By: Pro Lessons
Guitar Effects: How Can I Find That Killer Sound?

That killer sound is the quest of all serious guitarists. Did you ever wonder why there’s so many pedal or stomp box companies? Either it’s very lucrative or it simply means we’re still looking for the right sound. If we had found it, we’d be satisfied with only a few pedals and a couple of different amps and guitars. Tone is the name of the game here. Great tone starts with great hands, but, after that, the order is guitar, amp, then pedals. If you have a crappy guitar or amp, no pedal is going to save you. A killer tube amp like a Fender Deluxe will give you a sweet clean tone until you reach a certain volume, but then it starts to break up. For some, it breaks up too soon. A Marshall JCM series amp will give you a Marshall clean and killer distortion but might not work well with your pedal board effects. Here are some tips on how to get the right guitar effects.

Guitar Effects Tip #1: Start With A Very Clean Amp

Your effects are not going to sound their best through an amp that breaks up too easy unless an all out saturation is you goal. Some amps just don’t react well to pedals. The cleaner you can get it, the better your pedals will sound. A Fender clean is a staple clean, but it’s not always best. Amps vary too due to tube life and other issues, but a perfectly good Deluxe is a safe bet. If you want to get a cleaner sound, try a Peavey Classic 30 or Classic 50 4 X 10. Peavey tube amps made in the USA react well to pedals. If a Marshall isn’t making you smile but you want that British vibe, try a Blackstar. Vox AC30’s are popular too, but they also break up too fast. Basically, you don’t want the amp all saturated before you even kick on your tube screamer. Try John Brinton’s Tyler Amps.

Guitar Effects Tip #2: Define The Sound

First, listen close to the guitar tone on the song you’re trying to mimic. If you don’t have a reference through experience for the guitar sound you’re hearing, you might as well ask a seasoned guitarist or music shop expert and he or she can point you in the right direction. What is that killer sound? With amp modeling these days, you can get computer software that’ll give you countless amp models and pedal models to help educate you on your options. Also, Line Six has done a wonderful job of modeling the top amps and their tones. You might want to invest in a Spider 1 X 12 combo just to get familiar with the various amps modeled and their tones. Once you know what a Marshall Plexi sounds like versus a Fender Twin or any other amp type, then you can start down the road of finding that killer tone. You can also look up who played the guitar part and possibly see exactly what they used.

Guitar Effects Tip #3: Start At The Source

If the sound source is a current worship project song, you can likely email the guy who played it and ask him what he used. If it’s a Hendrix song, you can likely find his signal path and equipment somewhere online. One thing to remember is studios have also added effects too. Compression, EQ, Verb, and other effects are often added to what the guitarist played. It will be very hard to get exact since you don’t know what they used or, if you knew, you couldn’t possibly duplicate a $10,000 compressor or a TC Electronics 2290. You can get close with your stomp box, but not exact. It’s great to be meticulous and you shouldn’t give up. If it has compression, chorus, and verb, try to determine if it’s a tight compression, a chorus with modulating delay, and a spring reverb. There are many types of reverbs, choruses, delays etc. You can’t just put these three pedals in line and expect to sound like The Edge from U2. A dotted eighth note delay is specific to his sound on certain songs.

Guitar Effects: How Can I Find That Killer Sound?

Guitar Effects Tip #4: Identifying The Pedal

Trying to pin down which distortion pedal was used if one was used at all is a shot in the dark. Most working guitarists have at least three core tones: clean, overdrive, and heavy distortion. Then a fourth core tone might be a boost pedal to take it to another level for solos etc. The staple effects are generally compression, then chorus, flange, delays, and verbs etc. There are hundreds of these to choose from. You can find the staple pedals at any Guitar Center or online. You will have to decide on the ones that you can afford. Some pedals are $50 and others are $1000. You could have the cost of a car under your feet in no time. Start by identifying the main effects. Is it distorted? How much distortion? It might just be Tube Screamer through a Vox Amp or it might just be straight into the amp. Then does it have delay? Verb? Is it compressed? You must identify the main effects before you can start to duplicate a close version of it.

Guitar Effects Tip #5: Get As Close As You Can

Unless you’re Steve Lukather or one of those great studio aces who carries the same rig on the road as they recorded with in the studio, you’re gonna have to just get close. Who can afford to go out and buy a Gretsch White Falcon just because that’s the sound? You might have to just choose a different spot on your Stratocaster pickup switch and that’s OK. Get as close as you can. In a live setting, 99% of the audience isn’t going to walk away saying “Man, that tone was just like the record!” Let’s simplify this: you need a couple of great distortion pedals. One for crunch or a light distortion and one for a heavier distortion. You need a compressor of some kind. You also need a multi-effects pedal that does a lot of things like the Line 6 M9 etc. You’ll need at least one digital delay pedal that has a tap feature and, if you need it, a great reverb unit with lots of versatility. You want us to tell you which pedals, right? If we did and you spent $5,000, it still might not give you the exact sound. You’re gonna have to go to the music shop and sample things.

Don’t run up your Guitar Center credit card trying to chase something that you may never get exactly right. Get as close as you can and move on. It’s going to be a process learning guitar effects. Get a couple of guitars that do everything well. Get that amp that does clean really well but also offers a nice distortion, then build your pedal board. You might try an all-in-one effects processor like the Line 6 Helix first. It’s loaded with tons of options. Don’t be afraid to learn your way around in a multi-effects processor. It’s doable and you’ll like it a lot better. Individual effects can get expensive and take up a lot of room on the floor. Either way, don’t give up. Keep pursuing that killer sound.

No matter what skill level you’re playing at, it never hurts to invest in guitar lessons. With Pro Lessons, you can learn from experienced musicians at whatever pace suits you best. Find out more about our affordable rates by clicking below.


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