Eventually every guitarist (and/or bassist) will discover the allure of effects pedals and the sonic enhancement (or mayhem) they can add to his or her sound. The next questions, after seeing price points, is if pedals are actually necessary for achieving their sound and if pedals are worth it to add to their musical arsenal.
Are guitar effects pedals necessary or worth it? Effects pedals can help you acheive the exact tone and sound you’re looking/listening for in your guitar and amplifier. However, they are, by no means, necessary. You can have great success with an electric guitar and an amp. As for pedals being worth their price, that is up to your finances.
In this quick article, we’ll talk about whether or not guitar effects pedals are necessary and whether picking up a pedal or two (or three or four and so on) is worth it.
Are Guitar Pedals Necessary?
To reiterate the answer of the main question at hand: no, guitar pedals are not necessary.
Simply plugging an electric guitar into an amplifier will suffice to produce sound. This guitar sound can be used in practice rooms, jam sessions, recording sessions, live gigs, you name it.
The sound of a guitar into a guitar amplifier, as we’ll discuss shortly, can be affected by controls on the guitar and amplifier themselves. Volume, overdrive/distortion, tone, and EQ can typically be affected quite easily by turning knobs on a guitar and/or amplifier.
Some amplifiers even have built-in effects and/or patches to achieve different sounds. A common effect to be found in amplifiers now-a-days is reverb.
However, there are plenty of reasons why you would want to have pedals in your guitar rig.
Perhaps that most obvious reason is to have additional effects that may or may not be accessible via the guitar and amp alone. There are plenty of different effects pedal types that can really alter the sound of the guitar. We’ll discuss these types in the following section.
That being said, the most practical reason to have an effects pedal (or a chain of multiple pedals) is to be able to switch between effects settings on the fly with your feet. This allows you to continue playing without your hands leaving your guitar (or your mouth leaving the microphone).
So although pedals are certainly not necessary, they can make your sound much more interesting, dynamic and give your guitar a great variety of charactertic sounds.
A Quick List Of Guitar Effects Acheived By Pedals
There are plenty of effects available in guitar pedals. To further our understanding of whether pedals are necessary, let’s quickly have a look at the different varieties of guitar pedals.
This list is taken from My New Microphone’s Full List & Description Of Guitar Pedal Types. For more information on each and every guitar effect, please check out that article in the link above!
- Tuner Pedals
- Expression Pedals
- Volume Pedals
- Buffer Pedals
- Compressor Pedals
- Equalizer Pedals
- Wah Pedals
- Preamp Pedals
- Boost Pedals
- Overdrive Pedals
- Distortion Pedals
- Fuzz Pedals
- Delay Pedals
- Reverb Pedals
- Leslie/Rotary Pedals
- Vibrato Pedals
- Tremolo Pedals
- Phaser Pedals
- Flanger Pedals
- Pitch-Shifting Pedals
- Octave & Harmonizer Pedals
- Envelope Filter Pedals
- Ring Modulation Pedals
- Synth Pedals
- Looper Pedals
- Switcher/Controller Pedals
- Multi-Effects Pedals
- Other Pedals
As you can see above, some pedals are for effects while others (like the tuner pedal) are for utility. With that in mind, let’s continue this article!
Effects Achievable Without Effects Pedals
Okay, so this section may get a bit hairy as we go through ways that we can achieve the same effects (and utility) from pedals without the pedals.
There are only certain effects that can be recreated without pedals.
Note that I’m going to leave recording practices out of this section. Any effect can be achieved by an audio plug-in inside a Digital Audio Workstation or a non-pedal effects units.
Rather, I’ll be keeping things simple here by discussing the effects that can be recreated by a guitar and amplifier by themselves.
To make things even more concrete, I’ll use my basic rig as an example:
- Guitar: Fender Stratocaster (’92 Mexican-Made)
- Amplifier: Orange Crush 35RT Combo (35 Watt Solid-State)
So what effects, availble in pedals, can I get out of this guitar and this amp?
- Volume Control
- Octaves & Harmonization
Not all amplifiers have as many features as the Orange Crush 35RT and so the ability to tune with just a guitar and amplifier (unless by ear) is not always the case.
The “RT” in Crush 35RT stands for Reverb and Tuner.
That being said, in the setup mentioned above, I can effectively tune my guitar from my amplifier withour the need for a tuner pedal.
If you’re interested in tuning your guitar without a pedal and do not have an amplifier with a tuning function, consider investing in a clip-on tuner that will tune relative to the vibration of your guitar.
Otherwise, if you’re in a quiet setting, an app like GuitarTuna can help you tune without a pedal.
As a last resort, in recording sitatuation, many DAWs will have tuning software.
This should come to no surprise.
The guitar and amplifier both have volume controls can can be adjusted.
Some pedals offer intricate multiple-band EQ while many other offer one, two, or three bands (often described as bass, mids and treble).
These bass, mids and treble controls are also found on the 35RT amplifier. Some other amplifiers may have more inticate EQ than this.
On top of that, I can alter the EQ of the Strat by switching pickups and adjusting the two tone knobs.
