how to use guitar pedal

There’s no denying the attraction to the multitude of sounds one can achieve with all the pedals made available to you:

  • Delay
  • Reverb
  • Distortion
  • Octave
  • Compression
  • Tuner & Volume Control
  • Pitch Effects
  • Chorus Flange
  • Wah
  • And many more…

The image to the right is one example of the many ways one may connect all the pedals at once. All in all, the possibilities are rather impressive once you are able to dial in exactly what you are looking for in your sound.

Some pedals are straightforward, easy to use, while others may require a sensitive ear to detail and technical understanding.

There are probably thousands of forums dedicated to discussion on the use of pedals. Some discussions go as far as to float the question, is using guitar pedals like cheating?

In my own opinion, using a guitar pedal is absolutely NOT cheating. If I were asked this question, I’d have to wonder whether the person asking such a question had ever played guitar using a pedal in the first place. In some ways, using a pedal adds another level of complexity depending on how you are using it.

Does this mean that I love pedals or use them a lot? When looking at the professionals in concert or in studio, most that I’ve seen use a plethora of pedals whether they are playing acoustic guitar or electric guitar. There are some professionals who, I think, tend to use or rely on the use of pedals too much in their music. I don’t want to hear the wah pedal in every solo of every song a particular artist performs. For me this feels excessive and will quickly become boring. I don’t have anything against the wah effect or any particular effect. I use pedals occasionally but usually only subtly. What does that mean?

I believe pedals are a great ingredient to the masterpiece you are creating that can offer that splash of vibrance to a crescendo, a gentle radiance in the conception of an emotive ballad, or the gritty edge meant to exude aggression and/or malcontent.

It is easy, however, to become fully reliant on a pedal and/or camouflage mistakes. This can lead to stunting your own musical growth whether you realize you aren’t as good as the pedals make you sound or not. In this article, however, I’m more concerned with the use of pedals and effects in songs and when to use them.

Here are some of my personal considerations to using pedals:

There is an appropriate time for certain effects of pedal(s).
I am of the preference that I will use an effect offered by a pedal if it is going to lend the song an element of benefit in some way. If the song can function without an effect, it may be better without the effect entirely. There are many variables that come into play on this particular idea. I typically “play it by ear” to best determine whether the song needs the added effect and which effect to use.

There is an appropriate level of pedal use dependent on the song and/or atmosphere.
I perform on a weekly basis and currently have a Line 6 POD at my disposal. There are umpteen effects, amp types and settings available, and many other guitar settings programmed into this pedal. I generally only use,

  • a clean setting with a little gain for a slight edge,
  • the Back in Black distortion setting
  • add slight reverb
  • and slight delay
  • On rare occasions, the wah pedal feature.

I am constantly reading the audience, the mood of the song, the mood of those I am performing with, and any time constraints. When initiating an effect from my pedal, I also consider the volume I will use. Is the song coming to a quieter section? Is the song building? Does a quiet section of the song call for a momentary loud lead guitar fill?

I may be feeling ready to rip into an aggressive, in-your-face sound because I am feeling the adrenaline rush of the moment. But, let me tell you, it is quite awkward when you discover you are the only one going in that direction and must attempt to un-ring that bell!

Try not to get hung up on shopping around for pedals or the perfect pedal.
There is an abundance of pedals out there to choose from. It is far too easy to lose hours of time, yes, hours of time looking up reviews, demos, forums discussing which pedals do what and which one is better, cheaper, etc. Once you shoot down that rabbit hole it’s hard to pull yourself out sometimes.

One fix for this tripping hazard is to set aside a strict amount of time each day or week that you will read reviews, watch demos, or head to your local music store and sample a few pedals. This way you won’t waste massive amounts of time when you could instead be working on mastering your craft on the guitar itself! Remember, pedals do not make you a good or great guitar player! Pedals are there to assist your playing.

Kurt Echols is an American singer and musician. He specializes in guitar and is the Owner and CEO of Axtreme Guitar (, where he trains people to play guitar in his local area of Mansfield, Massachusetts. He has been playing guitar since 1994 and started teaching people to play in 1997. Kurt also performs locally, records original compositions and records with other musicians in the US.

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