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Pedals: Not Just for Guitarists

Click here to view our range of guitar pedals.

Guitar pedals are for guitars right? Not necessarily! It's pretty common practice for producers and some DJ's to incorporate guitar stompboxes into their setups. But unless you play or grew up playing the world's favourite 6-stringed instrument, you might not have any of these compact FX units just lying around. So why would you consider picking some up? Which ones should you get? And how should you use them with your existing gear?

Everyone who's used outboard equipment in their production understands why it's great; hands on control. There's some amazing virtual instruments and effects nowadays, but outside of the analog vs digital debate there's a lot to be said for getting hands on with your gear. The ability to adjust, tweak and evolve parameters by pushing buttons and twisting knobs can help you feel more connected to your sound, not to mention it's loads of fun! Guitar pedals offer the same benefits, they're more often than not simple in design and regularly have one-knob-per-function layouts, providing great tactile feedback for tweaking and use in live or jam type scenarios. We also know that messing around with outboard gear can result in happy "accidents" which often become the catalyst for something much more. The creative experimentation that can result from having some outboard FX is one of the main reasons you might consider guitar pedals. Coupled with the fact that there's virtually no setup involved (unless you're using them in a send/return configuration) the ability to grab a pedal, plug it into something new or adjust the FX chain on the fly is a huge advantage!

Beyond the fun hands-on benefits, stompboxes allow you to quickly and easily add some new colour to your sound. The added depth and character you can create by including some pedals in your chain can not only spark creative inspiration, but for many it's what helps them start to establish an individual "sound". It's true that many synths come with their own onboard effects and quite often these are great, but what if you want a more complex delay or you like shimmer style reverbs? This is where pedals come in. They offer you endless possibilities to quickly customise your sound and make it thoroughly individual. By nature pedals also often encourage the building of effects settings from scratch, another way to make a sound uniquely yours.

Korg Volca Bass running through a Boss DS-1 distortion pedal:

So what should you consider? Which FX pedals are the most important? That's a question without a straight-forward answer. It really depends on your existing setup, what sort of music you like to produce and what FX you think will be most beneficial to have in the stompbox format. If you're working a lot with mono synths, overdrive or distortion pedals are a popular option. They can do anything from beef up a bassline with a little harmonic grit to provide that dirty, overdriven 303 style acid sound. In the modulation/spacial FX realm delay and reverb are the heavy-hitters. Delays come in all forms, from super clean to gritty tape style echo units and reverbs are much the same with everything from simple spring and hall verbs, to more complex units that will produce shimmer and non-linear styles, great for ambient music. Needless to say delay and reverb sound great on most things, but if you've got a polysynth that lacks onboard FX these are a great idea, think big chords through a big reverb and delay chain! Outside of these, extra modulation effects like Chorus, Flange and Phasers are used heavily, but beyond that you can get really unique! There are harmonic modulation pedals, like harmonizers and pitch shifters, ring modulators, external filters with complex envelope shapers, octave generators, amp simulators, dynamic FX such as compressors and gates and pedals that will do combinations of effects.

The range of effects available is really one of the great strengths of guitar pedals. The options are enormous and the ability to mix and match from a huge number of styles and manufactures is again highly conducive to creating a unique sound. Along with the massive palette of FX pedals to choose from, a wide range of pricing options is also available. There's a great selection of stompboxes under $100 from brands like Behringer and Hotone, who both manufacture most any effect you could want. Above that TC Electronic, Moog and probably the most iconic stompbox manufacturer of all time, Boss make an awesome range of mid-priced units in both the more straight-forward and slightly weirder varieties. While the likes of Strymon, Eventide and a swag of more boutique brands like Bogner occupy the top-end of the market offering construction with premium components and often expanded control options.

So once you've got some pedals, whats the best way to incorporate them into your setup? There's two main ways to use your pedals, either via direct input or as a send/return. Direct input is the simplest way, you just go from your instrument into the pedal(s) and out into your DAW/Mixer. Setting your pedals up as a send is a little more involved but it offers some expanded usage options. Basically you output a channel from your DAW/Mixer to the pedal, then the output of the pedal goes back to an input on the DAW/Mixer. This setup is great as you can now route any instrument in your DAW/Mixer to be affected by the stompbox(s).

As far as technical considerations go, you need to look at the outputs of your gear in relation to the input/output of the pedals you want to use. As most effects pedals are designed for guitar they often have a mono input, meaning if you use a synth with stereo outputs it will be summed to mono via the pedal. On the other hand there are a lot of pedals, especially those that affect the stereo field (Reverb, Delay, Chorus) that have stereo in/out options. The final thing you need to understand is that the signal output from a guitar is much lower that most synthesizers and drum machines. Due to this pedals are usually built to receive this lower signal level and hooking them up to synths can sometimes result in over-driving the pedal. The simplest fix is to just turn down the master out of your synth and more often than not this works fine. The alternative is to "Re-Amp" your pedals. This works in much the same way as using your pedals as a send/return, except you use a Re-Amp box at the front of the chain to convert to the appropriate signal strength. This has other benefits, such as creating a very handy FX loop that you can send pre-recorded tracks to from your DAW. These can then be processed by your pedals, allowing you to make changes to the FX chain and overall sound, without having to re-record the original track.

See our full range of pedals here.

Novation Peak running into a Strymon Blue Sky reverb:

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