Musicians have a range of different accessories at their disposal. For guitarists, one of the most important is the foot pedal (or foot switch). Foot pedals are small metal boxes that sit on the floor in front of the guitar player. As their name suggests, the musician can use their feet to easily switch them on and off. That shift then changes the sound as the guitar is played.
You can use pedals to make songs louder, clean up noise, add effects, or simply layer on extra fuzz or shimmer. People may not commonly think of feet when they think of the guitar, but the switch is a key piece of equipment that gives musicians a way to influence, alter, or shift their sound in a way that is truly unique.
The Four Foot Pedal Types
Amp footswitches have a wide range of different functions that largely depend on their brand, as well as the type of amplifier they are connected to. In this section we will break down the four larger categories to show the most common options.
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The first pedal type on our list, drive, is used to push a guitar’s signal before it reaches the amplifier. There are two parts to this style, which are overdrive and distortion. Overdrive creates a warm, clean sound that is typically associated with rock and blues music. In addition, it adds more sustain, which causes notes to ring out for longer periods of time, and comes with a strong volume increase as well.
While overdrive builds a warm sound, distortion is much more extreme. Though it largely works in the same way, it takes the signal and well, distorts it. Distortion pedals are typically used in heavier styles like metal and punk to give the music a thick feel. While most amps have built in drive effects, they are weak compared the versatility and power of a pedal.
The next foot switch category is reverb, which is functionally the opposite of drive. That is because, instead of increasing power or volume, it adds depth to a clean tone. Reverb pedals help the music sound as if it being played in a large or open space. As the name suggests, this reverberates the noise and enables the guitar to hum in a distinct way.
Just like with drive, most amplifiers have their own built-in reverb to create a little bit of the effect. However, as with the above example, they cannot compete with the effects of a good foot switch.
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The third pedal effect in this list is delay, which repeats the guitar sound multiple times after it is has been played. While this method can be combined with drive, most guitarists use delay with a clean guitar sound. However, don’t limit yourself. One of the best parts of delay pedals is that they allow for creativity and experimentation. Messing around with different notes or interesting noises can build a unique noise that is unlike anything else.
The other half of this section pertains to looping switches, which are similar to delay pedals in that they also repeat an element of the music that has already been played. Looping is where musicians record an entire musical section, then play it back while they play something new on top. For instance, playing a basic chord progression and then creating a new sound on top of it. This method is used by many modern singers and, like delay, works great with experimentation.
The final foot pedal type we’re going to cover is modulation. This is a much broader section that allows you to add flair or texture to your sound. Unlike the above categories, modulation comes with its own subsets: phase, chorus, tremolo, wah, and flange. Each of those styles present something different for the performer, and have been used by many musicians to add a bit of originality to their style.
There are so many different effects in the modulation category, that it deserves some extra exploring. Unlike the above three examples, you cannot simply get a single pedal for this. Rather, it is best to mess around with different styles to figure out which you prefer. Get a multi-effect unit that has versions of each type to fully explore modulation in its entirety.
- 7-Mode Modulation effects: Chorus A, Chorus B, Phaser, Tremolo, Rotary, Vibrato and Flanger
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A Foot Pedal for Every Music Type
There are tons of different foot pedal switches out there, and all of them are going to bring something new or unique to the table. As a result, there is always going to be something for your style.
Even people who do not like the classic models can get USB foot pedals to bring their music playing into the digital age. Whatever you prefer, do not limit yourself to one foot pedal or switch type. Branch out and see what sounds you can explore.