Oz Noy: Effects—With So Many Options, What Do You Use and How?

| November 4, 2011

There are so many effects available these days that it can be overwhelming. How does one choose between so many builders that all make versions of the TS808 or Fuzz Face or Memory Man with minor changes?

The answer is that it doesn’t matter!

Let me explain.

There are basically only a few types of effects available to us, which may be divided into the following categories:

Boosters—from clean boost to overdrive
Distortion and Fuzz—including octave fuzz
Modulation—including chorus, vibrato, tremolo, phaser, flanger, rotary-speaker simulator, and Uni-Vibe (which is really a type of phaser)
Delay—analog and digital
—analog and digital
Filters—wah pedals and auto-wah/envelope filters

Now, it doesn’t really matter what brand of effect you are using, as they all do the same thing with minor differences. The idea is to know how to use each effect, and most important, how to make that effect work for you with your own gear.

I could talk at length about how I use various pedals and how I think they should be used in general—but the truth is that there are really no rules, and that you will need to experiment to discover what works and sounds best for you. You might hook everything up in reverse and have that work great for you—who knows? Again, there are really no rules other than what sounds good is good. Personally, I’ve found that a lot of “great” pedals don’t work for me, and some cheap or just “okay” pedals do, depending on the situation.

To get the best results you need to know what each effect is supposed to sound like. Then, experiment with placement in the signal chain, whether a pedal sounds different when powered by a battery rather than a power supply, whether buffered or true bypass pedals work best, and whether one type of connecting cable sounds better than another. All of these things can make a big difference in the overall sound of your rig.

And then there’s the amp. Some pedals will sound better or worse when used with particular amps—and the same goes for guitars. You’ll need to figure it all out for yourself. Also, pedals are like any other instrument—they need to be played and broken in before they sound good. You have to get some electricity in there to get the mojo working.

And finally, you cannot check how pedals sound at home. You need to test them onstage in a live performance situation, at the right volume, to hear how they are actually going to work. I can’t tell you how many times over the years I've checked pedals at my house and they sounded good, only to have them not work out live. Of course, they may sound just fine in a studio situation, where you can more easily fine tune them.

The bottom line is that you need to experiment with all of your gear together to achieve the tones you are looking for. Its kind of like magic—but not.

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