best guitar pedals for beginners

When starting with the electric guitar, it’s not uncommon to look at experienced player’s pedal board and think “Wow, so many pedals, with different names – wonder what should I get”. And while everyone knows that the core of your sound comes from the sensibility of your touch, your guitar and your amplifier, it is also true that certain pedals can transform and shape your tone to make it more unique and personal. Before shelling out all your beloved savings on unnecessary pedals, take a look at this guide to understand the Best Guitar Pedals For Beginners and best guitar multi effects pedals for beginners. 

how to choose guitar pedals

Tuner

As obvious as it sounds, a tuner (or tuning pedal) is fundamental for your rig. It can also act as a mute switch for changing guitars between songs. These days there are many smartphone apps for tuning your guitar – as well as clip-on tuners – but when you need precision and a clear visual indication of the pitch of your strings, nothing beats a good old tuning pedal. The Boss TU-3 is a classic tuning pedal with lots of useful settings – alternatively, you can check out the CPT-20 by Harley Benton which features true bypass connections and a super large LCD display. Need a smaller footprint? Try the Mooer Baby Tuner!Boss TU-3Mooer Baby TunerHarley Benton CPT-20

Volume Pedal

Your guitar is equipped with a volume knob – but that doesn’t mean you won’t benefit from a volume pedal. Very useful for various applications, the volume pedal can act – as you imagine – as a pure volume for your guitar signal (placed right before the amp) and also as a master volume if placed after your amp. By using a stereo volume pedal you can further expand the tonal possibilities of your setup. Ernie Ball makes a variety of volume pedals with different specifications (in order to match your guitar, amplifier or musical needs). Mooer offers a very compact and stylish pedal, the Expline – while Boss still sells to this day the FV-500-H, a pedal that passed the test of time and still performs amazingly well.Ernie Ball Volume VP JRMooer ExplineBoss FV-500-H

Wah-Wah

An effect made popular by guitarists like Hendrix, Jerry Cantrell, Slash and many more, the Wah-Wah effect is a pedal-controlled Q filter. The ultra-recognisable vocal-like effect is obtained by having a Q parameter going back and forth, thus “opening” your guitar voice or narrowing it down removing treble frequencies. Words cannot really describe it, and since its inception the Wah was featured on countless records. The Dunlop Crybaby is by far the most popular wah pedal, built with trusty analog circuitry. Despite Dunlop’s fame, many other manufacturers built beautiful pedals that have left their mark in music history due to their slightly different sound, such as the VOX 84x series, the Fulltone, and the super modern optical Morley Wah.Dunlop Crybaby GCB95VOX VX V847AMorley Mark Tremonti Wah

Overdrive

Back in the good ol’ days, guitarists had to crank their amplifiers to eleven in order to obtain a nice and creamy distortion. Today, this is no longer the case. Thanks to overdrive pedals, you can basically drive every clean amp into overdrive – at any volume – and choose the amount of gain and shape the tone precisely as desired. The overdriven or crunch sounds are commonly used for rock, to slightly get that “breakup” clean tone or to play blues licks and solos. During the last two decades, guitarists found out that overdrive pedals are also perfect for boosting the crunch channel of their amps into total distortion – a technique often used during guitar solos, to give the sound that extra weight and girth – or, as with the famous Tubescreamer, to tighten up the bass response of the amplifier gain channel. The Boss SD-1 is a very popular choice for overdrive pedals, capable of great sounds. The legendary TS9 by Ibanez is also worth a mention – even considering that it’s available in Mini and Deluxe formats. And while we’re at it, why not give the Harley Benton Ultimate Drive a try? This little screamer can boost your amp into full overdrive at a very competitive price.Boss SD-1Ibanez TS9Harley Benton Ultimate Drive

