Do Guitar Players Need Effects Pedals?

Updated on February 7, 2018
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Guitar Gopher is a guitarist and bassist with over 30 years of experience as a musician.

Effects pedals are right for some guitar players, but not for others.
Effects pedals are right for some guitar players, but not for others.

Guitar Effects Pedals

Effects pedals are useful tools for guitar players who want to create their own signature sounds. In fact, many of the most recognizable guitar tones in rock history were shaped courtesy of a specific combination of pedals.

Once a guitarist finds that special sound, their pedal setup becomes almost sacred. Nothing short of an inbound Earth-killing asteroid would cause some guitarists to give up their favorite stomp boxes. Even then, nobody wants to be without their best distortion pedal on their last day on Earth.

Effects pedals can add a lot to your sound, but they bring with them an extra bit of hassle when it comes to setting up your guitar rig and making sure everything is running smoothly. For some guitar players, less is more, where others use a complicated setup consisting of many kinds of effects units.

So, are stomp boxes really necessary? Do guitar players really need effects pedals? The easy answer is no. However, the right answer for you depends on your goals, the style of music you are into and your budget.

In this article, you’ll learn more about the different ways to incorporate guitar effects into your sound, and about some of the alternatives to stomp boxes. When we're done, you’ll be better able to decide for yourself whether you need a traditional effects pedal, a digital processor or nothing at all.

Amps With Onboard Digital Effects

Some guitar players will avoid pedals at all costs. If you like effects, but you aren’t so crazy about the hassle of managing a bunch of pedals, there are alternatives. Some of the best amp builders give us outstanding guitar amps that make it possible for you to use effects in your sound without having to employ separate pedals and processors.

These are called modeling amps, and they are intended to recreate well-known amp sounds as well as provide a wide array of effects. The typical modeling amp includes several different guitar amplifier simulations along with a stable of effects and often several cabinet simulators.The idea is to give you everything you need all in one package.

Effects section from Vox Valvetronix Amp
Effects section from Vox Valvetronix Amp

Some examples of the best modeling amps include:

There are large, powerful modeling amps intended for the stage, and they are the easiest way to use effects in your sound with the least possible hassle. All you need to control your sound is the footswitch for the amp. No additional pedals are required, you just plug in and go. Of course you are going to have to take a little time to understand how to program the thing.

There are also smaller versions of these amplifiers that are more suited to hobby players and guitarists looking for a practice amp. Some of these are operable via footswitch, while others require a little knob turning to dial in the sounds you want.

The Peavey VIP Demo

Multi-Effects Units

The next easiest way to incorporate a wide array of effects into your sound without using a bunch of pedals involves the digital effects processor. These are available as rack units with floor controllers. However, managing a rack setup adds a whole new layer of madness to your rig that you don’t necessarily need to deal with in order to use digital effects.

Instead of toting a rack around, intermediate and working guitar players more commonly will use all-on-one multi-effects effects processors that go on the floor and plug into your signal chain like a stomp box. Floor digital effects processors are programmable units with several foot pedals and/or switches, and they allow you to have all the effects you need in one unit.

A single processor will allow you to use many different kinds of distortions and effects. They are easy to set up, and once you get the hang of it they are generally pretty easy to program. The smaller ones run on batteries, but the larger, pro-quality processors will require an external power source.

Some examples of high-quality digital floor processors include:

  • Boss GT-100
  • Line 6 POD HD500X
  • Digitech RP1000

The above units are performance-quality and among the best floor effects processors available. However, for beginner or intermediate guitar players there are more affordable units. These often include additional features to help you practice such as a headphone jack and even rhythm patterns and an on-board looper/sampler.

The BOSS GT-100

Stomp Boxes and Analog Effects Pedals

Not all guitars players have been impressed by the digital effects revolution. For some, nothing but real guitar effects pedals with do.

When you think of guitar effects pedals you may be thinking of the classic analog stomp boxes. In separate units, these pedals include distortion, overdrive, chorus, flanger, phaser, wah, pitch shifter/whammy and more. They are small, portable, and interchangeable, and stringing a bunch of them together allows a guitar player to have a custom pedal setup.

For many players, analog effects are the only way to go. Some say they sound more natural than digital effects and just plain better. I thought the same way for a long time, but in recent years digital effects have come a long way. Still, I personally prefer analog distortion over digital any day.

Ibanez Tube Screamer Overdrive
Ibanez Tube Screamer Overdrive

Some legendary stomp boxes include:

  • Ibanez Tube Screamer (overdrive)
  • MXR Phase 90 (phaser)
  • Electro-Harmonix Small Clone Chorus
  • Pro Co RAT (distortion pedal).
  • Dunlop Cry Baby (wah)

These types of pedals are the biggest pain to hook up. Because you have a separate pedal for each effect, you need to connect them together with patch cords between your guitar and amp. If you use very many of them you will need a pedal board to keep them sorted out.

If you only use a few pedals you can certainly get by with the internal 9-volt batteries. If you have a bunch you are going to want to use an external power supply.

Don’t let that deter you, though. If you prefer analog pedals, you can make them work for you. With analog pedals, you can put together the sounds you want and replace pieces as you see fit. And, if one pedal goes south it doesn’t ruin your whole rig.

The MXR Phase 90 Pedal

Going Without Effects

So, do you really need guitar effects pedals at all?

No, you surely do not. If you have an amp that produces sounds you like there is no need to add anything external if you don’t want to. Many amps have excellent overdrive and maybe even spring reverb, but no additional effects. For a lot of guitar players, that’s more than enough to get a great sound.

My Peavey Bandit is a good example of this. The distortion is outstanding, and the on-board reverb is very useful. I will occasionally put a chorus pedal in the effects loop, but otherwise, the amp does just fine all by its lonesome.

Some players will use minimal effects, such as a distortion pedal, plus something for color such as a chorus pedal, and maybe a wah pedal. That’s a good, basic analog pedal setup for beginners.

Effects should be looked at as a never-ending experiment. Once you get a good sound, add something new and see how you like it. Change things up. Try different things.

The most important piece of advice I can pass on is this: Do not rely on your effects pedals to do the work for you. I can think of a couple of guitar players in recent years that have gotten a lot of acclaim, and all they are really doing is manipulating effects. They might impress the general public, but other guitar players know what they are about.

No effects processor, amp modeler, wah pedal, pitch shifter or anything else can take the place of practicing and getting good at guitar.

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