A Musician’s Guide for Buying Guitar Pedals

For a new musician, and even for the more experienced musician, buying guitar pedals can be needlessly complicated. Here’s a quick guide for navigating the sonic maze of pedal purchasing. 

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A Musician’s Guide for Buying Guitar Pedals

I haven’t met a guitar player that isn’t a little intimidated by shopping for a pedal. If they tell you any different, they’re lying… or stinking filthy rich. For the rest of us pee-ons, I’m here to help you get started. And oddly enough, my advice involves a shitty multi-effect pedal…I KNOW, RIGHT?! But let’s take it one step at a time.

Obviously, your very first pedal should be a tuner because no matter what your sound is, you need it to be in tune. My suggestion is nothing less than the Boss TU-3. If you’re recording in a multi-million dollar studio, then you should get something nicer but for everything short of that the Boss TU-3 should be just fine. It runs around $99 dollars (please don’t pay more than that). I recommend checking Reverb.com for better deals. If you want something a little nicer then think about getting the Peterson VSS-C Stomp Classic Strobotuner ($200). You should be able to get within a cent of where you should be (a cent is a unit to measure tuning).

Alright, next on your list…and I HATE telling you this. Saying this is like finding out that your great Grandfather was a pirate who beat kittens…but, the next pedal you should buy is a multi-effect pedal. I KNOW but give me a chance to show my work. Looking for a new sound online is a process and a half. There are so many effects and thousands of variations for each effect and, unfortunately, pedals can be REALLY expensive!

The idea here is to have a painter-like pallet of sounds and to slowly make the multi-effect pedal obsolete. Once you’ve tried out the sounds…you may begin to notice that you tend to use a fuzz sound a lot — which indicates that you should probably start looking up fuzz pedals. Listen to some of your favorite songs and see if you can pick out a fuzz sound you love. Take note of the pedals that your idol(s) use(s). If it’s a local act, ASK THEM! I’ve only met two guitarists who didn’t love to talk about their sound (both were asshats). Then, as you add effect pedals like a delay, overdrive, wah, chorus, etc., you’ll get to a point where you can go back and sell the multi-effect via Reverb.com or eBay. Or you can even give it to another musician that is in the beginning stages of finding their sound like you once were.

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When shopping for a multi-effect pedal, I recommend either the Boss ME 80 (no more than $300) Or the Boss ME 25 (no more than $200). The ME 25 has actually been discontinued so you will have to buy it used. They are both easy to use and both sound great. The difference between the two is just the size of the pedal and the number of programmed presets. $200 to $300 might seem like a lot at first, but if you look at buying ANY semi-decent pedal, it’s going to be around $100. Both of these pedals have a wide range of sounds. Sure they’re basic and have a sort of digital lovelessness to them, but it’ll start you on the right path. Over the next few months, take note of what you gravitate towards.

I’ll leave you with a couple quick tips:

  • When researching a pedal’s sounds online you need to be careful. It’s easy to modify and clean up sound for a video! That being said, most vendors have good return policies. I really like Sweetwater.com and Reverb.com.
  • When going to a store to buy a pedal, (this seems obvious, but I’ve seen too many people screw this up) be conscious of the amp you’re using. Every guitar will be a little different. One guitar and amp might sound a little too hot, another too mellow. You need to be aware of the elements we’re using when testing out new pedals.
  • You are going to buy a pedal you don’t like, it happens. Luckily for us, it’s really easy to return products nowadays. Most companies are run and have employees who are actual musicians that understand how hard the search for your sound can be.
  • Don’t be afraid to make mistakes. Don’t let the fear of not loving a pedal prevent you from buying pedals and getting closer to your sound.

If you haven’t already, check out my first blog post here on how to bust writer’s block.

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