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Effects pedals are an integral piece of any guitarist’s rig. Sure, there are absolutely people who swear by playing with nothing between the guitar and the amplifier.
However, when used tastefully, effects can add different textures and character into a song. Sometimes, playing with effects can be just about as fun as playing the guitar itself.
If you’re a beginner, consider some of the following pedals for your own rig.
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Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer – Best Overall
Overdrive and distortion pedals are some of the first pedals a beginner guitarist will buy.
These types of pedals provide a tone that can be used nearly all of the time. Plus, it’s hard to play certain songs without an amount of grit in a guitar’s tone.
One of the best a beginner can buy is the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer (see price on Amazon or Sweetwater). This might not be the greatest overdrive pedal ever made, but it’s a great starting point for a beginner.
The TS9 is an overdrive pedal that delivers a fairly light amount of distortion. It has been used by some of the most influential guitarists, including:
- Stevie Ray Vaughan
- John Mayer
- Trey Anastasio
- Keith Richards
This is truly an iconic overdrive, easily recognizable in its green housing with the large metallic square footswitch.
For controls, you’ll have 3 different knobs, each of which control:
The gain essentially controls the amount of distortion while the level controls the volume. Gain can add more volume in certain instances, so do be mindful.
If you’re using a tube amp, the TS9 is ideal for taking your amp into overdriven territories. Solid-state amp players can still use the pedal to introduce clipping to the guitar’s tone.
The tone knob on the TS9 affects the brightness of the tone coming from the pedal. When turned down, the tone will be darker, with a bright and trebly tone when maxed out.
For power, the TS9 can be used with either a 9V battery or a standard 9V power supply.
Not only is this an absolutely legendary pedal, but it’s also priced so that nearly any budget can afford it.
Item Weight: 1.25 pounds
Package Dimensions: 5.3 x 3 x 2.4 inches
Boss GX-100 – Best Premium
Some guitarists want no part in having to source out every little component of their effects pedal signal chain. These guitarists will often buy a pedal built with multiple effects inside.
This allows the guitarist to have access to basic effects all within one pedal. Some of these are fairly cheap, with only some effects actually usable in real life.
In total, this pedal has over 150 different guitar effects. You’ll be able to program 200 different combination presets and take advantage of 100 factory presets.
However, the Boss GX-100 goes beyond providing basic guitar effects. This pedal also has 23 different AIRD amplifier settings, effectively making this an amp modeler as well.
Boss provides access to the Boss Tone Studio computer software with this pedal. You can edit and craft your own unique settings and save them onto the pedal.
Furthermore, the GX-100 is equipped with an expression pedal on the side. You can utilize this for a number of different effects including volume, wah, and more.
The GX-100 has the ability to loop up to 38 seconds of audio in mono, with 19 seconds in stereo.
Support is also provided for:
- Impulse Response
This is truly a powerful device built with the gigging musician in mind. It might be too much for a beginner, but it is something to keep in mind.
After you sample different effects, you’ll get a taste of your preferences. Something like this might make the most sense for you.
Item Weight: 9.48 pounds
Package Dimensions: 24.2 x 11.4 x 5.64 inches
Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff Pi – Best Budget
There is a special place in music for the fuzz effect. This unique style of distortion is wholly different from standard overdrive and distortion pedals.
Unlike other miniature pedals, this pedal has all of the functionality of its larger ancestors. It even delivers the same classic fuzz tones these pedals are known for producing.
With this pedal, you have 3 different control knobs, covering parameters for:
These controls work very similarly to a traditional overdrive or distortion pedal. The tone and sustain are what help to give the fuzz its unique gritty characteristics.
You can achieve warm and crackly fuzz to super thick fuzz tones that resemble different synth sounds.
The Nano Big Muff Pi is powered by a standard 9V power supply or a 9V battery.
This offering is a great deal for any guitarist. The pedal has all of its classic characteristics, right down to the tone and its iconic artwork design.
The smaller size is a blessing for any crowded pedalboard. Plus, it's priced comfortably for even beginners to take advantage of.
Guitarists who own this say they can’t tell much of a difference between this small version and the larger versions. This is a true testament to the technological wizardry possessed by Electro-Harmonix.
Item Weight: 10.9 ounces
Package Dimensions: 5.75 x 3.45 x 2.75 inches
Boss DD-8 Digital Delay
Time-based effects will likely always have a place of relevance within guitar-based music. None is more famous than the digital delay effect.
