I cannot tell you how many times I have looked at the pedalboard of various musicians and started figuring out what stompboxes they were using. There is something really intimate in “solving” the puzzle of those amazing tones. But if you are not familiar with effects pedals yet, this job will not be that easy for you. You might go on and google the pedalboard of a certain guitar virtuoso and feel the temptation to buy all of them. Let me stop you right there: that could be the biggest mistake in your life. When you have no idea what effects will suit your music, purchasing a bunch of them will do no good to you. However, there are some essentials that can be a great starting point for any musician. Today we are going to talk about the first 3 pedals you need to get in order to nail almost any sound out there. Let’s get started, shall we?
Before we jump right into it, I want to mention that the set of those essential pedals will differ from person to person. What you will be looking for in effects pedals will largely depend on the rest of your gear. For instance, if your amplifier can overdrive and you are already satisfied with the intensity, you will not necessarily need a distortion pedal. The same goes for reverbs and equalizers. But more often than not, musicians tend to reach for the pedals anyway and layer effects on top of each other. It simply depends on your musical taste and preferences. And before you start choosing the first 3 pedals to get, just consider your desires and aims once again. Now that we have this minor issue out of the way, we can finally start discussing more interesting stuff.
Let’s just say that tuner pedals do not exactly fall into the stompbox category. Technically they do, but the majority of the musicians consider them as tools rather than effects. But I still decided to include them in this list because they are quite significant for your rig. You might be thinking that you will not need them and your beloved clip-ons will do the job perfectly, but you would be wrong. Clip-ons will not be your besties if you perform on stage frequently. They can discern all the sounds, including those coming out of your band, which means they are not that precise in live scenarios. Pedal tuners do not have this issue. The signal from your guitar goes straight to their circuitry, which guarantees the accuracy. If you splurge for a polyphonic tuner, your life will get so much easier. You will just strum and the pedal will recognize the note that is out of tune. And the ability of pedal tuners to mute the signal and tune silently is just a cherry on top. Whether you call them tools or stompboxes, these bad boys will be indispensable assets.
Distortion and Overdrive Pedals
No matter what kind of music you play, there is a chance your sound will benefit from a good distortion or overdrive pedal. Even if you do not like the effect that much, you can utilize it moderately and employ subtle crunch or breakup. This will add texture and depth to your sound and make everything a bit more interesting. But if you do enjoy distortion, then it goes without saying that you need a pedal for that. You could use it to boost your signal and drive your amp harder in order to achieve that “natural” overdrive. Anyway, regardless of how you utilize this fella, distortion or overdrive pedal will hugely improve your sound.
This last one is probably the most controversial, however, I highly recommend getting a delay pedal (and a versatile one for the best results). The diversity of this effect and its countless sonic options will allow you to enter many different territories. It can be used to add some ambience to your solos and define its characteristics even more. Or you could get crazy and experiment with spacious delays. If you spend enough time tweaking and exploring all of its capabilities and, of course, finding the proper pedal, you will quickly fall in love with the newly discovered sounds. And if you pair it with some distortion, boy, will you receive jaw-dropping results!
As I have already mentioned, the huge part of putting together the first 3 pedals consists of personal preferences. I tried to include those that have worked for me and many other musicians. Could they be substituted with a different set? Definitely. Will your rig still sound good? Hell yeah! However, tuner, distortion and delay pedals are hard to go wrong with. They are straight-forward and extremely versatile at the same time. They can also be a great way to understand your sound and music better and figure out, how you are going to enrich the pedalboard in the future. After all, nobody can tell you what is right or wrong. You have to experiment and work your way through each and every sound. Good luck!