Distortion

Many people will say that Overdrive and Distortion pedals are basically the same thing: wrong! While the overdrive tends to add gain and texture to your clean tone, emulating a cranked amplifier, the distortion intentionally clips and distorts the waveform of the guitar signal. The effect of distortion pedal is much more audible and the resulting sound is harsher and louder, and sometimes completely different from the starting sound. Distortion pedals are perfect for rock and metal players, and represents a safe boat for guitarists that may feel the need to have a backup to their tube amplifier: a distortion pedal into the clean channel of a rented amplifier can save your gig! The ProCo Rat 2 is an instant classic, while the Electro Harmonix Metal Muff/Top Boost gives you some serious distortion with a top boost in single box. And for your über-metal needs, the Harley Benton Extreme Metal is here to help.ProCo Rat 2Electro Harmonix Metal MuffHarley Benton Extreme Metal

Compressor / EQ Pedals

If you’re a very dynamic player who likes to play soft and loud, a compressor is a must have: by raising the soft parts and lowering / adjusting the loud parts, you will get an even sound that works for most applications and won’t make ears bleed: the simplest way to describe it is as an “automated” volume control. The EQ, on the other hand, is crucial if you have a problematic guitar, an amplifier with limited tone-shaping control or, simply, need a creative way to alter the way your guitar sounds. EQ can be placed in front of the amp for shaping the sound going inside the amp or in the send/return (after the amplifier section) as a volume boost/eq boost.

The Boss CS-3 has been used for ages and, while being much younger in concept, the Electro Harmonix Tone Corset and the Harley Benton Dynamic Compressor are by no means inferior.

It’s impossible not to mention the legendary Boss GE-7a when talking about EQ pedals. The Artec SE-EQ8 and the MXR 6 band Equalizer feel equally at home and provide serious tone shaping options.Artec SE-EQ8Boss GE-7Boss CS-3
Harley Benton Dyna CompressorMXR 6 band EQElectro Harmonix Tone Corset

Chorus, Delay and Reverb

After shaping your sound, is important to add some depth to it, and here’s where the ‘ambiance’ pedals find their way into your rig. The chorus effect should be used properly, without overdoing it, but can give great results: the depth and the ‘3 guitarists playing your part’ effect can work amazingly well for your music. Delay and Reverb can be used lightly, in order to enhance your sound and fill up your guitar solos with a little space (by setting up a nice spring or hall reverb settings and a dotted delay) or heavily, to achieve creative sounds where the sky is the only limit.

The Electro Harmonix Small Clone is a very popular choice for getting a good chorus sound. In the Boss line, the CH-1 is certainly worth a try, while the Harley Benton Classic Chorus delivers good tones for an affordable price.Electro Harmonix Small CloneBoss CH-1Harley Benton Classic ChorusBoss DD-3Boss DD-7

Boss DD-3 and DD-7 are legendary digital delay pedals, heard on countless records. The MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay, as the name implies, relies on analog circuitry: different flavours for different strokes. For a compact all-in-one pedal, the Mooer EchoVerb includes delay and reverb in a single offer.

Boss RV-6 is capable of great reverb sounds with a classic approach, while the Digitech Polara takes the approach one step further by including Lexicon-inspired reverbs. The Holy Grail Plus by Electro Harmonix is our third recommended popular choice.MXR Carbon Copy Analog DelayMooer EchoVerbBoss RV-6Digitech PolaraElectro Harmonix Holy Grail Plus

Best Guitar Pedals For Beginners

1. Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Nano fuzz pedal

The wall of fuzz, now in a compact package

Price: $72/£67 | Type: Fuzz | Bypass: True bypassPrimeUS$89.95VIEW AT AMAZONSee all prices (2 found)Unmistakable soundRelatively affordableDoesn’t do low-gain wellScoops the guitar mids

Memorably described to us by one guitarist as a ‘hoover’, the Big Muff has been modded, cloned, reissued, rebuilt, and redesigned more than almost any other pedal in existence. With a distinctive ‘scoop’ in the guitar mids, the Muff can mean that you get lost in a band mix – it’s like the anti-Tube Screamer in terms of EQ profile – but when it works, there’s little else that has the same visceral impact.

Very broadly speaking, there’s about five main versions – although, in total there are over thirty versions by our count, with passionate fans of each – and it’s on these that the current crop of EHX Big Muffs are based.

