cost around $100 and include basically all types of effects and utilities: tuner, noise gate, compression, wah-wah, modulation/chorus/tremolo/phaser/flanger, overdrive/distortion, delay, reverb, amp simulation with all main categories of amp types, looper, and drum machine, and an expression pedal for wah/volume and foot switches to switch effects on/off. With such a pedal - if you can manage the user interface which is bound to be fairly complex, with dozens of different things packed inside a small box - you get an introduction to practically everything there is in the world of guitar effects. Maybe you'll find out that you're only interested in overdrives and delays, but not modulation or reverb. Or maybe you'll discover loopers, which you maybe wouldn't have thought of. Or maybe you'll notice that a compressor does something you like, which wouldn't have occurred to you hadn't there been a compressor in the multi-effect.

You can consider a pedal like that as a $100 guided tour to the huge world of electric guitar effects. I can't think of any other practical way to really get to know what's out there - you have to try all different types of effects. Good luck!

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    the lack of paragraphs makes this answer hard to read, the formatting problems may detract from what could otherwise be a good answer. – Neil Meyer Mar 23 at 14:00
  • There's a certain irony to writing that it's not asking for product recommendations and then answering with product recommendations. – Aaron Mar 24 at 2:41
  • @Aaron One might perhaps be able to interpret it not as a recommendation of specific products, but examples of a class of products. Without concrete examples it would be hard to understand what it's talking about. The mentioned Mooer and Zoom pedals seem to be a new class of product, with all usual types of effects, amp/cab models and tools in the same small box, for the price of one Boss pedal. And based on reviews they are very usable quality. Like when the first Line6 POD came out in 1998, it created almost like a new instrument type. I still occasionally use the POD I bought in 1999. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Mar 24 at 8:03

While digital effects are cost-effective, I personally prefer some inexpensive stompboxes. The reason is that with a stompbox it's very easy to turn some knobs and immediately hear how it changes your tone, whereas with a digital multi-effects you need to go through digital menus and you miss the immediate response.

I would recommend getting yourself some inexpensive clones. Some brands that come to mind are Caline (I own a few of those), NUX, or even Amazon's own pedals (yes, they are doing these now).

As for the basic effects, I would recommend getting an overdrive, a delay, and a reverb. I you enjoy playing clean sometimes, get a compressor, or if you prefer more dirt, go for a distortion. Finally, a looper is a great tool to learning (it forces you to listen to your own rythm and it helps you practice your timing).

Paul Davids created a video with his own recommendations:

  • How does a beginner find out what he prefers? – piiperi Reinstate Monica Mar 23 at 15:00
  • I think beginners do have an idea in their minds as to what they want to play (at least to begin with). The OP mentioned that he wants "a bit of punch and crunch" already. Also, I mentioned it as my 4th choice. The first 3 might allow you to find that out. – mkorman Mar 23 at 15:10
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    The basic list here is a good start and basically my setup. I have, in order, compressor stomp, a "not too vocal Q" wah, tube screamer (overdrive) stomp, and a very slight touch of stereo delay and reverb. I have the amp set so at max guitar knob, no pedals, it starts to crack a little but mostly very clean, the tube screamer is set to "very hot gain"at 10 guitar volume, but can be very clean around 5, and the compressor I add in really boost it to fuzz pedal territory (comp gain on top of tube screamer gain). The wah adds a lot of color control, I never turn it off. – Yorik Mar 23 at 17:21
  • @piiperiReinstateMonica Why does a beginner need to find out what they prefer? In other times I would suggest going to a store and trying things out. Today perhaps ordering from sites that have good return policies. Another way to try alternatives from home is to buy used and resell for small losses (or even small gains) whatever one doesn't like. Watching video reviews to see what sounds cool and imitating pros who one likes also help. But if you don't know what you like then you can take the approach of finding a sound through experiment rather than chasing something in your head. – Todd Wilcox Mar 25 at 13:38
  • @ToddWilcox I'm not sure what your point is. I'm telling beginners to experiment, but I can't realistically say that to play guitar has to mean getting into the buying and selling pedals way of life. And the only substantiated reason for that being that multieffects have menus. These recent all-in-one pedals cost less than the cheapest Boss looper, and even work with USB power, so they should feel like a safe way to start. I ordered a Zoom G1X Four to see what it's like, but the demos seem very convincing. Good for me that I can afford to do that. – piiperi Reinstate Monica Mar 25 at 14:36

I know your question is about pedals, but that might not be what you actually want to look at.

But the clean tone of my guitar discourages me so much

I want a bit of punch and crunch. The Frontman has a built in Overdrive which helps, but what else could I look at?

The first thing I thought of when I read your question is that you should strongly consider upgrading your amp to a low-wattage 1x12 all-tube combo amp, instead of buying pedals at this time. A quick search on Sweetwater.com shows that Fender, Marshall, Supro, Vox, and Blackstar all make amps with those qualities for under USD 700. Before you decide that $500 - $700 is more than you want to spend to improve your tone, consider whether you might end up buying more than four $100 pedals in the search for a better sound, all which would could be held back by the tone of your Frontman.

I started playing guitar with literally the cheapest amp they had in my local music store. Like you, I quickly became frustrated that I just couldn't get the sounds I heard on records from my first guitar and amp. I bought a Boss BD-2 blues driver pedal and a Dunlop Crybaby wah pedal, but that didn't make me very happy. After saving everything for about two years (I was in college and working fast food part time), I was able to buy a Fender Blues Deluxe amp and everything sounded much better. With that I was able to get some excellent tones, and I've had that amp for 25 years now. I've used it on gigs and recordings even after buying a boutique amp (which I love also) about 18 years ago.

