Guitar Pedals 101

BY: Gary Stevens

With the amount of genres out there, it’s only natural that distortion pedals have become so popular. A lot of people don’t actually understand how effect pedals work and how they function together with your amp or guitar.
In today’s post and infographic, we’ll look at some of the different effect pedals and pedal boards.

What is Distortion?

Distortion isn’t incredibly difficult to understand. It’s describes any modification upon an audio signal to produce a unique sound or set of sounds. This all comes down to sine waves and how they function. Without getting too technical and describing the different sine wave patterns, let’s just focus on a few different devices.


The most common form of distortion is known as overdrive. Overdrive works by augmenting an increase in gain at very specific outputs. Softing playing won’t trigger an overdrive distortion, however, harder playing will cause the overdrive processor to create clipping patterns. What overdrive offers is softer clipping, which helps the original timbre of your instrument maintain equilibrium.

Overdrive was created and used in tube amplifiers where any increase in voltage gain would cause the amp to overdrive and produce the desired effect. A modern overdrive processor like those in any pedal amp below basically try to mimic that effect in amplifiers that don’t utilize tube amps.

This means that a processor requires higher volume from the amplifier to assist in creating the effect as well as a healthy dose of “color mixing” to mimic the effect better. One last ability that I should mention is tone dial which can create clean sounds but sometimes overdrive tones can come out a bit harsh.


Most distortion pedals like those used for metal and grunge are pretty bold about their fluctuation. An overdrive processor while still distorting your instrument’s sound has a fairly mild effect.  Most pedals don’t rely on gain fluctuations, instead, they just change the wave shape.  It should be noted that overdrive’s warner tones disappear alongside much of the original timbre of your instrument.

Fuzz Pedal

Another really popular and specific type of effect is fuzz, which is common in the metal and industrial genre. It is also a favorite for vocals as well as instruments. Fuzzboxes add a certain kind of distortion that sounds just like the name - fuzzy. The original signal is totally changed and morphed into a square waveform. It’s like the sound hits a wall and then reforms into a new entity before carrying on.
Fuzzboxes can also add a slight harmonic overtone to help give an artificially rounded and warmer sound. Using adjustable frequency multiplier the harsher sound is modified, and can create harmonic overtones instead.

Chorus Pedal

A chorus pedal works by creating slight variations in the pitch and also the timing of multiple performers. It’s one of the more commonly used effect pedals and helps give music a slightly “dreamy” quality. It’s a great choice for acoustic amps, electric pianos or clavinets.

Compression Pedal

A compressor helps "compresses" the signal made by your guitar. It normalizes the dynamic range of the audio input signal based on a threshold value. Anytime you record anything this is a key component. Everything you hear in music that is produced today is compressed in some way--and it can sound anything from a subtle barely noticeable effect to a thick, dampened squish.
While there are a few other effect pedals out there the ones I’ve covered today are the most important.  For more information take a quick look at the infographic below and leave a comment if you have any questions about effect pedals or how to find the best one for your needs.