Guitar effects help
May 7, 2007 7:45 AM   Subscribe

How do I make my guitar sound cool?

I've got a Yamaha EG-112 electric guitar and a Fender Squier practice amp. I really like the guitar, but I'm trying to broaden the range of sounds that I can get out of this thing. I keep hearing terms like distortion and filtering, and would like to start playing around with effects. What is a good starting point for this? Do I need to get a separate pedal for each effect, or are these multi-effect devices any good?
posted by Who_Am_I to Media & Arts (25 answers total) 11 users marked this as a favorite
You can DIY. We built a Fuzz Faze, the real thing, for about fifty some bucks, although it doesn't have the funky enclosure.
posted by caddis at 8:00 AM on May 7, 2007

Multi-effects pedals have gotten really good. I had an old digitech multi-effects unit in high schoold that sounded like crap, but they've gotten much, much better.

I would still ideally run my effects through a good tube amp to warm up the sound a bit, but the effects don't sound nearly as harsh as they used to be.

Most people who don't have Dallas Schoo following them around still avoid the multi-effects units though, because it's so much easier to dial in sounds. You can just directly twist knobs instead of scrolling through menus. But it depens on your personal tech savvy whether or not your comfortable using the effects unit. Personally, I would just get a powered pedal board -- this is the one I have and I like it -- and then get a few specialized pedals that multi-task. I'm a big fan of the Line 6 pedals, their modulation and especially delay pedals are very cool and provide a pretty limitless variety of sounds.

But getting the sound you want is something you'll have to figure out. Good luck.
posted by Heminator at 8:01 AM on May 7, 2007

If you're using a 15w (or maybe 5w) solid-state practice amp, then you probably wouln't even hear the nice bits of various effects - so I would start thinking about a better amp you can get a princeton 112+, a pretty nice 'clean' sold-state amp, for less than $150) Beyond that, tube amps are fantastic. Blues Jr. and Crate V12 can be had for around $350 if you're lucky. Note that an amp with a nice 'drive' channel can be much better than a simple distortion pedal.

Then, try out a delay. Ibanez Tone-lok delay pedals are cheap and very nice. If you're really hurting for cash, Danelectro pedals are surprisingly nice for the bargain-basement prices.
posted by tmcw at 8:07 AM on May 7, 2007

Best answer: I wouldn't invest in very expensive equipment if you are not sure what you actually want. How about a V-amp? Lots of fun to fool around with, great value for money. Or alternatively a 2nd hand Line6 POD2.0.
posted by swordfishtrombones at 8:24 AM on May 7, 2007

Most amps have a distortion circuit built-in. Does you practice amp have a gain or overdrive knob? Turning these knobs up will overdrive the circuit causing that classic distrotion sound.

If you dont want to invest in a new amp, you can just buy some effects pedals. You can get a lot of this stuff used on craigslist. Any distortion pedal will do. I'm sure you can get a well used Boss pedal for under 50 bucks, easy.

IMHO, your second pedal should be a reverb pedal. Its not as glamourous as a wah (which is extremely gimmicky) or a phaser, but it will give change your sound so it sounds like youre playing in a huge space. It adds quite a bit of presence and can be used to subtly enhance your sound.\

I'd buy those two and nothing else for 6 months. Get used to using distortion and reverb. Don't overdo it. A little goes a long way. The real pitfall with a lot of starting guitarists is the big pedal/multieffect shopping spree and treating the guitar like a midi controller that makes wacky sound effects.

Once youre *very* comfortable with reverb and distortion you should move towards buying a decent delay and/or chorus pedal. Or possibly an EQ or Compressor. After a few months of learning how to use these pedals properly should you consider going for a mult-effects pedal. At this point you'll A. Know how to use it and B. Know how to not abuse it.
posted by damn dirty ape at 8:41 AM on May 7, 2007

Best answer: If you're just starting out, the first thing I would do would be buy something like a Pod Xt. It will give you a variety of amps and effects to choose from, and while purists will say it doesn't sound as good as the real thing (and it doesn't), as a beginner, you probably won't even notice what you're missing.

As you progress, and realize what sound you want, the next thing I'd do would be to buy a really nice amp. A crappy guitar can sound good through a bad amp, but a good guitar won't do much through a bad amp. To find an amp for you, read up and try them. To me it comes down to Marshall tube amps for the crunch, or various Fender Twins for clearer sounds. There are other cooler amps than either of these, but all of them come down to personal taste and style.

After you've dropped a bunch on a good amp, then I would decide what effects were the coolest from the pod6, and then buy individual pedals to do that effect. Personally, I build my own, but not doing that, just go to the store and find a few distortions and try them out. Also, keep an eye on ebay for more obscure stuff. The best pedals tend to cost more, but some great bands have built their sound around cheap pedals.
posted by drezdn at 8:45 AM on May 7, 2007

If you really want to save money starting out, pick one of these, and use it to get a feel for the direction you want your sound to go. It won't sound incredible, but it'll point you towards the things you'll actually want to get. It might not last that long, but hey, Zoom stuff is cheap to get and it'll help you spend your money better in the long run.
posted by drezdn at 8:48 AM on May 7, 2007

Multi-effect pedals are really good. One good thing about many of them is you can plug your guitar in and put headphones on, doing without the usual amp. That way you get full fidelity AND no-one whining at your practising.. best of both worlds :)

