Effects pedals can be fun and exciting pieces of gear for guitarists. But should beginner guitarists even consider getting pedals when they’re still learning the fundamentals? Let’s take a deep dive into the pros and cons to help you decide.
The Allure of Pedals
When you’re first starting out on guitar, playing can feel a bit, well…dry. You’re learning all these chords and scales, playing plain melodies, and getting familiar with the fretboard. Many newbie guitarists watch their favorite artists and hear the tones and textures pedals can provide – from the roar of distortion to the atmosphere of delay and reverb.
It’s easy to crave some sonic spice to liven up your playing sessions. Pedals promise to make your instrument sound less stale, giving you tonal options so you’re not just plugged straight into the amp. The urge to explore effects can be strong when you’re starting out.
Do Beginners Really Need Them Though?
Before jumping right into the pedal world, it’s reasonable to ask: are effects pedals actually necessary purchases for my skill level?
The answer isn’t black and white. Pedals can certainly offer beginners new tones to keep practicing fun versus flat. However, they also take attention and funds away from core fundamentals.
I’ll analyze the key pros and cons of getting effects as a beginner guitarist so you can make the healthiest choice for your goals and budget.
What Exactly Are Guitar Pedals?
First, what are effects pedals? How do they work their tone-altering magic?
Effects Pedal Basics
A guitar effects pedal is an electronic device that sits between your guitar and amp, changing up the instrument’s core sound in some way.
Physically, pedals are typically small metal or hard plastic boxes you operate with your feet while playing. You step on a pedal’s switch to engage the effect or toggle options on/off.
Most pedals require a 9v power supply, while some high-end models allow batteries. Their core sound-effect circuitry utilizes analog or digital processing – or both.
Types of Guitar Pedals
There’s a vast range of guitar pedals out there. Some of the most popular types include:
- Distortion – Clips and compresses the signal to add overdrive and grit. Ranges from fuzzy to high-gain metal tones.
- Overdrive – Less intense clipping than distortion, adding warm breakup and bite.
- Fuzz – Heavily clips signal for vintage fuzzy tones.
- Delay – Creates echo repeats of your playing.
- Reverb – Emulates spacious hall/room acoustic resonances.
- Chorus – Thickens and widens the guitar tone.
- Wah/Auto-Wah – Sweeps tone’s frequency range in motion with treadle or automatic sweeping.
- Equalizer – Alters the tonal balance and frequencies.
- Volume/Expression – Adjusts the guitar volume and can create fade effects.
- Looper – Records chunks of your playing which repeats in a loop, allowing you to solo over them.
- Multi-Effects – All-in-one pedal with preset combo effects.
And plenty more! Part of the gear chasing joy is testing different pedals for the effect that perfectly matches your style.
The Case For Buying Pedals as a Beginner
Okay – now that you know the basics, is diving into the world of effects wise when just starting out on guitar?
There are definitely good arguments for adding pedals early:
1. Keeps Things Interesting
Practicing scales and chords over and over can get monotonous fast. Adding effects pedals mixes things up, letting you alter your tone to beat boredom. Distortion pedals such as the Boss DS-1 make basic exercises cooler. Delay echoes create ambiance for noodling. An example is the Electro-Harmonix Slap-Back Echo Pedal.
Having some tonal options keeps playing more interesting versus straight amp tone each session.
2. Certain Genres Rely on Effects
It’s true you should practice plenty with an unenhanced signal. But some styles of music depend heavily on effects pedals as essential sounds.
Metal and many rock genres drive the amp with distortion or overdrive. Using an actual pedal teaches you how to dial in the right gain staging.
Delay and reverb pedals are crucial for emulating sounds key to blues, rock, country and more.
Without effects training early, you’ll hit walls trying to get seminal tones later.
3. Pedals Encourage Experimentation
Trying new pedals is fun and sparks creativity for many players. Turning knobs and toggling switches presents new sound combinations. Before you know it, you stumble on the perfect tone to inspire improv or song ideas.
As a beginner still exploring styles, having this palette of colors readily available helps narrow your identity down.
4. Healthy Gain Staging Habits
Using drive and distortion pedals teaches critical concepts like gain staging from the start.
For example, you learn to control distortion depth with the guitar’s volume knob before the pedal, retaining clarity. Essential techniques not possible practicing only with clean platforms.
You also understand how pedal sequence shapes sound, like distortion before or after modulation. Concepts that pay off when collecting more pedals down the road.
In short – pedals develop core electric guitar skills a newcomer needs.
5. Versatility From Multi-FX
One smart option for beginners is getting a solid multi-effects pedal. These function as an all-in-one toolbox – jamming many effect types into a single unit.
Having access to this tonal versatility keeps things exciting when practicing. Once ready to upgrade, multi-FX builds a great roadmap too.
Why Pedals Can Be Bad For Beginners
Of course, there are also reasonable arguments against diving into pedals too early when learning guitar:
1. Distract From Core Skills
Effects are colorful enhancements, but they should never replace fundamental technique. No amount of pedals can help sloppy fretting or dodgy rhythm.
