I was wondering what guitar effects pedals are important to get. What are the typical pedals that one might need in order to get started? What is the bare minimum and what would be the ultimate ideal setup for each one according to these genres:


What pedals are important here? List each one on a scale of 1 to 10. What applies best out of these: Overdrive, Distortion, Fuzz?


What fits in here? I assume a lot of Fuzz.


I assume some overdrive belongs here. :)


I have a pedalboard situated for this and was wondering what would be best.

I may add more genres later but for now this is it! Any answers are much appreciated!

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    @Dr, I think that this is a valuable question for performing musicians. How about suggesting a rewording of the question that would pass muster? I'd take a shot but I'm notorious for getting my questions downvoted. :-) – pro Oct 10 '14 at 15:49
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    @DrMayhem A genre is a collection of patterns. Those patterns can be observed and analyzed objectively. It's not about right or wrong, but about the most common causes of the timbre dynamics of a genre or style. It's not about preference, but about means of achieving the common timbres that a genre or style carries. – user1079425 Oct 10 '14 at 21:41
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    @DrMayhem All those effect pedals (fuzz, distortion, and overdrive) can be generalized as distortion effects, and attached to the metal genre as such. "Distortion inducing pedals are the core of the metal guitar sound. Some common examples are fuzz, distortion, and overdrive; but it can also be achieved through FM, AM, waveshaping, etc". Again, it is not about what is preferred, but about what is needed. Also, that bit that isn't opinion based is what the question is about. – user1079425 Oct 10 '14 at 21:57
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    @DrMayhem I was not asking the question merely for opinions, I was asking to see the Industry standards and such, I was wondering what is specifically used. – Geroy290 Oct 10 '14 at 22:36
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    I'm certainly not going to close it if it gets reopened, but like this one I answered in 2012, I think it is opinion/consensus based: music.stackexchange.com/a/6604/104 - in fact it was specifically because of that one that I feel these are unanswerable in any useful way. – Doktor Mayhem Oct 11 '14 at 8:21

Effects are usually a relatively personal topic among guitar players, so you will probably get a lot of variation among answers to this question. I can give my opinion on the matter but it's always best to experiment yourself and figure out what you like the sound of.

Generally I use an overdrive/distortion, a fuzz pedal, and a delay pedal for my bare-minimum setup. The fuzz is a personal thing, as it was my first pedal and I have always found uses for it, but it's not absolutely necessary for all genres. Basically you want to start with a good distortion or overdrive pedal, and your choice is going to depend on what styles of music you play.

For classic rock or blues if you have a decent tube amp with good built in distortion, you can use something like a Tube Screamer to get both light overdrive or push it harder for a heavier distortion when combined with the dirty channel on your amp.

For heavier rock/metal a fuzz might be useful, but you are also probably going to want a heavier distortion pedal. Boss makes some decent heavier "metal" type distortions, or again if you have the right amp sometimes a Tube Screamer might be enough to push the amp into heavier territories. The Proco rat and OCD pedals are a couple classic choices for heavier distorted sounds.

A delay pedal is usually the next most important pedal in my setup, and I'd say most guitarists are going to have one somewhere on their board. I don't usually use a reverb pedal because I will just use the amp's reverb, but delay is pretty important to me. You can get short slap-back delay which works great for country or blues, or you can push the delay time a bit and get a heavier, thicker sound that works well for rock or metal solos or interesting arpeggio based clean licks.

After a good OD/distortion and delay pedal, you can go any number of different directions. For classic rock or even metal I might get a wah pedal, but for more modern rock I would probably move towards modulation like a chorus or phaser pedal. A good compression or EQ pedal can also come in handy at this point, so you really have to do some experimenting to figure out what works with your sound. This is where personal preference and the music you are playing enters more into the decision process. Everyone needs distortion and delay (for the most part), but beyond that it becomes a little more complicated.

Also it's worth mentioning that if you are unsure of what pedals you will be able to find uses for, it might make sense to get a multi-effects pedal to do some experimentation with. They usually don't sound quite as good as individual pedals, but they are really useful for trying out different effects in different combinations to see what works best for you.

One last thing, you asked also for the "ultimate setup." If I had plenty of space (and money) my ideal board would probably look something like this:

tuner > volume > compression > fuzz > overdrive > distortion > EQ > wah > tremolo > chorus > flanger > phaser > octave > reverb > delay

That would pretty much cover you for any genre, from blues to rock to metal to worship, but it would also probably be overkill for a lot of situations. Again, experiment on your own with the basic elements and see what you like the best.

Edit: I forgot about the tuner. Very useful for playing live. Also a volume pedal can be helpful for easy volume control and swells if you want them.