The most common is the NYC Muff, which is available as the Nano Big Muff, while there’s also several others; the Ram’s Head, Triangle, Op Amp, and Russian. We could go on about them for days, but the lowdown is this – the Russian is more ‘woolly’, think Sonic Youth’s 100%; the Op Amp is more compressed, and the version that Smashing Pumpkins used on their classic Siamese Dream LP; the Ram’s Head is closer to a Dinosaur Jr., type tone; the Triangle is more old-school, a bit smoother and more articulate than the NYC to our ear.Advertisement

2. Ibanez Tube Screamer TS9

The most classic overdrive tone

Price: $99.99/£119 | Type: Overdrive | Bypass: Buffered bypassPrimeUS$99.99VIEW AT AMAZONSee all prices (2 found)Classic soundsEQ profileNot true bypassOverdrive isn’t to everyone’s taste

The original overdrive pedal, the Tube Screamer and its descendants still represent a significant percentage of the worldwide pedal market just on their own.Advertisement

There’s a reason for this, of course – not just that it’s a versatile drive with a wide range of operation that allows it to be used for everything from blues to metal. Its other strength is its EQ profile, which emphasizes the guitar’s midrange around 1kHz, meaning it suddenly ‘pops’ in a band mix, either live or in the studio.

Moreover, if you turn the drive control down and the level up, it functions as a boost, and it’s for this function that many guitarists acquire one. If you’re lucky enough to have a decent tube amp, or access to one, boosting a tube amp with a Tube Screamer is likely to be better than almost any overdrive pedal on the market.

There’s a difference between this, the TS9, and the original TS808, but for all the essays that have been written on the subject they’re similar enough that a recommendation for one can be a recommendation for the other, nine times out of ten. If you’re looking to save some cash, the Ibanez TS Mini Tube Screamer is worth looking at too.

3. ProCo RAT distortion pedal

From low-gain growl to roaring distortion

Price: $69.99/£69 | Type: Distortion | Bypass: True bypassPrimeUS$150VIEW AT AMAZONSee all prices (2 found)Powerful, punchy distortionGood at low-gain or high-gain settingsVery affordableIf you don’t like the timbre of the distortion

One of the first, and still most recognizable distortions, the ProCo RAT got its unique distortion sound from its LM308 op-amp internally clipping the signal into a triangular shape.

Though that’s the secret of the RAT’s tone, most distortions that followed emulated another part of the RAT’s circuit – its two so-called ‘hard clipping’ diodes, which also distinguished the harder, more punchy distortion pedals from softer overdrives like the Ibanez Tubescreamer.

Rightly a classic, RATs are nevertheless not that expensive, and remain accessible to beginners that want a huge, punchy distortion sound. More than that, the RAT also works well at lower gain settings, especially into tube amps that already have a bit of dirt on the go. They’re a surprisingly versatile distortion pedal and it’s hard to go too wrong.

4. Boss DD-3T delay pedal

The versatile delay option

Price: $139.99/£114 | Type: Digital delay | Bypass: Buffered bypassPrimeUS$139.99VIEW AT AMAZONSee all prices (2 found)Sounds fantasticVersatilityQuite expensive

The Boss DD-3 has been the gold standard for digital delays ever since its introduction in 1986, and members of the DD series have been used on records by bands as diverse as The Cult, Melt Banana, Tool and Radiohead. So many players have made the white-and-blue box their own that it’s probably quicker to list the players that haven’t owned a DD-series delay at some point.

For a digital delay, the DD-3 has a very pleasant character, bedding down well into a band mix while retaining enough of that pristine, digital feel that it ‘chimes’ in a way that analogue delays don’t, cutting through the top end of a mix.

The DD-3T is the most modern incarnation of this classic pedal, adding tap tempo to an already formidable platform.

