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It’s hard to imagine a world without guitar multi effects pedals. Today, they can be found in every genre of music from blues, funk and jazz to dream pop, country rock and even quiet folk. Because of their extremely wide-ranging sound palettes, guitar effect pedals can be used to create a number of unusual and unique tones in order to best complement songs in a number of different styles.

If you’re unfamiliar, an effects pedal (sometimes called a “stomp box”) is a piece of electronic equipment that digitally manipulates the sound of your guitar. When a regular electric guitar is filtered through a distortion pedal, for example, the sound that emits from its amplifier is loud, noisy and muddy — far different than the otherwise clean tone you’d get from plugging the instrument into the amp directly. But there are also plenty of acoustic guitar pedals, too, all optimized for use with guitars with brighter natural tones.

The next time you attend a concert, look down at the guitarist’s (and bassist’s) feet. You’ll likely see a long row of interconnected boxes with a series of knobs and blinking lights on them. These are effects pedals, and they’ve pretty much become the standard for creating specific sounds in live music as well as any sessions that take place in a studio. But it wasn’t always that simple. In fact, in the middle of the 20th century, getting your guitar to sound any different was a bit of a clumsy process.

Guitars manufactured in the 1950s sometimes featured effects units built onto the body of the instruments themselves. That made performing a bit of an unwieldy challenge, so creators stuck to outfitting amplifiers directly with sound-manipulating effects like tremolo, vibrato, echo and reverb. Then, in the 1960s, the first stomp boxes appeared on the scene and changed the face of music — primarily rock and roll music — forever.

Here’s a list of popular songs where you may have heard some basic effects being utilized:

  • “Purple Haze” by Jimi Hendrix, pitch-shifter and distortion pedals
  • “Smells Like Teen Spirit” by Nirvana, flanger and distortion pedals
  • “One” by U2, chorus pedal
  • “Yellow” by Coldplay, acoustic guitar pedals

Today’s a professional band always works with the most professional sound gear they can find, and that always includes a number of effective and diverse effects pedals. They’re available via online music stores as well as in person, and one of the best ways to get familiar with the sounds is to just starting trying them out. Both electric and acoustic guitar pedals can turn any tune into a proper song. It’s all in the details of figuring out how to use them.

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