The Boss DD-8 Digital Delay (see price on Amazon or Sweetwater) is Boss’s latest version of their popular DD series. This is a modernized upgrade packed with all of the hallmark features these pedals are known for.
It might be housed in the basic Boss housing, but don’t let yourself be fooled. This pedal is far more versatile than it appears to be on the surface.
One of the more notable upgrades with the DD-8 is the expanded options for different delay types. Within the pedal, you can access the following delays:
- Standard (basic digital delay)
- +RV (with reverb)
- Modulated delay
- Warp (used with an expression pedal)
- GLT glitch delay
As you can see, there is no shortage of tonal options on the DD-8. It’s packed with essentials for which you can likely find a musical use.
The Loop function itself has the ability to record up to 40 seconds, which you can then add layers to. This makes a perfect solution for creating things to practice with.
As is traditional with DD pedals, the DD-8 is stocked with features such as:
- Tap tempo functionality
- Mono and stereo input/output
Onboard controls for the DD-8 include:
- Effect level
Effect level controls how much of the effect is in the signal, and the feedback controls the number of repeats. The time control affects the time between each repeat.
This delay pedal is one that will stay on your pedalboard for a decade or longer. It adds colors to your tone in all the right ways.
Item Weight: 1.08 pounds
Package Dimensions: 5.91 x 3.62 x 2.56 inches
Xotic SP Compressor
Compressors are pedals that tend to be overlooked by guitarists. In fact, guitarists likely aren’t aware they need one until they discover what it can do for them.
For a general idea, compressors help to balance out the tonal characteristics of the guitar’s sound. EQ ranges that are more prominent become reduced to add more to ranges with less prominence.
This helps a guitarist to achieve a tone that is consistent throughout every tonal EQ range. It can also add a great deal of sustain and thicker volume to a guitar’s tone.
The Xotic SP Compressor (see price on Amazon or Sweetwater) is one of the best compressors on the market. It makes it easy to find that point where dynamics are retained and the compressor’s benefits are achieved.
The SP Compressor is a miniature pedal, cloned from the same circuitry as the iconic Ross compressor. This Ross compressor is widely regarded as one of the most transparent compressors to ever hit the market.
Because Ross compressors are increasingly difficult to find, this offering from Xotic is a great alternative. Plus, it’s quite a deal more affordable than an original Ross unit would cost you.
Operating this pedal is a cinch. There are 2 control knobs onboard, controlling the parameters of:
As you might guess, the volume controls the overall volume output coming from the pedal. The blend knob allows you to control how much compressed signal is blended with the dry guitar signal.
Also onboard is a 3-way switch allowing you to change the compression settings from high, medium, and low.
The SP Compressor also has internal dip switches allowing you further control over the tone produced by the pedal.
Item Weight: 1.8 pounds
Package Dimensions: 10 x 8 x 3 inches
Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Wah
Compared to other guitar effects, few are more iconic than the wah pedal. These pedals give a distinct vocal quality to a guitar’s tone.
In fact, there likely isn’t a person who hasn’t heard the sound of a wah pedal being used. It has been used in a wide range of different genres and musical eras and remains a popular effect today.
The Dunlop GCB95 Cry Baby Wah (see price on Amazon or Sweetwater) is essentially the standard wah pedal of today. If you’ve ever wanted a wah pedal, you should definitely consider this as your first point of entry.
This is about as basic as it gets when it comes to effects pedals. Despite this, it is also one of the most expressive pedals available on the market.
To use the wah pedal, simply place your foot on the rocker and push the tip into the housing. This will push the footswitch, toggling the pedal on or off, just like any other standard pedal.
When placing the rocker toward the heel, the tone will take on a darker and closed-off sound. Placing the rocker toward the toes will open the guitar’s tone up with much more brightness.
If you do this in one fluid motion, you’ll create that iconic “wah” sound. Of course, you can always leave the rocker in a specific position to achieve a unique tone altogether.
These might be basic, but they are certainly not short on versatility.
The GCB95 is powered by a standard 9V battery or 9V power supply.
Item Weight: 2.64 pounds
Package Dimensions: 10 x 4 x 2.5 inches
MXR M109S EQ
EQ pedals are another pedal often overlooked by guitarists. These pedals often run in the background of a guitarist’s tone, usually in an always-on position.
