The guitar effect landscape goes on forever. Ask the right questions and you'll know the right way to go.
One question I get all the time “What pedal should I buy”? I would love to simply say “This one” and make a little commission, but I’m not a salesperson. I’m a teacher. I’d rather help you make the decision rather than make it for you. In this post I’m going to give the five factors you should consider when choosing a piece of gear.
How much money do you have to spend and how badly do you need that effect? I’ve been in love with the Z.vex Fuzz Factory for as long as I can remember. I could have saved up for it, but I needed a fuzz for a few songs in my band. I chose to pick up an Electro-Harmonix Little Big Muff instead. Would I trade straight up for a Z.vex? You know it! Still I’ve tracked plenty with the EHX and no one’s ever complained so I don’t need to upgrade. No pedal is worth going into debt over. Sometimes you just have to do what’s right for your marriage..er, I mean…wallet.
How does it actually sound? It’s easy to get caught up in pretty lights and fancy paint jobs, but a pedal is about more than how it looks on your board. Compare the tone to similar effects. What sounds best to your ear? If you are concerned that you don’t have a discerning ear, reach out to some friends who do. Most gear heads are happy to talk with you for hours…and hours…and hours…
“Good tone is no substitute for skill”
It’s important to weigh the value of the pedal’s features. Does it offer everything you need in that effect or will you have to purchase an additional box to get an extra sound? There are also plenty of do-everything pedals that require you to pay for a ton of features when you may only need one or two. It’s good to have an idea of how you will use a pedal before you make the purchase.
How important is convenience and what are you willing to give up to have it. I’ve played with drummers who will play with just a kick, snare and hi-hat so they don’t have to make more than one trip to the car, but others pack an 18 piece drum kit for the coffee shop gig just in case they want to hit that 6 inch tom. For guitarists, it’s usually a question of amp and pedal board versus a modeler. If I was starting guitar today and my ambition was to play at home and at church, I would most likely drop $500 on a Pod HD500X and be done with it. It’s portable, customizable, sounds good enough for 90% of sound systems and would put a smile on my sound engineer’s face. It may totally be the right solution, but you also have to consider…
“You should know how you plan on using a pedal before you purchase it.”
The Fun Factor
Let’s be honest, there are only a few pieces of gear you really need to play the majority of songs. Pedals are toys. You play a guitar and you play with pedals. Either way, the key word here is “play”. What about that pedal is going to make it fun to use? When I was searching for a boost pedal, I found two that were comparable but the one that cost $30 more had a blue light. I decided it was worth it. You might scoff, but every time I step on that pedal I get a little extra satisfaction out of it. If you are going to spend the money, you might as well get something you really love.
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It all comes down to a question of value. What do you value and how much do you value it? One thing I will say is that good tone is no substitute for skill. A great player can make anything sound good so focus on that first. If you know what you want to purchase, the good folks over at Zzounds will give you a great experience and match any price. If you are looking for really high end stuff I'm also a fan of Rogue Guitar Shop. Check them out.