How to Use a Guitar Pedal: A Complete Guide for Beginners

14 minutes read
How to Use a Guitar Pedal: A Complete Guide for Beginners

If you are a beginner guitarist who wants to spice up your sound and explore new possibilities, you may want to learn how to use a guitar pedal. Guitar pedals are devices that alter the sound of your guitar in various ways, such as adding distortion, delay, reverb, modulation, and more. They can help you create different sounds and moods for your playing, such as aggressive, ambient, psychedelic, or vintage.

However, using guitar pedals can also be confusing and challenging, especially if you don’t know how to set them up, choose them, or use them effectively. That’s why we have created this complete guide for beginners on how to use guitar pedals. 

By the end of this guide, you will have a better understanding and appreciation of guitar pedals, and you will be able to use them with confidence and ease. So, grab your guitar, your pedals, and your amp, and let’s get started!

How to Set Up Your Guitar Pedals

Before we dive right into the nitty-gritty of how to use a guitar pedal, let’s familiarize ourselves with the basic components of a guitar pedal setup. We’ve got five key players here: the guitar, the pedals, the power supply, the cables, and the amplifier

Your guitar, of course, is the heart of the operation. It’s the source of the sound that will be modified by the pedals. Speaking of pedals, these little devices are the magicians of your setup. They alter the sound in various ways, adding effects like distortion, delay, reverb, modulation, and so on.

Next up, we’ve got the power supply. This is the device that fuels all the magic, providing electricity to the pedals. It can either be batteries or a multi-output unit. The cables are the unsung heroes, acting as the wires that connect the guitar, the pedals, and the amplifier. And finally, the amplifier. This is the device that amplifies the sound and sends it to the speakers.

Connecting Your Guitar Pedals

Now that we’re all acquainted, let’s get down to business. Connecting your guitar pedals in the right order can seem a bit daunting, but trust me, it’s easier than tuning my harmonica in the middle of a jam session. Follow these steps:

  1. Start by turning off everything. You heard me, everything—guitar, pedals, amp. Safety first, rockstars!
  2. Hook up your amp and pedals to the power source. Batteries or a multi-output power supply, your choice.
  3. Attach your guitar to the input jack of the first pedal in your signal chain. Remember, the chain’s only as strong as its weakest link!
  4. Connect the output jack of the first pedal to the input jack of the second pedal. Repeat this process until you reach the last pedal. 
  5. Plug the output jack of the last pedal into the input jack of the amp. 
  6. Turn on the amp and set your levels. We’re talking volume, gain, EQ—the works!
  7. Now, turn on the pedals one by one. Take your time adjusting their settings and parameters.
  8. Test your sound. Play around with different combinations of pedals. Discover what sounds good to you.

To learn more on how to properly set up your guitar pedal, watch this video. This helped me and I’m sure it will help you, too.

Tips to Sidestep Common Pitfalls: Noise, Feedback, and Signal Loss

Just like a well-traveled road, using guitar pedals comes with its share of bumps and hitches. Let’s talk about noise, feedback, and signal loss.

Noise is like that cousin you can’t avoid at family reunions. It’s the unwanted sound that interferes with your guitar signal, manifesting as hum, hiss, or buzz. To reduce noise, you can use quality cables, correct power sources, noise gate pedals, and ensure proper grounding. (Siemon, 2023)

Feedback, on the other hand, is the sound that occurs when your guitar signal is amplified and picked up by your guitar again, creating a loop. To avoid feedback, you can lower your volume, move away from your amp, use a feedback suppressor pedal, or simply mute your strings when not playing.

Signal loss is the reduction of your guitar signal strength and quality, which can affect your tone and dynamics. To prevent signal loss, you can use shorter cables, buffered pedals, true bypass pedals, and active pickups.

Choosing the Right Guitar Pedals for Your Style

Guitar pedals, also known as stompboxes, are like tiny sound engineers at your feet. A distortion pedal can add crunch, fuzz, or overdrive to your sound, giving your rock or blues tunes that extra kick. Delay pedals create echoes of your sound, adding depth to your playing, while reverb pedals can simulate the sound of different environments, like a grand cathedral or a cozy room. And that’s just the tip of the iceberg. (Sweetwater, 2013)

Pedals for Every Genre

Here’s a quick rundown of some popular guitar pedals that are that I myself use and also recommended by friends:


For that iconic rock sound, you may want to check out the Ibanez Tube Screamer for a smooth overdrive, the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi for a heavy fuzz, or the Dunlop Cry Baby for a wah-wah effect.