This pedal has a 6-band EQ with sliders that you can move for specific frequency parameters. You could think of this as similar to the EQ on a car stereo.
Each band parameter has the ability to add or subtract frequency volume up to 18 decibels. In some senses, you could use this as a boost pedal if set up and employed in the correct manner.
The M109S is housed in a durable housing made of aluminum. It can be powered by a 9V battery or 9V power supply.
If your tone is lacking in certain EQ ranges or you’re experiencing massive feedback, give this a shot. You can be sure it will find a permanent place on your pedalboard.
Item Weight: 8 ounces
Package Dimensions: 5.5 x 4.5 x 2.5 inches
JHS 3 Series Reverb
There’s no denying that certain guitar tones have a classic aesthetic when given a touch of reverb. That slight bit of resonant echo can really make a guitar tone sound much larger than life.
Reverb also plays an important role in certain musical styles requiring long and drawn-out guitar tones. You can create some very washy sonic tapestries quite easily with the use of reverb.
With the 3 Series, JHS has outdone themselves in offering budget effects that pack more bang than the basics. This reverb pedal is no exception.
The pedal itself has controls for:
As you might guess, the reverb level controls how much reverb is applied to the signal. Decay determines the cutoff of the reverb echo while the tone controls the overall color of the effect.
JHS has also included a 2-way switch to engage a pre-delay circuit. This will help to preserve the sonic qualities of your notes amidst the wash of the echo.
You’ll be able to recreate some of the most iconic reverb sounds to ever accompany a guitar tone. The best part is that it’s easy to use and affordable for any budget.
This pedal is powered by a 9V power supply. No 9V battery option is available with this pedal.
Item Weight: 7.4 ounces
Package Dimensions: 4 x 3 x 2 inches
JHS 3 Series Chorus
Chorus is a pretty popular type of modulation effect. This creates a sort of watery effect, often heard in 90s grunge music.
Of course, the chorus can be used in a wide variety of different ways. It’s effective at creating texture as well as giving a unique tonal character to a guitar lead.
One of the best chorus pedals for beginners is the JHS 3 Series Chorus (see price on Amazon or Sweetwater). Like the aforementioned 3 Series Reverb, this pedal gives you chorus without any additional frills.
Using this pedal is very simple and straightforward. JHS has provided 3 control knobs for:
While volume is self-explanatory, the other two parameters are not. Rate relates to how fast the tone warbles while depth reflects the level of intensity.
A 2-way switch is also provided to use the pedal as a standard chorus or as a vibe pedal. Because chorus and vibe effects are similar, it’s a blessing to be able to have this option in one box.
Vibe essentially makes a tone sound as if it is breathing. Without the vibe, the 3 Series Chorus works like a traditional chorus pedal.
Like the other pedals in the JHS 3 Series, the Chorus is amazingly affordable and ideal for beginners. There is nothing but utility to be found here, and sometimes, that’s really all that’s needed.
Item Weight: 12 ounces
Package Dimensions: 4 x 3 x 2 inches
What To Look For In A Beginner Guitar Pedal
When it comes to pedals, the guitar industry is pretty saturated with no shortage of options available for effects. For a beginner, this number of pedals can induce a tidal wave of overwhelming anxiety.
By keeping the following points in mind, you’ll be properly armed with a basic map to get you started. As you traverse this particular landscape, you’ll become more familiar with certain landmarks within the effects pedal market.
Before you buy an effects pedal, you should be fairly certain of what kind of sounds it produces. If you’re unfamiliar with effects types, they can be boiled down into the following basic categories:
Like styles of music, these effects categories have their own families within. Making it even more complicated is the fact that each specific effect tends to have its own lineage.
How in-depth you get with effects and their most minute specifics is going to be up to you. A basic understanding will at least get your feet wet in finding some workable sounds.
To break down each category, the overdrive and distortion category is essentially what it sounds like. These pedals add a bit of dirt to a guitar’s tone, with distortion providing the most tonal grit.
Modulation pedals morph the guitar’s signal and affect it in a unique way. These pedals include the:
Filter pedals essentially affect the entire guitar’s tone, much akin to a photo filter. These pedals include the:
Time-based effects would include your delay pedals with reverb likely being thrown in this category as well. Quite often, these will feature a repeating function based on a variable rate of time.