5. Dunlop Cry Baby wah pedal

For classic wah sounds

Price: $79.99/£89.99 | Type: Wah pedal | Bypass: Buffered bypass

The Cry Baby has become synonymous with ‘wah pedal’ to the extent that most new players are probably best served by checking out this wah before any others, as it’s more than likely the pedal that’s been used on all your favourite records.

That said, it’s not without its problems. It’s notorious for ‘tone suck’ and the design is very long-in-the-tooth. Granted, there’s not a huge amount of innovation possible in terms of core wah sounds other than frequency ranges, but there are wah pedals with more options and flexibility.

6. Ibanez Analogue Delay Mini

For classic analogue delay sounds

Price: $119/£89 | Type: Analogue Delay | Bypass: True bypassUS$116.38VIEW AT AMAZONPrimeUS$119.99View at AmazonUS$119.99View at AmazonSee all prices (5 found)Great analogue delay tonesTiny form factorNot as versatile as a digital delay

Digital delays are reliable and produce pristine, accurate delays, but that might not be desirable. For some types of music a bit of darkness and dirt can add character, and this is why the technologies that preceded the digital delay have never quite gone out of fashion.

One of these was the tape delay, exemplified by the Echoplex and Roland Space Echo, but these vintage units are expensive and difficult to maintain. The other technology was analogue delay. This relied on arrays of capacitors to delay the sound, and came with its own artifacts – a certain degree of grit, and roll-off of higher frequencies.Advertisement

Not only do these qualities have some aesthetic value, but they’re also reasons that analogue delays often bed better into a mix.

However, because of the chips used being comparatively expensive, analogue delays were for a while out of the reach of budget-conscious players, whereas now there’s a variety of options, like this great mini unit from Ibanez, or other pedals like the EHX Memory Toy. We’ve chosen this for the warm character of its repeats and great form factor.

Best guitar pedals for beginners: DigiTech Whammy Ricochet pitch shifter
(Image credit: DigitTech)

7. DigiTech Whammy Ricochet pitch shifter

For off-the-wall pitch shifting

Price: $184/£100 | Type: Pitch Shifter | Bypass: True bypassPrimeUS$144.96VIEW AT AMAZONSee all prices (2 found)Pitch shifting is the coolestRelatively affordableDoesn’t work for every genre

The Digitech Whammy was the original pitch shifter, and to our minds it’s still the best.

This small, powerful unit boasts most of the features of its bigger brother, just without the rocking footswitch. In exchange, you get a ballistic control for the rise and fall speed that it hits the target interval and then returns to the fundamental, with the bonus of both momentary and latching options.

It’s inexpensive, endlessly inspiring and will completely change the way you play guitar. Can’t say fairer than that.

8. Mooer E-Lady flanger pedal

For old school flanger cool

Price: $99/£50 | Type: Flanger | Bypass: True bypass

US$52.14VIEW AT AMAZON€55.41View at Tomtop WW€55.41View at Tomtop WWSee all prices (7 found)Great flanger soundsTiny sizeNot as versatile as digital units

There’s no love lost between Electro-Harmonix and Mooer, especially after the former successfully sued Mooer for cloning their POG pedal. That’s probably why the Mooer ElecLady was rebranded to the still-rather-obvious E-Lady model name.

It’s a flanger, inspired by the classic EHX Electric Mistress, that can also cover off a number of chorus-type sounds, making it a pretty versatile first modulation. The reason we’re specifically recommending this is twofold – its low price, and tiny form factor. There’s other excellent budget flanger pedals available, but very few are as compact or well-built.

9. Electro-Harmonix Nano Small Stone phaser pedal

That psych ‘woosh’ you’ve been craving

Price: $72/£67 | Type: Phaser | Bypass: 

They might not be quite as small as some of the tiny offerings from Mooer and the like, but EHX’s Nano range are certainly a far cry from the sometimes comically large big-box versions that were knocking around when we were youngsters.Advertisement

Luckily, they’re still the same great sounds, and the EHX Small Stone is the phaser against which we tend to benchmark all others. Once upon a time it had so-called ‘tone sucking’ issues, but the modern versions have resolved that, so you’ve got rock solid sounds and true bypass too. Stick a Big Muff in front of it, and take off for another world.

