If there’s one thing guitarists can obsess about together, it’s equipment that can affect our guitar’s tone.
We could spend hours tweaking and shaping it to sound great to our ears and still seek out that next piece of equipment that can take it a step further.
One of the most common ways to shape your tone further is by adding pedals (or ‘stompboxes’) to the mix. These little pedals can alter your sound in very dramatic ways, and it’s no wonder that guitarists collect them like crazy.
In fact, if you value your wallet, it may be best to turn away from this idea altogether – as guitar pedals can be an addiction that is hard to break!
However, if you’re determined to build out your very own pedalboard or you’re just looking for the first ones to consider purchasing, you’ve found the right place.
In this article, we’ll go over the top 5 pedals you should continue purchasing first, before moving onto others.
1. Skip The Hassle (For Now) And Get A Multi-FX Pedal
First and foremost, I am going to give a suggestion that many purists would call foolish. But if you can only afford a handful of pedals (and especially if you can only afford one), consider getting a multi-fx pedal like the Zoom G1X FOUR.
Multi-fx pedals are exactly what they sound like – multiple effects in one unit.
In fact, many of these can simulate entire groups of pedals for a very cheap price. The downside? They’re usually not as good as dedicated pedals, and the difference in tone quality is noticeable unless you want to spend a very large amount of money.
Because of that, it’s likely you’ll end up buying dedicated pedals later down the line anyway.
However, the benefit is that you get a version of every main pedal to try out. Naturally, each of us like certain effects more than others, and playing around with a multi-fx unit can allow you to dip your toes into a bunch of different areas quickly, then pick up better standalone pedals later down the line.
We recommend the Zoom G1X Four due to the large number of both pedal and amp models loaded into it, the addition of a wah pedal, as well as a built-in tuner, 30-second looper and drum machine. It’s a great value for the price!
2. Looper Pedal
Although it won’t affect your tone, a looper pedal should have its place on every guitarist’s pedalboard, and this is especially true if you spend a lot of time practicing by yourself.
Essentially, this pedal allows you to record yourself playing, then play it back so you can play over it.
This makes it easy to play a solo over some chords, for example.
If you haven’t played with one already, it’s a magical moment when you start playing some pieces together, and is a fundamental tool to both training your ear and developing guitar solos on the fly.
Most looper pedals allow you to overdub additional tracks, meaning you aren’t simply limited to one recording. Add as many layers as you’d like, and you can make some pretty complex sounds!
For a basic yet perfectly suitable looper pedal, we recommend the Boss RC-1 Loop Station.
3. Distortion Pedal
If you’re an electric guitar player and you want that dirty, gritty, hard rock or metal tone, a distortion pedal is a must.
Note that many amplifiers will have distortion modes built into them, so you may consider opting for a different type of pedal if your amp already has built-in distortion. However, even in that scenario, a dedicated distortion pedal can take things up another notch.
To hear distortion in action, click play on this video and let it run for about 15 seconds. I’ve skipped to the section that shows distortion being turned on:
Distortion pedals will allow you to set the desired level of distortion with a knob, so it’s certainly possible to take things much further (or much more subtle) than the example posted above.
However, distortion pedals give you a lot of options to affect your tone. If you need something a bit more subtle (for example, if playing blues or country music) you may opt for an overdrive pedal instead.
4. Reverb Pedal
Reverb pedals are very neat.
They add reverb to your sound, sort of simulating the effect of playing a huge concert in a large room or amphitheater. If you crank the knobs up, they can even give off a sort of psychedelic, Pink Floyd-esque vibe like you were playing in outer space.
Imagine yourself shouting into a cave – it’s kind of similar to what that would sound like! However, reverb is not to be confused with echo. If you’re looking for echo – hearing the sound you played back again, you can find that in what’s known as a ‘delay’ pedal.
However, I recommend picking up a reverb pedal first, due to how versatile reverb can be.
It’s a very nice effect and even if you don’t turn it up drastically, adding a touch of reverb in can make your sound much ‘larger’ or grander.
Like distortion, some amplifiers may have a reverb knob built into them. However, dedicated reverb pedals allow you to shape the reverb differently and overall make for a better choice than simply relying on your amplifier.
If your amp already has reverb built into it and you have no interest in buying a reverb pedal, a delay pedal (as mentioned earlier) would be a good alternate choice.
Out of the two though, my personal recommendation is to opt for the reverb first.
5. Tuner Pedal
Last but not least, we have a tuner pedal.
This is probably the least exciting out of all of the pedals mentioned here, but it’s an important one. Your guitar won’t sound good if it’s out of tune, and a tuning pedal is both the most convenient and the most accurate way to tune your guitar.
They are particularly useful if playing live, as many of them will mute your sound so you can tune without your audience hearing it. The bright screens also make them much easier to see than a clip-on tuner, if playing in thick smoke or in the sunny outdoors.
The Boss TU-3 is one of the most popular tuner pedals, and you can read our Boss TU-3 review by clicking here.
Ultimately, once you start purchasing pedals, it’s very hard to limit yourself to only five. Therefore, this list would probably never be complete, regardless of how many pedals we added to it.
However, I strongly encourage you to master whatever pedals you purchase before moving onto more of them. It is easy to get caught up in finding that perfect tone, instead of using that time to actually practice your instrument. Like all things in music, no amount of money will turn us into talented musicians.
That being said, guitar pedals are a lot of fun, and isn’t that the point anyway?
I’d love to hear what pedals you ended up going with. Share your favorites in the comments below!