A brief guide to guitar pedals for begin­ners

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I wrote a few of these music basics guides to use in a promo zine I used to make with list­ings of the gigs I promoted. I thought I’d post them here, in case they’re of contin­ued use to people.

Guitar pedals are a lot of fun, but there’s a mind-boggling selec­tion when you’re just start­ing out.

Watch­ing YouTube demon­stra­tions of pedals can be a good way to find out what ones you like, but a lot of the presenters are big showoffs, so don’t be put off if you dislike the music they play, concen­trate on listen­ing to the differ­ence between the sound when the pedal is off and on, and with differ­ent settings and wheth­er you like the change.

If you want to try out pedals in a shop, but are feel­ing shy, you can bring head­phones and ask to use a demo amp with a head­phone sock­et.

Some clas­sics:

Tuner pedal– get one with a light up display so you can see what you’re doing
Ibanex Tube Scream­er- crunchy over­drive and gain (ie makes the sound harder and more power­ful)

Pro Co RAT– the go-to dirty distor­tion pedal
Boss DS-1– The RAT’s slightly prici­er rival

Elec­tro-Harmonix Big Muff- the clas­sic warm fuzz pedal

Elec­tro-Harmonix Pog– play in harmony with your­self
Boss Loop Station- loop your­self play­ing
Elec­tro-Harmonix Holy Grail- heav­enly reverb
Boss Space Echo- inter­galactic tape loop emula­tion (it’s a modern digit­al version of a clas­sic 60s psyche­del­ic pedal)

All of these are from mid-priced solid brands that will be reli­able and last a long time.

There are a lot of very cheap brands like Joyo and Mooer avail­able online now. Some of their pedals are great, some are great but do some­thing differ­ent to what you thought you ordered, and some are terrible. You don’t really know until you try them. Same with multi-effects- Jack of all trades, master of none.

TC Elec­tric, Daneelctro and Behringer are good low-priced brands. Plastic pedals are however much less sturdy than metal ones.

There are also compan­ies like Stry­mon and a whole host of tiny cottage indus­tries produ­cing beau­ti­ful expens­ive pedals.

Signal chain:

The order you arrange the pedals (the signal chain) also makes a huge differ­ence to what kind of sound you get out. Each pedal changes some­thing about the sound, which is then passed on to the input of the next one so differ­ent orders can create very differ­ent effects.

Pedals labelled “True Bypass” don’t affect the sound when they are turned off. Cheap­er pedals without it still change the sound when they’re off.

Tuner pedal first: you don’t want the effects confus­ing it

Basic prin­ciple: Dirt Before Decay
This isn’t a hard and fast rule, it’s just what often works best. Delay and reverb pedals can confuse or over­power other effects. Of course the fun is in trying differ­ent combos out and find­ing a surprise new arrange­ment and sound.

A clas­sic signal chain is:

Tuner→ Volume/​compressor→ Overdrive/​Distortion→ Fuzz  → Flange/​Chorus/​Octave → Reverb/​Delay (Loop pedal goes anywhere you want)

Example signal chain kindly provided by my friend Chris from Lazy Pilgrims:
Crowth­er Hotcake (over­drive)→ Barber Trifecta (fuzz)→ EHX Soul Food (overdrive/​distortion)→ EHX POG 1 (octave)→ Korg Pitch­black (tuner)→ EHX Super­ego (synth sound)→ Danelec­tro Big Spend­er (rotary speak­er)→ Way Huge Supa Puss (delay)→ Digit­ech Obscura (dark delay)  Biyang Flanger (cheap Chinese one)→ Stry­mon Blue Sky (reverb)→ TC Elec­tron­ic Flashbackx4 (clas­sic delay emula­tion) x


The major­ity of pedals use 9v DC power, and many also take 9v batter­ies. Some want 12v. Check the voltage.

Power adaptors have a pin in the centre of the plug which can be wired up posit­ive or negat­ive. Nearly all pedals have a negat­ive pin (and a stick­er with the negat­ive polar­ity symbol). Don’t mix up differ­ent polar­ity gear and plugs.

Daisy chain­ing and power blocks:

The simplest way to connect multiple pedals to one power supply is to get a cheap daisy chain cable. This isn’t ideal though as it can create annoy­ing buzzes and stat­ic and be unre­li­able.

The better option is to get an isol­ated power supply like a Fuel Tank Jr. It’s a block with multiple 500mA 9v and 12v outlets, and each one is insu­lated and separ­ate so it doesn’t inter­fere with the others. (Ignore any cheap online ones you see for £20 or so- they’re just loose cables inside a box! Stick with a reput­able brand rather than risk your pedals)

Roland and Boss:

Roland and Boss pedals like you to use their own special filtered power cable. It has a little ferrite block halfway that blocks inter­fer­ence. You can use a cheap­er power supply, but it’s much more likely to get annoy­ing hums and stat­ic.


Amperes aren’t so import­ant if you’re directly power­ing each pedal, but if you daisy chain them togeth­er they become import­ant. Each pedal needs so many milli­amps which varies by pedal type from 20-300mA. The power supply will tell you on a label under­neath how many mA it can give (usually 500mA/0.5A for a simple 9v supply). If the combined equip­ment draws too much for the power supply to cope with, everything is going to get over­heated and danger­ous. It’s fine to use a power supply that can give more total milli­amps than the equip­ment needs.

VERY IMPORTANT: If you’re swap­ping power supplies between equip­ment like pedals, pads and synths it’s very import­ant to check that the voltage (and wheth­er it’s AC or DC), polar­ity and max mA draw ALL match up, or else you’re look­ing at equip­ment that either does noth­ing or danger­ously over­heats

Also if you buy anything with a power supply from abroad, check the voltage before use! Europe and Australasia use 220/​240v, but North Amer­ica and Japan use 110v.

If the power adaptor says 110-240v, 220v or 240v, you’re fine. If it says 120v only, you need to get a UK power supply for it first.

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