Common Mistakes When Buying Your First Guitar

Often people get inspired to play guitar and jump straight to purchasing something that might not suit them. Here are seven common mistakes people make when buying their first guitar:

Mistake #1. Getting the wrong sound – Classical, Acoustic or Electric?

You have 3 basic choices of sound when you buy a guitar:

  • Nylon String Classical
  • Steel String Acoustic
  • Electric

A lot of people believe that the best choice is to start on an Acoustic Guitar and build up to an Electric Guitar. However, I think that your first guitar should be appropriate to the style of music you enjoy listening to.

If you like AC/DC, Green Day, or say the Foo Fighters, you really need an Electric Guitar to get the sound you want. If you like Jack Johnson, Ben Harper or Taylor Swift, an Acoustic Guitar could be a good choice. Nylon String Guitars sound great for flamenco music, classical music and a lot of traditional music.

Having said this, if it’s for a child under 12 we normally do recommend a nylon string as it’s easier for them to press the strings down. Some children can have tougher hands than others, so if you have a rough and tumble child, they mght be able to handle steel strings earlier than usual. Check out our buying guide for Choosing a Guitar for a Child for more information.

If you’re not sure what type of guitar is best for you, then just think of the music that you like to listen to the most, and call or email us. We will give you a personalized recommendation.

Mistake #2. Getting the wrong size

This is something that a lot of people get wrong. Electric Guitars are much smaller than Steel-String Acoustic Guitars and Nylon String Classical Guitars, they can basically be used by most people, but you do need to consider the extra weight. An Electric Guitar can weigh 5-6 Kg which can be difficult for children to handle. We would normally recommend children be at least 13 years before they try an Electric Guitar, but this is a generalisation and some children (sometimes as young as 10) have been ok. Every child is different, and some children may be capable at a younger age, so if you consider your child to be quite strong for their age, then by all means go for an electric. We carry a broad range of sizes in our entry level range. The correct size is most accurately determined by the player’s heightage and in some cases gender. If you can tell us these three details we can give you a personal recommendation.

Electric Guitar:

  • Smaller in size than acoustic or classical
  • Good for rock, metal, pop and country music
  • Has steel strings which can be hard on young fingers
  • Can be heavy, depending on the model.
  • Recommended for:
AgeHeight (cm)Recommended Size
5 – 1280 – 125 1/2 Size – See MiniS
12+125 +Full Size – See STH

SHOP BEGINNER ELECTRIC GUITARS

Acoustic Guitar:

  • Good for folk, pop, country, slow rock music
  • Has steel strings which can be hard on young fingers
  • Sounds bright and loud, great for strumming chords 
  • Light weight but bulky
  • Recommended for:
AgeHeight (cm)Recommended Size
5 – 12100 – 120 3/4 Size – See LSP34
12 – 15 120 – 165 Small Body – See LSPS
15+165 +Full Size – See LSP

SHOP BEGINNER ACOUSTIC GUITARS

Classical Guitar (Nylon String Guitar):

  • Good for classical, flamenco, Spanish music.
  • Available in the smallest size – 1/4 size.
  • Gentle on finger tips – perfect for young children
  • Sounds mellow and soft – not as loud as acoustic
  • Recommended for:
AgeHeight (cm)Recommended Size
2 – 575 – 100 1/4 Size – See CL14
5 – 8 100 – 125 1/2 Size – See CL12
8 – 12125 – 1653/4 Size – See CL34
12+165 +Full Size – See CL44*

* A full size classical guitar has a wider neck than other guitars. If you have small hands we recommend the CL44S slim neck classical guitar.

SHOP BEGINNER CLASSICAL GUITARS

Mistake #3: Buying a guitar with strings that are too high and hard to play

String action is one of the critical things for getting an easy to play guitar. The easiest way to understand action is that it’s just the measurement of the gap from the bottom of the string, to the top of the fret and it’s measured at the 12th fret (the half way pint of the string).