The side benefit of this technique is that after practice when you go on the amp, your playing sounds so cool and honed that people won't mind, lol.
posted by wackybrit at 8:50 AM on May 7, 2007

It really depends on what kind of music you're trying to make. If you're playing blues or classic rock, you don't need more than a distortion pedal, plus the occasional wah or volume pedal. For distortion, I'd recommend a Danelectro on the very cheap end, a Boss DS1 in the middle price range, or an Ibanez tube screamer on the top end. The best distortion comes from overdriving a decent-sized tube amp, but combining that with a decent distortion pedal will give you a much broader pallete than the amp alone.
posted by Nahum Tate at 9:45 AM on May 7, 2007

Danelectro pedals, my friend. You can get em' on Craiglist for $10-$15 a pop and they'll whet your appetite for some funky sounds. I recommend the Chilli-Dog pedal. I will take whatever note you're playing and double the note only an octave lower. I have it on my pedal board and use it in one song, live so it's really not much more useful than that but it sure as hell sounds cool! Another fav is the French Fries Auto-Wah. I takes all the guesswork out of using a real wah-wah pedal and does it all for you. Soon enough, you can make your own porno soundtracks using this pedal.
posted by KevinSkomsvold at 10:03 AM on May 7, 2007

Best answer: If you want to get a better guitar sound, you're probably going to want a better amp. It seems to me that buying a bunch of pedals to plug into a Squier practice amp is putting the cart before the horse.

But an ampless solution like a Pod can work, too.
posted by ludwig_van at 10:05 AM on May 7, 2007

I recommend the Zoom 505. It's easy to use and does a pretty good range of effects.
posted by jeffamaphone at 10:07 AM on May 7, 2007

An autowah sweeps it's filter in response to the amplitude ("volume") of the input. It's a sound that's impossible to achieve with a normal wah, and it's also the greatest thing ever.
posted by phrontist at 10:09 AM on May 7, 2007

Metal picks
posted by DieHipsterDie at 10:12 AM on May 7, 2007

Best answer: I agree you should pick up a Pod, either a 2.0 or an XT, just so you can get an idea of what different effects are out there and what they do.

Learning to tweak effects is practice, and it will take up a good portion of your practice time. It's also hard to get better technically while you are playing into a new effect. So if your playing skills aren't where you'd like them to be, make sure you set aside time to improve them, which should be done dry (without effects).

Once you have a good idea of the number of different effects there are and their parameters, you can start to think about picking up boutique or vintage effects to do things that the Pod won't do. (Although there's honestly not that much that a properly tweaked Pod XT can't do, especially if you're talking about sounds that might fit into a song that people would want to listen to.)
posted by ikkyu2 at 10:42 AM on May 7, 2007

Pickups! Start figuring out what those things that sit under your strings are doing for your sound. There are a lot of different styles of pickups out there, and depending upon what type of music you're interested in playing, there's likely going to be a pickup made to fit into the body of your guitar that will help you achieve it.

Tube amplification.

Parametric EQ.

Another thing to consider is recording equipment. I realize that you're just starting out, but if you get a cheap multitrack recorder and mic, you can capture all kinds of great sounds from your guitar or elsewhere.

Try to remember that every little thing you do is going to help you tweak your sound. Whether it be playing on some giant professional stage rig with millions of rack-mount effects units, or just changing the gauge of your strings, you are going to produce some change in the way your playing sounds. The important thing is to remember how all these changes affect your playing and you will continue to benefit.
posted by Demogorgon at 11:07 AM on May 7, 2007

Best answer: I have a VAmp. Get a Pod.
posted by Eothele at 11:38 AM on May 7, 2007

Response by poster: Thanks everyone for so much great advice! I think the Pod looks like what I want right now, and there's lots here for me to explore later on.
posted by Who_Am_I at 12:09 PM on May 7, 2007

The best part is going to the guitar store and just playing with all the toys pedals.
posted by caddis at 12:36 PM on May 7, 2007

If you don't mind going through your computer, you can get some software that does a fantastic job of realtime DSP effects like echo, flange, phaser, reverb and distortion.
posted by ostranenie at 2:37 PM on May 7, 2007

Second putting any real money into a decent amp first, then a capable multi-effects unit second. You won't get a range of rich tones out of a small amp. You need a power spectrum so that you can play well below the amp's all out levels, where all the variety lives.
posted by spitbull at 3:38 PM on May 7, 2007

so that you can play well below the amp's all out levels, where all the variety lives

True, especially for clean tone, but sometimes you want the crunch that comes from loading that thing right up. I love the sound of a good tone stack where you can overdrive the preamp to get your crunch and keep your power section fairly clean for a big oomph, and you have control to get the sound you want.
posted by caddis at 4:56 PM on May 7, 2007

A separate compressor and an EQ will make a big difference no matter what kind of equipment you're using. You might take a look at this thread about distortion pedals.
posted by anticlock at 7:14 PM on May 7, 2007

Do what Fred Frith does.
posted by billtron at 12:12 AM on May 9, 2007

Response by poster: To follow up, I got a PodXT for Christmas and it kicks ass. Exactly what I was looking for.
posted by Who_Am_I at 8:22 PM on January 14, 2008

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