Each type of pedal has its own specific use. Some pedals can be left on all the time, while others will only be usable in certain musical instances.
Have fun and try each of these pedal types out for yourself to see how you can use them. As you become more familiar with them, you’ll inevitably learn about the chips being used and their subtle sonic differences.
Pedal size might not seem like such a big deal to a beginner. However, this is an important aspect to consider.
Once you start accumulating a number of different pedals, you’ll likely opt to get a pedalboard. These allow you to travel with your pedals already set up, saving massive amounts of time.
It doesn’t always make sense to buy the largest pedalboard possible. Some venues have minimal space for such an ample pedalboard.
So, in most cases, you’ll end up with a board that is able to accommodate the reasonable maximum. Inevitably, you’re going to discover (at times) that there just isn’t enough room for another pedal.
Rather than buy a new pedalboard, the most logical idea is to sacrifice one pedal for another. This might not always be a great idea, though, especially if certain songs rely on specific effects.
When you run into this issue multiple times, you begin to appreciate and value pedals that are space-efficient.
For the most part, pedals come in a standard 4 x 3-inch housing, although shapes and sizes vary widely. There are miniature pedals as well as pedals that are extremely large.
Mini-sized pedals can offer the same versatility but may lack some accessible controls. Large pedals usually have a good reason for their size, including:
- The active usage of a foot to dictate the pedal’s tone
- Being equipped with multiple channels for stacked effects in one unit
You’ll need to go with your gut and choose what feels right for your own unique personality. Don’t be afraid to be open to something you might not initially feel inclined toward.
Pedals can quickly become a massive expense. There are even some pedals that have cost 5 digits, equivalent to a used car.
Of course, money is not the only expense to be associated with the budget. Time is an important factor, with some pedals requiring you to join a 4-year waiting list.
As a beginner, your main focus should first be trying all of the different types of pedal types for yourself. The most inexpensive versions will likely be your best fit at this point in time.
Check the used market as you can likely find some pedals at a serious fraction of their list price.
Upon trying the basic versions of effects, you’ll start to see the value in different types of these effects. Each company produces truly unique versions of these standard effects categories.
You will need to continue to try new things in order to really see what works best for you. In these cases, it's likely best to continue browsing the used market unless the pedal is something brand new.
By doing this, you’ll get to try things without breaking the bank. Plus, you’ll get to meet people in your musical community to share info with.
You’ll also be able to utilize the used market yourself, giving others an opportunity to try pedals. This not only helps to build community relationships but allows you to recoup a portion of your original investment.
Also, keep in mind that the most expensive pedal is not always the best available. Quite often, clones can be made and offered at a serious fraction of the original pedal’s cost.
Some boutique manufacturers do have some above-average pedals that are certainly worth a larger expense. Keep your focus on the basics before making this type of purchase.
You’ll want to have an idea of the specific sounds you have in mind before dropping a dime. Do your research and you could likely find a cheaper alternative offering exactly what you desire.
Best Brands For Beginner Guitar Pedals
The following brands have a stellar reputation for making guitar pedals. Trusted by guitarists the whole world over, products from these companies are of some of the best quality available.
Since 2007, JHS has been making waves in the effects pedal industry. The company has been offering modernized effects as well as those with a nod of respect to iconic vintage effects.
If you’re on YouTube, be sure to check out the JHS channel. The company regularly releases content on pedal history and reviews that any guitarist can appreciate.
Since 1968, Electro-Harmonix has been instrumental in consistently raising the standard in relation to guitar effects. The company has been responsible for some of the most iconic guitar tones ever recorded.
Today, Electro-Harmonix continues on in its tradition of providing the classics with modern upgrades. This company is truly a mainstay staple within the pedal industry.
Since 1978, Boss has released some of the most influential effects pedals to hit the market. Many of these effects have become the industry standard from which many other pedals are based.
Boss pedals have an iconic housing, with each pedal having its own color scheme. No doubt, these are some of the most easily-recognizable pedals on the market.
Top Guitar Pedals For Beginners, Final Thoughts
Effects pedals can provide that missing ingredient a song (or even your overall tone) has been needing. Plus, each pedal has a distinct style, allowing a guitarist to curate a pedalboard resembling a personal work of art.
Take your guitar to a local shop and try out any pedal that catches your attention. You’re bound to have fun and walk away hearing sounds you never thought could be possible.