For a beginner we recommend an action of:

  • Electric Guitars 2-2.3mm
  • Acoustic Guitars 2-2.7mm
  • Nylon String Guitars 3-3.6mm

A common issue with most entry level nylon string guitars is that the necks are usually made in a very traditional manner using a section of metal bar a few mm thick to keep the neck straight (you can’t see this bar it is built into the neck).

We started finding that this type of construction leads to the neck bending (or bowing) after about 6 months. Unfortunately with the traditional method there is not an easy way to adjust it back to normal – once it is bent it’s time to get a new guitar! This lead us to re design our classical guitars to use a truss rod. A truss rod is a much stronger example of the bar used in traditional manufacturing, but its main advantage is that it is adjustable. So if in the future you neck begins to bend it can easily be adjusted back into correct shape. Here’s our guide to adjusting your truss rod.

Mistake #4: Getting stuck with bad machine heads guitar that don’t stay in tune

Here is an example of a basic covered machine head:

These are made out of gears and pressed metal, it used to be the only way to make machine heads (so a lot of vintage guitars use this type). While it can look cool and retro, these vintage style tuners are often very hard to tune and to keep in tune.
Now there is a modern way to get a much better guitar – the die-cast machine head:


Made from a mould these machine heads are much smoother and more accurate than a covered machine head.

Mistake #5: Choosing a popular brand name because you think you’re getting a superior product

Most popular brand name guitars are indeed very good quality at the higher levels but their entry level guitars, in our experience, are not such a great deal.

In the entry-level market, brand-name guitar companies are usually forced to make their guitars with cheaper materials. There is a simple reason for this. Most major brand-name companies have a brand owner (sometimes an American company). That company buys from a factory in China, and in Australia they will have a distributor who will sell to a retailer (your local music store). It’s pretty easy to see why they can be forced to use cheaper materials. There is a lot of price pressure to get a guitar manufactured at a low enough price for everybody to take their cut of the profit down the chain.

At Artist Guitars we manufacture our Australian designed guitars at our trusted factory in China and sell direct to you. There is no need for us to choose inferior components because we don’t have the pressure of keeping the costs low.
 

Mistake #6: Buying a guitar without any support materials

When most people buy their first guitar they can be a little confused about what to do. A guitar can be a confusing purchase and most guitars don’t even come with a manual explaining how to use them. That becomes a problem because most people then have to search for the information (which
can be hard to find).
Unfortunately it’s during this critical time that a lot of people get discouraged and may even give up on playing altogether. The first 6 months of learning guitar are critical, statistics show that if someone can still be playing at 6 months they will be much more likely to go on to play guitar for life, so the first 6 months are actually the most important time.

Mistake #7: Paying for features you just don’t need

At the beginner level, you need a good quality instrument, but having a more expensive instrument generally doesn’t make your playing any easier. Higher level instruments are designed for high-level players who want the ultimate in sound.

As a beginner most people are not very sure of the sound, style or type of guitar that they would ultimately like to play, but after playing for 6 months or so I’m sure you will know a lot more about guitars and when it comes time to choose your next guitar it will be an easy choice. The key features a beginner needs is a guitar that is well set-up and easy to play, but you don’t really need to spend too much money on getting a better quality of sound. Higher level guitars will only sound better when your playing has progressed to the level that you can play quite well.
Most beginners find that during the process of learning (after a year or so) you will figure out your own sound. You will naturally be drawn to music that features guitar in it, and great guitar parts. So what usually happens is that your own musical tastes will change and with this change the type of instrument that suits your sound the best will also change. So when you’re ready to take the next step, you will have a much better idea of what you really want.


So in summary…

The 7 key mistakes when buying a beginner guitar are :

  1. Getting the wrong sound
  2. Getting the wrong size
  3. Buying a guitar with strings that are too high and hard to play
  4. Getting stuck with bad machine heads guitar that don’t stay in tune
  5. Buying a brand name and thinking you will be getting a better guitar.
  6. Buying a guitar without any support materials
  7. Paying for features you just don’t need

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