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Easily one of the most enjoyable aspects of guitar playing is manipulating the sound of your playing through guitar effects. From searing distortion-driven lead lines to thick warbly rhythm tones, there’s almost no limit to the creativity you can use in creating your own unique guitar sound. In fact, the options can be a bit overwhelming, especially if you’re not sure what each effect does to your sound. With the new year coming up, it’s a great time to consider what effects to add to your arsenal. 

Four of the most versatile effects follow. Find yours here. 


Distortion is probably the first go-to effect for most guitar players because it can give your rhythm lines a crisp crunchy sound to drive songs in a variety of genres, such as hard rock or even pop, or give your lead lines a screaming sustain, perfect for guitar solos. A distortion pedal increases the gain of the audio signal coming from your electric guitar so that it’s boosted beyond its peak, creating harmonic overtones that normally don’t sound very good, but create just the sound guitar players want when applied to guitar tones. Most distortion pedals include controls for the actual gain you apply to the signal, the output volume, and a control for EQ, allowing you to manipulate the tone of the distorted sound. 

Many amps themselves include controls for gain so that you can add distortion without using an external pedal, or you can combine a distortion pedal with the gain on your amp to create an even more distorted sound than you could with either alone. 

Ready to dig deeper? Watch our JamPlay videos, Anything Goes, Crank up the Gain  and Amp Gain Overview from the JamPlay course, Overdrive and Distortion, part of the 2020 Gear, Tone, and Studio Toolkit. The JamPlay Practice Plan Toolkit includes 10 lessons on distortion and overdrive techniques. Get a toolkit of your choice FREE with the annual membership to JamPlay.

Because distortion is so versatile, it’s important to understand the individual components involved with creating distortion so that you have more control over your sound to create the tone you want.


Delay is also one of the most commonly used effects among guitarists. A guitar signal is recorded and repeated, creating an echo effect. You have the ability to control the speed at which the signal is repeated. Quicker repeats create a slapback effect because the note or notes will be repeated immediately or almost immediately after you play them on your guitar. Slower repeats create a cascading wash of sound. You can even create a reverb effect, creating the sound of playing in a large room. Delay can be used to thicken up guitar rhythms, especially if you’re the only guitar player playing in a group, or you can use it to create shimmering lead lines for guitar solos.


A compressor pedal can be really helpful if you’re playing live performances. Essentially, a compressor evens out the dynamics of your playing, making loud moments sound softer and soft moments sound louder. If you’re playing a soft single-note riff, for example, the compressor will boost the signal so that it’s able to be heard. Or if you accidentally strike a note too hard, the compressor keeps that note from unintentionally standing out from the rest. Guitar players use compression to help their guitar tone to not get lost in a mix with a live band. It can also be used to add sustain to your guitar leads.


A phaser pedal was a favorite effect used by Eddie Van Halen and can also be heard in the songs of Incubus and Hoobastank, among others. This swirling sound effect is created by duplicating the input signal from a guitar and combining a dry signal with a duplicated signal pushed through an all-pass filter, which cuts and boosts frequencies, creating a sound that modulates in and out of phase. This effect sounds great with single-note riffs and can be combined with a clean tone or distortion. Most phasers include a control for the speed or rate of the effect. A faster rate creates a more warbly sound, while a slower rate creates slow dips and peaks in the sound.

Each of these effects can give you an incredible amount of control and creativity over your sound, and they’re used by some of the best guitar players around. 

Get ready to use effects to take it to the next level. Make 2021 your year of guitar. 

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