The gain and volume controls on the Crush 35RT have to do with adjusting the preamps and power amps of the amplifier.
Overdrive can be acheived by really cranking the volume controls on the amp.
Distortion can be achieved by engaging the “Dirty” circuit of the amplifier and adjusting the gain knob.
The built-in spring reverb can be added to the signal by turning up the Reverb knob on the amplifier.
Of course, there are other reverb types available in pedal form. However, the reverb in the Orange amp is really quite nice.
Vibrato is simply a rapid pitch oscillation (up and down) that can be achieved on the guitar by holding a note whilst quickly bending the string up (or down) and back. This vibrato effect can also be acheived via a whammy bar (often times called, confusingly enough, a “tremolo bar”).
Note that vibrato pedals will typically be capable of oscillating pitch at a much faster rate and at a greater pitch difference than a guitarist would be able to.
Tremolo is essentially rapid volume oscillation. This can be acheived, to a certain degree, by quickly altering the volume knob of the guitar or the amplifier.
As to be expected, tremolo pedals will be capable of oscillating more rapidly at a deeper attentuation while also being more consistent.
Octaves & Harmonization
Octave and harmonization are certainly possible on the guitar (within reason). A typical guitar has 6 strings and can, therefore, harmonize 6 different notes together including octaves.
Octave and harmonization pedals can help to acheive harmonies that would not be possible otherwise, including harmonizing notes above or below the natural note range of the guitar.
Twin-channel amplifiers, like the Orange Crush 35RT, have a clean and dirty channel that can be switched between.
The switch can be engaged via a footswitch but it can also be switched via a toggle on the amplifier itself.
A Note On Looping
Furthermore, I could get looping by recording the guitar signal (with the aforementioned effects) in my digital audio workstation and looping it back. Of course, this breaks my rule of leaving recording out of the question but I felt the need to mention it.
Recap On Acheiving Pedal Effects Without Pedals
So as you can see, some, but not all, pedal effects can be produced without the pedals themselves.
Pedals will generally offer extra functionality and, in many cases, more controlled, consistent or extreme versions of the effects we’re capable of producing without them.
Pedals, as mentioned, also have the added benefit of being controlled by our feet, leaving our hands free to keep playing while engaging (and sometimes adjusting) our effects pedals.
The Price Of Guitar Pedals & Financial Investments
Whether guitar pedals are “worth it” depends on what you define as having worth.
There are plenty of expensive and inexpensive pedals on the market and the choice is ultimately up to you.
Here are my personal thoughts.
My personal, typical, train of thought is to invest money into assets (things that will end up making me money). Therefore, if I think I can make some cash from a pedal (either from playing through it live or recording music with it), I will consider buying it.
On the other hand, I give myself a budget for hobbies and I’m into the functionality of pedals and the sounds they can create. Therefore, if I think I’ll get a lot of enjoyment out of a pedal, I’ll consider buying it.
In reality, it takes a long time, personally, to recoup my investment on pedals. However, the joy I get from tweaking the knobs; experimenting with sounds, and writing music with the pedals is priceless, making many pedals well worth it to me.
A prime example of a pedal worth every penny, to me, is the DigiTech Whammy 5 (link to check the price on Amazon).
DigiTech is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use.
An example of a pedal I personally wasted money on is the Danelectro CV-1 Vibe because I’ve never really used it for anything… yet! That being said, the CV-1 wasn’t didn’t hurt my wallet too much whereas the Whammy 5 did.
Defining Your Sound
The use of pedals ultimately comes down to defining your sound.
There are certain pedals out there that just give the guitar an expressive and excellent sound.
The best example I can think of is a nice wah pedal like the Dunlop Cry Baby (link to check the price of the GCB95 on Amazon).
Dunlop is featured in My New Microphone’s Top 11 Best Guitar/Bass Effects Pedal Brands To Know & Use.
Some guitarists will do just fine with a guitar and amplifier. Others will benefit greatly from a few select pedals. Some others may very well put an extensive list of pedals to great use on the pedalboard.
So, ultimately, the answer to whether guitar effects pedals are necessary and worth it is up to you and your playing!
If you’re new to guitar effects pedals, be sure to check out my article on the What Effects Pedals Should Every Guitarist Have?
How many guitar pedals is too many? The ideal number of pedals is the number you need to create the sounds required of your set. However, be sure not to overdo it due to space and power restrictions; setup/teardown time; ergonomics and functionality; mobilty/travel and signal degadation (use true bypass pedals when possible).
Where does reverb go in effects chain? Reverb is a time-based effects and is typically best when placed at the end of an effects chain (along with other time-based effects like delay). The “ideal” signal chain is as follows:
- Utility Pedals: tuners, buffers, and switcher pedals.
- Dynamics pedals: compressors, filters, pitch shifters, and volume pedals.
- Gain-based pedals: boost, overdrive, distortion and fuzz pedals.
- Modulation effects pedals: chorus, flanger, phaser and other modulation pedals.
- Time-based effects pedals: delay and reverb pedals
*Volume pedals can go anywhere in the effects chain.