The reason why I suggest not merely adding pedals with the Frontman is that the Frontman will impart its sound on everything that runs through it, so pedals might improve things a bit but there's always going to be a limit on what you're hearing from your guitar until you get a quality amp. By upgrading your amp first, you not only improve your sound right away, you also create a much better sonic environment for whatever pedals you want to add later.

Thinking about the journeys of myself and my students, here is how I would recommend moving through the process of purchasing gear as a guitarist over the years.

  1. Start small and affordable - decide to commit to guitar or not before spending a lot of money (you are already done with this step) - BTW in my experience the Squire guitars are great for the price and you can hold off on replacing it until you really know you want a different guitar
  2. Purchase a 1x12 tube combo amp - low wattage is good for keeping it home-friendly. An alternative is an affordable amp modeler - upside is you can practice silently with headphones - downside is it will become obsolete while a decent tube amp is a lifetime musical instrument
  3. The first pedal I'd recommend to anyone is something in the overdrive/fuzz/distortion/boost category. One way to go is copy your guitar hero(s) on this (e.g., as a huge Jimmy Page fan I should have, but didn't, look for a Tone Bender clone much earlier than I did). A pedal like this really gives you a lot of options to create different tones, especially when combined with a good tube amp.
  4. After that it starts to get more specific to genre and playing style. For many styles, a compressor is a good way to go for a second pedal. Other styles might be helped best by a wah, phaser, flanger, chorus, delay, or even another flavor of OD/distortion/fuzz/boost.
  5. At some point, you'll probably get a sense of when your guitar is holding you back. Unfortunately it is my strong opinion that the guitar itself is very personal and you really should try before you buy so you can tell if it feels right for you, and while the pandemic lasts that is not so easy to do.

Repeat as needed/desired. Buying used is great although for the first couple purchases in each category, it's really nice to be able to go to a store and actually play the different options in your price range.

Regarding digital anything: Digital stuff does become obsolete. Sometimes it takes longer, sometimes not so long. Most analog stuff becomes vintage with enough time, but either way it's very rare that an analog design comes out that is clearly superior to a previous analog design for the same purpose. I suggest that digital guitar effects, amp modelers, etc. are the perfect tools for working and gigging, but can be frustrating for finding your personal tone, playing for your own enjoyment, and building a life-long collection of gear.

The exceptions are the categories of time-based effects. This includes delay, reverb, chorus, flanger, pitch-shifting, looping, and few other less common effect types. While most of those effect types are available both in analog and digital form, and the analog versions often have a lot of character (and higher cost), the digital versions are generally very good and also have a lot more longevity. There are a few digital effects that have such a character and quality that they have become vintage instead of obsolete, including the Digitech Whammy Pedal and the Line 6 DL-4. The digital effects that I find to be the weakest are the amp simulations (although those have become very good lately), distortion/OD/fuzz/boost, and compressors. At least for the last two categories, there are too many excellent affordable analog options that there's no need to go digital for them unless you really need a small footprint for the stage or orchestra pit.

  • I had the same initial thought. You can’t polish a turd. – wabisabied Mar 24 at 2:34
  • Boo. My poor Fender frontman I prefer to think about it as putting earrings on Chewbacca – Matt Evans Mar 25 at 9:02

I will not point to brands, but general types of pedal:

A one point or another, you'll want a distortion or an overdrive. Unless you stay within very specific styles, you will want one of these for sure and distortions are pretty much the first pedal that most guitarists get.

Delays and Reverbs will make your sound more rich and can be nice to have at the beginning.

A looper is really useful to learn. While it doesn't change the sound of your guitar, it open a lot of possibilities and makes playing more fun.

Stay away from flangers, phasers, wah-wahs, etc pedals at the beginning until you know you need one for the sound you're after because in general they will not help you at the beginning.

Compressors can be quite useful in some cases and totally useless in many others, so this is also not your first pedal.

More exotic things like octavers, etc are also not immediately useful.

Having a pedal tuner can be quite convenient too.

If I was talking to "young me" about spending money on pedals when I started, I'd get a distortion, a reverb and a tuner.

Experience told me that cheap multi effects are usually crap and good pedals don't have to be expensive at all. Just make sure you buy a power adapter because they can run through batteries quick.

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    I like your advice to "young me." Distortion and reverb surely are essentials. – Michael Curtis Mar 24 at 13:59

There isn't a definitive answer, because effects make tone, and tone is very personal.

But, there is a standard order to the pedal chain and typical pedals.

IMO a basic set up, in chain order, is: compressor > overdrive > delay > reverb

A compressor will help with sustain. Electric guitar normally has a weak sound with a very fast decay. Compression helps make the sound fuller. It is used in tandem with overdrive to get that full, singing sustain for rock lead guitar. Compression might seem like one to skip, because it doesn't really change tone, technically timbre, but it's a standard effect.

You might be able to skip the delay, depending on what you want. In some styles, like the Edge from U2, delay is indispensable. Lots of hard rock lead has a subtle delay added which you may/may not be able to live without. If you just want a bit of echo for the resonant sound of a large room, skip the delay and just get reverb. Normally, I'm not a fan a multi-function anything, but they do make reverb/delay comb pedals. That could save you the agony of deciding one or the other.

So, if you really strip it down, it's a pretty generic: compressor > overdrive > reverb

Pedals like delay, wah, flange, chorus, etc. can then be thought of as style/genre pedals. Options to add depending on your taste and as your budget permits.

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