pedals in rock

The Guitarist’s Guide to the 5 Most Essential Effects Pedals in Rock

Today, there are literally thousands of different guitar effects pedals and units to choose from. And new ones continue to be conceived and manufactured on any given day. In fact, economic analysts foresee that the global single effects pedal market will continue to grow up until 2026. From North America and South America to Europe, West Asia, and the Asia-Pacific region, guitar effects pedals continue to grow not just in popularity but in sheer variety as well.

If you’re an aspiring rock guitarist who wants to start using guitar pedals, it can be difficult to narrow down your choices from the thousands of standalone effects units you can choose from. To help you make the right choices, here are the five most essential types of effects pedals in the world of rock.

Five Most Essential Effects for Pedals


If you’re looking to master roaring riffs and wailing solos while developing an aggressive playing style, this is the pedal type you’re looking for. Distortion pedals are responsible for the staple hard and aggressive guitar sounds fundamental to the metal, grunge, and shoegaze genres. Compared to overdrive and fuzz pedals, distortion effects pedals are more straightforward in terms of increasing guitar gain and grit, as heard in the careers of guitarists like Metallica’s Kirk Hammett and Nirvana’s Kurt Cobain.


Somewhere between the hard sounds of distortion and the square waves of fuzz lie overdrive pedals. As the tone that’s present in many classic blues and rock ‘n’ roll tracks, overdrive effects strike the balance between pedals that directly distort and increase guitar signal gain. Popularized by guitarists like Eric Johnson and Aerosmith’s Joe Perry, the overdrive is one of the more common pedal types in rock.


Blues-rock and funk were historically defined by the fuzz pedal. Responsible for the tight distortion behind guitarists like the Rolling Stones’ Keith Richards, Jimi Hendrix himself, and the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante, fuzz pedals offer guitarists a tighter hold on the controlled chaos that is the distortion effect. In a nutshell, fuzz is the beefier side of distortion.


As the name suggests, a boost pedal gives a leg-up to your guitar’s signal without muddying up the tone. For rock guitarists, they’re particularly useful for bringing out string dynamics as well as boosting the signal before feeding it into a distortion, fuzz, or overdrive pedal, resulting in a cleaner sound. Acoustic rock guitarists may also use boost pedals to ensure that their signal doesn’t get drowned out by the other instruments in a live setup. This is why the boost pedal is used by a number of iconic guitarists, not just from rock, but from different genres.


Popularized by Hendrix, Eric Clapton, Earl Hooker, Jimmy Page, and other rock legends, the wah pedal is a piece of equipment that’s become synonymous with epic and groundbreaking rock music. The deceptively simple wah pedal is basically a tone filter that’s controlled by how deeply you step on the pedal switch. The typical result is the ‘wah-wah’ sound that gives the pedal its name, a tone transition that can be expressed in any number of ways. From surf music and country to funk, shoegaze, and psychedelic post-rock, the wah pedal has been one of the most versatile tools for some of rock music’s greatest innovators.

While any rock guitarist can figure out different uses for other pedal types like delay, tremolo, flanger, or even synth pedals, the above-mentioned pedal types are the ones that have been most integral to the development of rock over the last century. As an aspiring rock guitarist, starting with effects like overdrive, distortion, fuzz, boost, and wah can make it easier for you to begin building your pedalboard.

Written exclusively for
by Missy Hill

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