As a beginner, your prime focus should be skills like:
- Chord transitions
- Playing in time
- Ear training
- Fretboard knowledge
- Picking/strumming technique
Time spent dialing in pedals takes away from reinforcing essentials. And no one ever got good obsessing over gear alone.
The risk is losing sight of raw fundamentals – which ultimately enable better tone anyway.
2. Unnecessary Expense
Guitar pedals aren’t incredibly expensive, but they do add up fast. Even budget models range $40-60 for single effects types.
For beginners still growing into the instrument, funding is better allocated toward one-time purchases like:
- Quality guitar/amp
- Private lessons
- Recording interface
Components that pay dividends long-term for skill progression.
Burning that cash on impulse pedal buys you may lose interest in later distracts from bigger priorities. The gear can wait until you have the basics solid.
3. Need to Learn Unenhanced Tone First
Some argue beginners should take significant time building techniques solely through an amp’s natural tone. No effects coloring the foundational wave.
The reason is that you must get to know the guitar’s innate sound qualities before modifying them:
- The tone variance between neck/bridge pickups
- How picking dynamics and vibrato change tone
- The guitar and amp’s overall frequency response
Wrapping everything in effects early potentially masks your growing awareness.
By the time you add pedals down the road, your naked tone comprehension will be deeper. Making dialing pedals easier.
4. Risk Over-Relying on Effects
A common beginner pitfall is using effects like distortion or reverb as a crutch. Leaning on them to make sloppy playing sound passable vs. tightening fundamental technique.
Players can outgrow this phase. But if effects get too ingrained early as a mask for underdeveloped skills, it may limit growth long-term.
Ultimately your ears get used to effects covering weaknesses. So when playing clean for contrast, flaws expose themselves.
Tips for Adding Some Pedals as a Beginner
If you still feel ready to get into effects already, I have tips to avoid potential pitfalls:
Stick to One Versatile Pedal First
Rather than blowing your budget on multiple effects right away, choose one solid pedal that’s flexible.
Great starters are delay or a multi-effects unit:
- Delay pedal – Slapback echo settings subtly thicken tone while longer trails let you play over atmospheric backgrounds. Boosts creativity without radically altering core sound.
- Multi-effects unit – Convenient all-in-one with amp/cabinet models and effect chains. Serves as a tone workshop to try lots of flavors before buying individual pedals later.
Starting with a single “desert island” pedal teaches you how to best apply effects too. Rather than getting overwhelmed tweaking many pedals simultaneously.
Seek Out Quality Budget Options
You don’t have to break your wallet on boutique effects when first starting out. Many excellent budget pedal options exist now under $100:
The key is avoiding ultra-cheap no-name pedals on Amazon/Ebay likely to break quickly and sound poor. Stick to trusted budget brands.
Use Effects Sparingly When Practicing
To avoid over-reliance, only use your pedal(s) for a small portion of practice time. Say 10-15 minutes max focusing on effects, then practicing fundamental techniques dry the majority.
This keeps your chops balanced across enhanced/unenhanced playing. Plus when kicking on the pedal after drill work, your tone sounds more vibrant against the backdrop. Making effects less monotonous.
Common Beginner Pedal Questions
If you’re still weighing getting into effects as a newbie guitarist, here are answers to some FAQs:
What’s the first pedal a beginner guitarist should buy?
For versatility, it’s wise to make your debut pedal purchase either a multi-effects unit or delay pedal:
- Multi-effects allow trying many effect types without buying each individually. Helping sculpt your tone preferences before eventually upgrading to standalone pedals.
- Delay pedals offer many critical functions under one box. Light echo settings thicken your tone while longer trails facilitate playing over soundscapes.
Between these two options, you can experiment with a lot of inspiring sounds right away without cluttering up your rig.
Should I buy effects pedals before an amp?
It’s strongly recommended to own a proper guitar amp first before adding any effects pedals.
While pedals alter tone, your amp provides the core foundation shaping what guitar signals then get sent to effects. No pedal before distortion sounds the same as after, for example.
So get that amp first to build your tonal center. Pedals come later as supplementary coloring.
How can I avoid over-using pedals and neglecting fundamentals?
It’s easy for beginners to use pedals to distract from core guitar skills. To keep your growth balanced:
- Limit effects practice to 15 minutes max during playing sessions to retain focus on technique work
- Track your metronome time with effects off vs. on to ensure you don’t slack rhythmically
- When performing play the first and last verse/chorus clean without effects to bookend your tonal range
- Record yourself both ways to expose over-confidence in effects masking weaknesses
Should Beginners Bother With Pedals? Conclusion
At the end of the day, effects pedals can benefit beginner guitarists by making practicing more fun and inspiring creativity. But only if used responsibly and sparingly.
Their best role is adding occasional tonal spice rather than replacing fundamental chops, which should remain a priority.
If you can resist the temptation to use effects as a crutch, pedals expand a beginner’s toolkit massively, setting skills up for intermediate playing and beyond.
But never forget – they complement fine technique, not replace it.
Approach effects as the cool whip cream topping to complete your guitar skills ice cream sundae. Not the whole dessert!Copy