For blues, the Boss Blues Driver provides a dynamic overdrive, the MXR Carbon Copy adds a warm echo, and the Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail delivers a lush reverb.


Metalheads might appreciate the Boss Metal Zone for a heavy distortion, the TC Electronic Dark Matter for a tight, punchy sound, or the Morley Bad Horsie for a wah-wah effect.


Jazz players might prefer the Boss Chorus Ensemble for a smooth chorus effect, the Electro-Harmonix Soul Food for a clean boost, or the Boss Loop Station for creating layered arrangements.

Tips for Finding Your Tone

When it comes to using guitar pedals, experimentation is key. But here are some tips to help you get started:

Start with the basics

Ensure your guitar and amp suit your style and preferences. These are the foundation of your tone, and you can build on them with pedals.

Do your research

Before buying a pedal, read reviews, watch demos, and ask for recommendations. The more you know, the better!

Try before you buy

If possible, try out the pedals before purchasing. You’ll get a better sense of how they sound with your guitar and amp.

Start simple

Start with one or two pedals and learn how to use them well. You can always add more later.

Experiment and have fun

Don’t be afraid to mix and match different pedals and settings. You might stumble upon some incredible sounds!

How to Use Guitar Pedals Effectively

showcasing a guitar pedal in action

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach to adjusting these settings. It’s a matter of personal preference and the sound you’re aiming for. But let’s not leave it all to chance. Here are some general tips to help you start twiddling those knobs like a pro:

  1. Begin with the knobs at 12 o’clock – this is typically the neutral or default position.
  2. Tweak each knob one at a time until you find your sweet spot.
  3. Use the gain knob to adjust the amount of distortion or overdrive.
  4. The tone knob controls the brightness or darkness of the sound.
  5. The level knob is your go-to for controlling the volume or output of the pedal.

Using Guitar Pedals for Different Purposes

Guitar pedals aren’t just for show – they’re tools that can dramatically change your sound. They can add distortion, delay, reverb, modulation, and so much more to your performance. Let’s go through some examples:

  • Distortion Pedals: Perfect for rock, metal, or blues genres, distortion pedals can add that much-needed crunch, fuzz, or overdrive to your sound. Whether you’re looking for a gritty riff or a heavy, aggressive tone, a distortion pedal is your best friend.
  • Delay Pedals: Want to add depth and space to your playing? Delay pedals create echoes or repeats of your sound. They’re excellent for creating a rhythmic or ambient effect, or for enhancing your lead or melody.
  • Reverb Pedals: These pedals simulate the sound of different environments – think of the difference between playing in a small room versus a large cathedral. A reverb pedal can add warmth and atmosphere to your sound.
  • Modulation Pedals: If you’re looking to add color or character to your sound, modulation pedals are the way to go. They change the pitch, phase, or frequency of your sound, creating effects such as chorus, flanger, phaser, or vibrato.

Getting Creative with Guitar Pedals

Who said guitar pedals were just about adjusting settings? With a little creativity, you can use them to create stunning effects and open up a world of possibilities. Here are a few ways to get the most out of your pedals:

  • Expression Pedals: Expression pedals allow you to control the parameters of other pedals with your foot, leading to dynamic and expressive effects. Ever wanted to sweep the frequency of your sound or fade your volume in and out? This is the pedal for you.
  • Loopers: These pedals allow you to record and overdub your playing, creating complex and layered arrangements. They’re a fantastic tool for creating your own backing tracks or practicing your improvisation.
  • Multi-effects Units: These devices combine multiple effects in one unit. With a multi-effects unit, you can access a wide range of sounds and effects, save and recall your presets, or simplify your pedalboard.

Troubleshooting Common Guitar Pedal Problems

Bypass Mode Blues

Bypass mode is the switch that controls the ‘on’ and ‘off’ of your pedal effect. It’s like the secret sauce in your musical burger, but sometimes it can leave a sour taste. There are two types: true bypass (your pedal won’t affect the signal when it’s off) and buffered bypass (a circuit keeps the signal quality intact when the pedal is off). Yet, both can have drawbacks such as tone loss, popping noises, or impedance mismatch. 

