A guitarist’s tone is unique and special. It is like his or her fingerprint, no two are the same. Sure, we can attempt to replicate a specific sound, but even if we purchase the exact equipment, it will never sound 100% the same as the original. That is because every guitarist has certain nuances to their touch, different tone settings on their amp or guitar, and favorite pedal effects used in conjunction with their rigs.
Pedal effects are used to enhance a particular sound as well as to capture a tone in a guitarist’s mind. It is not to say using pedals makes a guitarist better or worse, they just help to expand a creative idea and help an abstract concept come to life. Originally, effects occurred naturally, and artists were forced to get creative in order to get a particular sound. For example, the vacuum tubes found in vintage amps, when pushed to their limits, would emit a distorted or crunchy sound. This was how overdrive, or a light clip in a sound wave, was produced. Also, artists or producers would set up amps, mics, or drum sets in various locations in orders to achieve varying tonal ambiances. For example, in the tune “When the Levee Breaks” by Led Zeppelin, John Bonham’s drums were set up in a hall way of their recording studio, with high ceilings. This warranted a very full and spacious sound that characterized the opening sequence of the song. This is referred to as reverb, which is a common effect used today.
Since these days, many of these effects like overdrive, reverb, delay, and many others have been manufactured into small (or large) pedal boxes that can be accessed simply by stomping on a button. This technology has opened a whole new world to guitarists, allowing them to explore new options and allow their wildest ideas to come to life.
With that being say, let’s take a look at some guitarists who utilize pedals in their playing, from mildest to wildest.
It is rather difficult to explain but easy to see the vast and heavy impact that Jimi Hendrix has on music and guitarists in general. His riffs and songs are some of the most replicated ones among blues and rock guitarists. His style of playing not only defines the blues-rock genre still, but also inspired some of our favorite guitarists like Clapton and Stevie Ray Vaughan to follow in his footsteps.
Hendrix was iconic for using a Fender Stratocaster (playing it left-handed) and an immensely powerful Marshall half stack (a power head and speaker cabinet). As far as effects, Hendrix was the pioneer of using fuzz in his sound. Out of all the distorted effects, fuzz totally clips your signal, producing an effect that sounds like you have a blown speaker. It is the heaviest of all the distorted effects and was the first to be introduced in pedal form. Hendrix also is well-known for his wah wah pedal work.
Pedals of choice: Hendrix frequently used the Dunlop Fuzz Face pedal, one of the few round pedals featuring only two knobs. Although simple, this pedal packs a huge punch and is still a go to fuzz pedal for many artists. Hendrix used this pedal so much that Dunlop produced a few Jimi Hendrix special edition Fuzz Face units.
Stevie Ray Vaughan
Known as the pioneer and king of Texas blues, Stevie Ray Vaughan has one of the most iconic blues tones that is instantly identifiable. Similar to Hendrix, his go to rig usually consisted of a Fender Stratocaster (of course!) and a Fender Vibroverb amp. As a blues player with a trunk full of chops, Stevie didn’t see a need to cramp his tone with a bunch of effects. A very similar approach to his, and many other’s idol, Jimi Hendrix.
The one tone he loved and utilized frequently was overdrive. He didn’t crank the gain up to 11 or anything, but used it for a slight crunch and a powerful level booster when needed. Think about his tune “Lenny”, with a full sound a very faint graininess, all the way to his famous burner “Pride and Joy” with his overdrive pedal working overtime, especially in the solo section.
Stevie was a frequent user of his whammy bar, causing his Strat to moan with delight, and sometimes used a wah-wah pedal, especially when he covered Hendrix’s “Little Wing.”
Pedals of choice: Stevie Ray’s go to overdrive pedal was the iconic Ibanez Tube Screamer line. This pedal has gone through many changes throughout the years and remains as one of the best overdrive pedals you can own. Stevie loved them so much that he owned all three versions that came out. He also used an old-school Vox wah pedal as well.
Peter Frampton has been active in the professional music scene since 1966 when he was only sixteen years old. By eighteen, he met an ex member from the group Small Faces and created the rock group Humble Pie. After three years and four studio albums, Frampton went out on his own. His 1976 album Frampton Comes Alive! is one of the most celebrated and best-selling live rock albums in the United States. One of the most popular songs from that album is “Do You Feel Like I Do?”
A unique effect that was sparse at the time and one that Frampton has been linked to ever since, is the talk box. Once you plug your guitar into this unit, a tub that travels from the box and gets attached usually to a mic stand, your vocals do all the work. Essentially, by changing the shape of our mouth and manipulating your vocal chords, you are “vocalizing the instrument’s output into a mic.”
This gives your guitar a “talking” effect similar to the wah wah pedal. This not only makes the guitar sound cool, but is extremely entertaining as an onstage gimmick.
U2 has become has become one of the most commercially successful bands in the world. Their style is rather unique and is fueled in large part by the guitarist David Evans, or The Edge. He has always been obsessed with various effects and how technology can alter the sound of his guitar. He started off with an Electro-Harmonix Memory Man delay. Hearing the sound leave the guitar then return to his ears differently and had different times started his major obsession with pedals.
Over the yeas his obsession grew and now he has one of the largest effect rigs of any musician. He has a mind-blowing amount of on stage stomp box pedals as well as an insane under-stage effects rack. This allows him to have essentially infinite options for combinations of sounds. He can go from a spacy echo with reverb underneath, to a crunchy distortion mixed with tremolo at the touch of a button.
This is achieved from many years of research and being vary particular about the sounds that come out of the speaker. Figuring out the perfect combinations of effects, guitars, and amps is a talent in its own in my opinion.
Pedals of Choice: All of them
If you haven’t checked out the sensational rock band Radiohead, you really should. It is actually very difficult to categorize them into a specific genre because no band sounds anything like them. I big part of their sound comes from the immensely talented guitarist, Johnny Greenwood.
Radiohead are always one step ahead, of even themselves at times and produce some songs that seem other worldly. If there is an effect to explore in anyway, Greenwood will do it and find it. Many of his sounds come from envelop filters (automatic wah wah), delay, and distortion.
However, Greenwood is more than just a guitarist. He is also a skilled keyboardist, cellist, and orchestral composer. He composed the entire soundtrack to the popular movie There Will Be Blood back in 2007.