  • +1 for the great answer. For experimenting and performing I'd recommend a multi-effect. I personally use Axe-Fx for everything. An equally important fact; very much is done with your hands, your picking technique and the settings on your guitar. – AlexanderBrevig Oct 14 '14 at 8:04
  • Also, the routing of the pedals can achieve very interesting things - you may want different setups for different genres. (I.e [volume > effects vs effects > volume], [reverb > delay vs delay > reverb], [distortion > EQ vs EQ > distortion] etc) – AlexanderBrevig Oct 14 '14 at 8:07
  • Yeah, you could write books about pedal order alone. It's all subjective so experimentation is usually the best route. I've never tried Axe-Fx, but heard good things. For me I need buttons and knobs to tweak, I can't deal with menus. For multi-effects I like the Line 6 M13. It's got a ton of effects with the simplicity of a stompbox. – charlie Oct 14 '14 at 8:10

The line between Blues, Rock and Metal can be "fuzz"ier than you'd think.

Effects can be broken up into three classes: Gain, Modulation and Time (GMT), and roughly, they are placed in the chain in this order.

(If you place things out of this order and like the sound, you are under no requirement to change.)

In the Gain section, Distortion occurs when the smooth wave of the signal gets "clipped" because the circuit cannot handle the signal. You can do this by using higher-output pickups, putting a pedal before the amp that forces it, boost the signal with a pedal going into the preamp, boosting the preamp to get the power amp distorting, and pushing the speakers to where they break.

Also involved is compression, where the volume difference between playing hard and playing soft. One big benefit from compression that you don't get from fuzz is sustain. The longer the note goes, the more voice-like or violin-like a note can be, and part of why guitar has been so popular in the last 50 years is that electricity has allowed it to sustain and sing.

(Far more about these points can be found elsewhere here, and also all around the Internet. Distortion and compression are much of what guitarists want to talk about.)

With pedals, the distortion and fuzz pedals give that square wave without necessarily adding signal, and overdrive and boost pedals amplify the signal without necessarily altering the wave.

There are great guitarists who use pedals to get their distortion. There are great guitarists who essentially plug right into the amp.

Modulation is changing the characteristics of the sound. Tremolo, vibrato, chorus, phase and flange are prime examples, as is the wah, although generally, the wah is placed as the first pedal after the guitar. I think you'd categorize pitch shifters and octave splitters here, too, but I'm not sure if you'd generally put octave splitters before or after fuzz...

Time effects are generally reverb and echo/delay. If you have a volume pedal or kill switch, you generally put it before the time effects, so that swells and repeats are not stopped when you silence the signal.

There are certain artists who are known for certain classes of effect. I associate Jimi Hendrix with the wah, U2's the Edge with delays, Dick Dale with excessive amounts of reverb, Tom Morello and Jack White with the Whammy Pedal pitch shifter, and Andy Summers of the Police and lots of fusion players with chorus. I don't associate metal with time effects much, as this would tend to muddy up the fast rhythms.

Specifically with worship, there was a point where the CCM/Worship guitar sound was Journey, followed by U2. Lately I'm hearing and playing lots of pop-punk influence -- basically crunchy guitar without much modulation or reverb/delay -- plus some folky bleedover from Mumford and Sons, but your congregation may vary.

But, given any effect, there is likely a player in any genre that uses it to great effect.

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    "...benefit from compression that you don't get from fuzz is sustain..." – actually you do get a bit of sustain from fuzz. Most distortion/overdrive etc. actually compress the signal quite a lot, in addition to the more obvious effect of adding of harmonic/intermodulation overtones (that's what compressors don't do, at least not a lot). – leftaroundabout Oct 8 '14 at 19:29
  • Not all grit is fuzz. I was trying to specify a specific class of pedals. Otherwise, granted – Dave Jacoby Oct 8 '14 at 22:19

Best advise I can give is to think about which artist exemplifies any given genre in your mind and research his setup.

An often overlooked item is a graphic equalizer placed after a run of the mill distortion box. By cutting or boosting certain frequencies post distortion you can traverse between many classic rock and metal sounds.

As an aside, the term Fuzz is usually reserved for that late sixties Jimi Hendrix, or more rrecently Queens of the Stone Age type of sound. Not metal. At all.

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    Fuzz is nowadays perhaps more common on bass than on guitar (unlike distortion/overdrive, it doesn't alter the frequency response very much, so works well in frequency domains unintended for). – leftaroundabout Oct 8 '14 at 19:34

Generic pedals that are useful for all electric guitar genres are:

  • Volume boost and Volume rocker pedal for solos and for adjusting volume on the fly.
  • Overdrive for solos, tone coloration and sustain
  • Chorus for shimmering effects and to soften the harshness of the overdrive

This is a subjective question, but my opinion is that there is only one essential pedal for a gigging musician: a tuner. Obviously, tuners keep you in tune, and they also serve as a kill switch so you can put your guitar down without worrying about feedback.

I feel the best overdriven or distorted sounds are generated by tube amps, not pedals, for any genre. For blues and classic rock you can use your guitar's volume control to adjust the amount gain. For rock and metal, an amp with at least two foot-switchable channels is ideal. If the guitar's volume control doesn't give you the range of gain you desire, use a boost or overdrive pedal (such a tube screamer) to help push the tubes.

Here is a nice example of the diversity of tones you can get without pedals.

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