How Do Guitar Pedals Work?

How Do Guitar Pedals Work featured image
How Do Guitar Pedals Work? – A Beginners Guide

A whole new world of sound lies before you with the implementation of a guitar pedal! These are sometimes called effects pedals or stomp boxes. They are small electric units that alter the sound of your guitar. They are able to produce special effects such as wah-wah, delay, overdrive, and various types of distortion.

They also are used to control volume, equalization and other basic tonal aspects of the guitar. The pedal connects to your amp and guitar. Then comes the experimenting! Try different notes, settings, and combinations to achieve the sound variations that you desire. What fun is in store for you with a guitar pedal!

Here is a little help in using a guitar pedal:

First of all, turn down the volume on your amp when using guitar pedals that affect volume and gain, such as overdrive and boost. This will make sure that you don’t blow out your speakers when you start to play!

Turn on your amp and hit a string. Your pedal is not connected yet so the sound from your guitar will be the same as if you connected directly to the amp.

Turn on the effects pedal by pressing on it with your foot. The sound coming from your amp should be different than usual. Play something that you know and take note of how differently it sounds with the pedal engaged.

Change the sound of the pedal by adjusting the knobs. Every pedal comes with different knobs that affect the sound and intensity as well as the volume of the distortion. Turn the knobs up to increase treble sounds and turn them down to increase bass sounds. Turn up the drive knob on an overdrive pedal to increase the distortion.

Now let’s talk about choosing the right pedal, i.e. the which for the what!

Boost Pedal

This one increases the volume of your guitar and it increases the signal of your guitar for a louder sound and a more sustained gain. (Gain is the buildup of sound after you hit a note.) To boost the volume and gain of your guitar, or if you are using a lower voltage amp, you should use the boost pedal. They are often used with overdrive or distortion pedals.

Overdrive or Distortion Pedal

This pedal gives a heavy metal or punk sound. It adds sustain and a crunch to the sound your guitar is making. This pedal will give your guitar a distorted rock sound and is great for songs that contain power cords.

Equalizer (EQ Pedal)

An equalizer adjusts the tone of your guitar. You can adjust the bass and treble with it and then adjust the sliders up and down to change the frequency. With an EQ pedal, you can change multiple frequencies, which you can’t do with distortion or overdrive pedals.


It controls the tone and sustain of your sound. Tone, attack and sustain knobs allow you to control different aspects of your guitar’s sound. They even out the sound as you are playing. That means you get more consistent volumes and sustain.

An especially good thing about compressors is that they allow you to set a range so that your guitar is never at a frequency that is too high or too low.  The initial plucking of a string gives a high attack. Sustain controls how long the note rings out after you hit it.

Wah-Wah Petal

This one lets you change frequency as you play. It fluctuates the frequency up and down as you play. The Wah-wah sound comes when you rock your foot back and forth on the pedal.

If you press down on the pedal with your toes, it will increase the treble and frequency of your notes. Pressing down on the pedal with your heel will increase the bass. Cool stuff here!

Delay Pedal

It lets you hear an echo when you play. It also lets you adjust the delay time and frequency to achieve different sounds. It will repeat the notes that you played in an echo over time.

Multi-Effects Pedal

You need this one for a range of effects. Also, it will save you money in the long run. For a wide range of effects, a single multi-effects pedal will do the job. Multi-effect pedals don’t let you customize as much as using individual pedals because they come with pre-set effects that you can’t mix and match.

Some interesting facts about pedals:

  • Petals are an amazing addition to your guitar.
  • Some act like a light switch on and off.
  • Others, however, act like a sewing machine pedal that needs constant pressure.
  • At rock concerts, the guitarists tend to use the pedal as a “looper”. This means that you loop a certain sound you have to play and sound sequence.
  • The pedal acts as a switch to record it when you hold. Then when you let go it plays for you, so you don’t have to do anything more.
  • The pedal also can be used to filter sound to the desired effect.
  • Some pedals have a single effect, as I explained earlier.
  • Only a multi-effects pedal needs any kind of programming.
  • Simply put, the guitarist turns knobs and saves the desired sounds.
  • Most pedals are pretty accessible and easy to figure out.
  • There are, of course, deeper levels and, just like with anything else, you can complicate the use of pedals as much as you want!

To conclude:

Pedals are exciting and can enhance any guitar with cool effects such as more/deeper volume, and a more sustained gain.

  • A Boost Pedal has tone, attack and sustain knobs that allow you to control different aspects of your guitar’s sound.
  • Overdrive or Distortion Petals give a metal/punk sound.
  • An EQ Pedal balances bass and treble sounds and allows you to change frequencies.
  • Compressors even out the sounds you are playing so that you can set them to never go too high or too low.
  • The Wah-Wah Pedal fluctuates the frequency up and down as you play.
  • The Delay Pedal adjusts the delay time and frequency to achieve different sounds. It will repeat the notes that you played in an echo over time.
  • Lastly, Multi-Effects Pedals let you do lots of functions with one pedal but are preset so that you might not be able to customize them as you would like.

Experiment, experiment, experiment! Try different things to find the settings and combinations to achieve the sound variations that you desire. What fun it will be!




Duke Taber

Duke Taber has been a Senior Pastor of various churches since 1988. Prior to that, he was involved in the Christian rock scene opening for such notables as Larry Norman, Randy Stonehill, Rez Band, and once played briefly with Darrel Mansfield. Today he is the owner and managing editor of 3 successful Christian websites that support missionaries around the world. He is currently starting a brand new church in Mesquite NV called Mesquite Worship Center.