What pedals should I use?


My student, Tom, asked me a question about guitar pedals recently and I thought I would use the opportunity to share it with y’all.

What pedals should I use?

Tom: We were looking at pedals yesterday at a music store and were totally lost. Do you have any recommendation? Are there jazz pedals, blues pedals etc. and how does the amp ( Fender Blues Jr) affect the decision?

Me: Traditional jazz players usually do not use pedals at all. They might use a touch of reverb which is usually built into the amp. Does your fender amp have reverb? I believe it does.
Everybody else uses pedals. I use two, sometimes three.

Digital delay is the most essential. I would get one of those first. I use the MXR Carbon Copy but any of the major brands such as Boss and Ibanez are good. You can do many things with a delay. The most obvious is echo. You can get as many or as few echoes as you like. By adjusting the settings you can make the guitar sound like it is in a big hall or a cave. You can create harmony by playing in time with the echo. A good example is Brian May of Queen. He did an instruction video in the 80s illustrating his use of echo. Another example is Edge, of U2, he uses delay on everything. You can also get a slap back effect that is used for country and rockabilly.

I also use a Boss chorus. It’s hard to describe what a chorus does. You just have to hear it. It sounds like doubling the guitar. There are probably some examples on YouTube. You can simulate chorus also with the MXR Carbon Copy.

The third pedal I use is an Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer. It is very popular because SRV used it. The Tube Screamer is what is known as an overdrive pedal, similar to a distortion pedal. It is preferred by blues players more than a distortion pedal because it doesn’t distort as much. The idea is to simulate overdriven tube amplifiers turned up loud, which is the sound of the classic rock such as Clapton, Hendrix, and Page.

Rock players, and especially heavy rock players, prefer distortion pedals. Boss makes a variety of distortion pedals. You might prefer distortion pedals because you can get a lot of distortion or you can roll it back to simulate an overdrive pedal.
The Boss distortion pedals are good, but there are a lot of varieties. You may want to try some to see which sounds best to your ears. You can’t go wrong with Boss pedals. They cost a little more but you get what you pay for.

The Wah wah pedal is a lot of fun. Dunlap makes a good Wah wah pedal. That is the sound you hear on the intro to voodoo chile by Hendrix.

The compression pedal is popular with studio recording musicians and country players because it keeps the signal constant, not to loud and not too soft. That is another pedal that is hard to put in words. You may want to go on You Tube to hear one. Michael Oldfield uses heavy compression and has a great sound. There is a concert on You Tube of him performing the Tubular Bells 2 album. It is awesome!

Keep in mind that pedals effect the tone of your guitar and amplifier. Once upon a time I had a chain of about six or seven. Over the years I tossed out one at a time because it does something to the tone of your amplifier.

Having a nice guitar and amp is the first priority which I think you have that.

A salesman might try to sell you a multi-effects pedal that supposedly does everything. I have never liked them because they mess up your tone in my experience. You usually find two or three sounds that you like. All the other sounds are impressive at first but they usually sound kind of cheesy. You don’t see a lot of pros using them.

As a performing musician, remember, with each pedal, gadget, connection, and chord, you increase the chance of problems on stage while the audience is staring at you. Also, if you perform a lot, it increases your set up and break down time. I like to keep things as simple as possible. It still takes me an hour to set up my gear at a gig and I always add on 30 minutes extra in case I have a technical problem.

But, keep in mind that I’m an old-school guy. This is all just my taste.
To summarize, I would get the MXR Carbon Copy and a distortion or overdrive second. They are the essential pedals. Everything else is just icing on the cake.

I hope this helps. Jam on!
Brian Turner

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