How to Find The Right Guitar Effect

To buy or not to buy? That is the question.

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, 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.


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.

Jason Houtsma serves as Worship Pastor for Mosaic Church in Bellingham, WA, Husband to Alli, Father to Bjorn and Asher, and guitar instructor for

How to Find The Right Guitar Effect

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great post!

thanks jason this is helpful!
i also got a question.

whats to small of a pedalboard? and whats to big?

is a

pedalboard that only has a delay/reverb, overdrive, and volume pedal a good size?




for your help

do you know of any

pedals that is delay/reverb thats under $80?

Someone on YouTube just asked me that

I found this one that sounds pretty good.

You are scraping the bottom of the barrel in that price range, though. If you are willing to jump up into the 120 range this little guy has a lot more flexibility

whats the name of


i can't access zzounds on my ipad.


Sorry about that. The cheap delay is called the Mooer Ana Echo but seriously, I can't tell you how much better the TC Electronic Flashback Mini is. I think you will get frustrated pretty quickly with the cheap one. Try copying that zzounds link into your browser. They've got some great videos of the Flashback.


I mainly play acoustic guitar at our church and for leisure. My guitar is a Breedlove atlas series with an internal pickup that has a pre amp. I've thought about pedals for it but can't seem to reason why. One pedal I would not mind getting is a looping pedal. This way I can add backing track to my songs. This fall I will be looking into an acoustic amp for it. What acoustic amps would you recommend?

Just curious...

why are you wanting an acoustic amp? Is it for tone shaping or to give you stage volume? If it's for tone shaping, I use a Boss Bass EQ pedal and I can't tell you how much it helps my live tone. It would be a way cheaper option than an amp.

Loop pedals are fun but if you want to use them for leading worship they can be tricky. You don't want to spend half the song building a loop.

Acoustic amp

I currently have a spider IV amp line 6 15 watt. I'm not well verse in amps but I'm looking for one that can bring out the acoustic tone. Not sure if this helps. If you say the boss pedal helps to bring out tone, I would be willing to give it try first.


That would be great, thanks.

It took a long time for me to learn

When it comes to pedals, try not to forget that pedals *should* augment and compliment an already great guitar/amp relationship. Unless you're playing Muse tunes on Sunday, try to pick a pedal that will give you "Natural Tone Enhancement."

poor mans pedals.

As a poor working man musician. I was looking for that mass produced Chinese company that sounded good! Joyo is AWESOME! And look at cheaper pedals. Its a website that not only has joyo and byang but also some high end brands too! I would love to have jhs and earthquaker devices but its not happening right now.

Don't forget aftermarket options

New pedals can be really hard on the budget, but I have had great success with used pedals. You can save a lot of hard earned money going with a gently used pedal instead of brand new. I've found Reverb dot com to be the best places on the web to get great used and new gear. Most of the sellers are either private individuals like myself, or brick and mortar instrument shops. Many used and some new listings allow you to make offers which can save you even more money if the seller accepts. I've also purchased an amp and a guitar from the site and have not had any issues with the products or shipping.

BTW, I love EQD pedals too and have been slowly adding them to my rig, and all of them are used and work flawlessly.

Hope that helps!

I second

that emotion.


do you know where i can find some good peddles for a good price?

is your friend.

between songs

I am mainly an acoustic guitar worship leader at my church but sometimes there is another acoustic guitar player which frees me up to play electric, an instrument I am currently learning how to play in a worship setting. I am a subscriber and your song lessons help me a lot. Currently I use a Boss ME-80 pedal which I preprogram entire tones into and then save them so I can easily dial them up between songs with my foot. This works great but I am now considering giving the ME-80 to a young guy I am mentoring and creating a pedal board. This is my main question: Given the complexity of tones for each song and the many adjustments to tone one has to make each song, how do you make these adjustments between songs when it takes more than a stomp? Do you actually squat down and adjust a bunch of knobs (especially on the delay)? I am worried this will be a distraction.

I've almost always had stomp boxes

and I do just squat down and make changes. I wouldn't worry about it being a distraction. It's just a way to play your instrument and I think it's common enough that you won't wig anyone out. Good on you for giving away your effects board. The guitar player in my church gave me his first multi-fx board when I was in high school and I made good use of it. In fact, he's now the co-founder of Worship Artistry so you never know the effect your having on those you mentor.