Effects Explained

An introduction to effects


Effects are almost universally used on electronic instruments to shape or change the sound of the instrument. One of the most commonly and often most effected electronic instruments is the electric guitar.

If you plug an electric guitar straight into the clean channel of your amplifier - and turn off any onboard effects such as reverb that your amp may have, then you will notice that the sound produced is not the most exciting or inspiring guitar sound. You will almost never hear a totally clean (a pure guitar sound without any effects or distortion) guitar on a modern recording.

This means that if you are wanting a modern sound then you need to get an understanding of the different types of effects and what they will do for your tone.

To start with you need to understand the basic principle of effects. You plug your sound source (eg guitar) into the input of your effects box, and then take a lead from the output to you amp. You can chain as many effects as you want in whatever order you want to get your own signature sound.

Some amplifiers have what is called an effects (or FX) loop, which is an output from your amp which has a 'send' and 'return'. If you want to use the effects loop, then you plug into your amp as normal and the signal goes into the pre amp - where any overdrive and EQ settings are applied. The signal is then piped out of your amplifier through the 'send', into your effects box and brought back into the amp via the 'return'. This effected signal is then piped to the power section of your amp where the signal is boosted and piped off to your speaker.

There are very many different types of effects, but they can general be grouped into a few main categories:

Dynamic When people refer to dynamics they are talking about the volume, and more specifically the change in volume of your sound. This is sometimes referred to as the dynamic range.
Modulation Modulation effects change the sound, usually changing over time, creating sweeping or radical changes depending on the settings and the particular effect being used.
Delay Delay, or echo, is when the original signal is delayed in some way and then fed back into the signal creating an echo effect. Delay effects are also the basis of many modulation effects as the delayed sound can interact with the original creating some unusual effects.

Effects Units

You can get effects units in many different guises - one of the first and most common is a single effect in a rack unit (studios, live sound rigs) or as small floor mounted boxes most often used by guitarists (often called stomp boxes due to the fact that you stand on a switch to engage/ disengage the effect). Another common form for guitarists that is starting to make more and more sense is the multiFX unit. These are single boxes that allow you to process your sound through many different effects simultaneously - equivalent in some ways to having many stomp boxes chained up. However the price of a multiFX unit compared to a bunch of stomp boxes is enormous. And this combined with the fact that multiFX units usually include a digital tuner, headphone output and power supply means that for the cost conscious musician they are almost certainly the best bet...
Check out this great selection of guitar, drum and general music accessories we have put together for you - free guitar tablature search, online metronome / drum machine to play along to and we even have an online guitar tuner for you.