Dedicated to Women Guitarists and Bassists

Intro to Pedals: Defining Effects and Signal Chain

April 11, 2016
Written by
Beth Wooten

[In celebration of the 10th issue of She Shreds, we will be posting some of our favorite selections from across our print catalog throughout April. The feature was originally published in the second issue of She Shreds Magazine, October 2012 and has been edited for timely accuracy.]

So many pedals, so many variations for connecting them, and so many sounds to be made. Yet sadly, often there’s so little breathing room in guitar shops to test a stomp box out. And pedals usually live in glass counters with hardly any explanation as to what each has in store for your tone.

Here’s a list of the more popular and general types of pedals, in the conventional order that they go in your signal chain (the order from guitar input to amp output). However, don’t let convention hold you back! And definitely don’t be afraid to experiment until you find your signature sound. Let this glossary be a reminder of what happens to your guitar signal when you turn a given pedal on.

Filters and EQs

EQ pedals shift and filter the tone (how the guitar sounds) of the incoming signal to emphasize certain frequency ranges.  These pedals make your guitar sound more bassy, trebly, or mid-range.

The WAH pedal looks similar to a kick pedal, and instead of just turning on a button, you’re actually moving the foot treadle up and down. The pedal forward (more flat) makes your sound more trebly, as the pedal moves up, sound becomes brassy and thick. Back and forth gives you that ‘wah-wah’ sound (think the opening of Liz Phair’s Supernova).

COMPRESSORS even out your volume to create a smoother, thicker sound. If you test out a compressor, your guitar sound may not seem so different, but the pedal is increasing the sustain of your notes, cutting down any sharp strum sounds, and outputting everything you play at the same volume.

Boosters and Overdrives

OVERDRIVES give you that crunchy sound like a tube amp is about to get blown out.

DISTORTION is very similar to overdrive, but with a harder crunch and more sustain. Distortion pedals vary a lot, so be sure to test yours out before purchase.

FUZZ pedals have a thick, ‘fuzzy’ effect which mirrors distortion, but without the hardness (Big Muff pedal is the classic example). This is a fun one for solos.


CHORUS pedals create a doubling effect for a rich and thick sound, used often in rhythm playing.

PHASERS are groovy and swirly like a B-3 Leslie Organ.

FLANGERS are on the more extreme side of the modulation spectrum, creating a swishing and swooping sound by speeding up and slowing down your signal.

TREMELO modulates volume (loud to soft / soft to loud / repeat) and makes your sound all spacey (think the Twin Peaks theme).

VIBRATO raises and lowers the pitch of your notes as if you were pressing the whammy bar on a guitar. Your notes can sound a little out of tune with this pedal.

Time Based Effects

Time based effects are similar to modulation, but sound more natural and less manipulative of the signal.

ECHO pedals make the guitar sound like you’re playing in a cave.

DELAY splits your guitar into two identical signals, and then holds one signal back for a bouncing, doubling, delayed effect, which can be exaggerated depending on your settings.

REVERB, ever so popular, thickens your sound as if you’re playing in a large empty room, but without the pronouncement of an echo.

Want to read more from Issue #3? Head over to and order your issue today! 

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