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So now your band has a guitar and a bass and some quality amps. That's the basic bare bottom minimum to get started. Maybe now you'd like some effects to sweeten up (or ugly up) the sound? Read on .

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Chapter 4. Effects

Effects boxes, or effects, are those groovy little things on the floor that the guitarist (and sometimes keyboardist, bassist, or even singer ) is always stomping on. They are basically single-purpose or multipurpose circuits to alter the sound, housed in a (hopefully) rugged case.

Effects usually get plugged between the guitar (or keyboard, or bass, or singer) and the amp, connected by very short (three- or six-inch) guitar cables (also called "jumpers" or "1/4 jumpers ").


All guitar cables, unlike speaker cables, are shielded to prevent radio interference. Shielded means that they have extra braided wires inside the rubber covering to keep jet plane transmissions and such out of your amp. Speaker cables do not need to be shielded , because they are at the end of the chain. The guitar cables are at the beginning, and everything that goes through them is amplified by the amplifier .

Usually only wah wah and volume pedals have actual pedals , resembling automotive accelerators, that rock back and forth to change the tone in some way. Otherwise, the "pedal" or effect box is a simple On/Off foot switch for the effect.

Some guitarists eschew them entirely, equating them with being false and impure, the musical equivalent of wearing a couple of condoms at once. Others overuse them, hiding a lack of talent behind them. Still others use them tastefully, or at least purposefully and with thought, to spice up an already compelling style. And still others, like Doug Hilsinger and Jay Crawford from my old band , Bomb, use an array of a dozen or so in a mind-bogglingly transcendent and totally controlled manner that is one of the most amazing things anyone can do to the inside of the human ear without licking it.

Sometimes effects are used to create a wall of sound that just sort of takes over. Melt Banana often uses almost all these effects at the same time. Check out "Lost Parts Stinging Me So Cold."

The list of available effects is long. Here is a list of commonly used ones, in approximate order from most common and least indispensable to least common and most dispensable:

  • Distortion

  • Fuzz Box

  • Delay

  • Wah Wah

  • Compressor

  • Reverb

  • Chorus

  • Volume Pedal

  • Flanger

  • Phase Shifter

  • Pitch Shifter

  • Vibrato

  • Noise Gate

  • Envelope Filter

  • Octave Divider

  • Guitar Synth

  • Talk Box

Almost all pedals and boxes have a switch to turn them on and off. Off is bypassed; the signal still gets through but is unaffected. On is the effect being added to the signal. Some have a light to indicate this status; some don't. Try to get the ones that do. It will help you on stage. You won't have to guess or quietly play a note to know what's coming when you hit a chord. And also, all those little blinking lights sort of feel like little friends on stage with you.

Effects boxes usually cost between $100 and $400 new, and between $30 and $200 used. Check eBay and pawn shops , and remember, the old ones are often cooler than the new ones.

Figure 4.1. Big Muff distortion pedal.


Figure 4.2. Metal Master distortion pedal.


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