So, what can you do about it? Here are a few handy tricks:

  • Use a tuner pedal, volume pedal, or a switcher pedal. These gadgets can control your bypass mode, preserving your tone, eliminating noise, and matching signal impedance.
  • A buffered pedal at the beginning and end of your signal chain can boost your signal, preventing tone loss.
  • A true bypass pedal with a soft switch can avoid popping noises and mechanical wear.

Signal Chain Shenanigans

The order of your pedals in your setup, or your signal chain, can be a real sound shaper. But it can also cause unwanted noise if not arranged correctly. Here’s what you can do to keep the peace in your pedal chain:

  • Experiment with different orders and combinations. Like a mad scientist, you might discover the best sound for your style.
  • Follow the general guideline: filter pedals first, compressor pedals next, time-based effects last. This can help avoid unwanted sound interactions.
  • Use an effects loop if your amp has one. This separates preamp and power amp effects, improving sound clarity.

Power Supply Problems

Power supply – the juice for your pedals. Different power sources have different voltage, polarity, and amperage ratings, which can affect your sound and pedal performance. Here’s how to keep your power in check:

  • Use a compatible and reliable power supply like a battery or a multi-output unit. This keeps your pedals humming along nicely.
  • Check the specifications of your pedals. This helps you match them with the correct power source.
  • Avoid daisy chains or adapters. They can cause noise or damage.

Cable Connection Conundrums

The wires connecting your guitar, pedals, and amp, or cable connections, can be the weakest link in your setup. Here’s how to tighten up your connections:

  • Use quality, short cables. This reduces noise and signal loss.
  • Check the input and output jacks of your pedals. This avoids reversed connections.
  • Avoid loose or faulty cables. They can cause noise or signal loss.

Expanding Your Guitar Pedal Collection

When it comes to exploring new guitar pedals, it’s like venturing into a new city. You’ve got countless avenues to explore and each one leads to a distinct sonic landscape. So, how do you find the perfect ones that suit your style and preferences? Well, let’s dive in and find out.

Tapping into the Sonic Palette of Your Guitar Heroes

One of the most exciting ways to discover new guitar pedals is to simply listen to your favorite guitarists. What kind of tones are they creating? Can you identify any specific effects? Quite often, these guitarists have their gear listed on their websites, or you might find an interview where they’ve talked about their setup. This can be a goldmine for identifying new pedals to consider.

Reading, Watching, and Joining: The Digital Exploration

Another great way to stumble upon exciting guitar pedals is to immerse yourself in the digital world of guitar gear.

  • Blogs, magazines, and books often feature reviews or discussions about guitar pedals, providing in-depth information about their features, sounds, and uses.
  • YouTube has become a haven for guitar pedal enthusiasts, with countless demos and tutorials available to not only hear these pedals in action but also to see how to use them effectively.
  • Online forums and communities like Reddit’s r/guitarpedals are filled with fellow pedal enthusiasts who are always willing to share their experiences, recommendations, and feedback.

The Hands-On Experience: Music Stores and Expos

Nothing beats the hands-on experience of trying out different pedals at music stores, guitar shows, or pedal expos. This gives you a chance to literally feel the pedal under your fingers, tweak the knobs, and hear how it responds to your playing style.

Research, Compare, and Test: The Pre-Purchase Ritual

Once you’ve discovered some potential new additions to your pedalboard, it’s time to get down to the nitty-gritty.

  • Research the features, functions, and specifications of the pedals. What type of effect does it offer? What controls does it have?
  • Compare the pros and cons. How does it stand in terms of sound quality, versatility, durability, compatibility, and value for money?
  • Test the pedal with your own guitar and amp. This is crucial to ensure the pedal meshes well with your existing gear and can deliver the sounds you’re after.
  • Check the return policy, warranty, and customer service. This helps ensure you’re protected in case you’re not satisfied or encounter any problems with the pedal.

How to Maintain and Care for Your Guitar Pedals

Guitar pedals piled together

Your guitar pedals are your loyal companions on the journey towards that perfect tone. 🎸 So, it’s only fair we give them the care they deserve, right? 

“Regular dusting of your pedals is a good habit to start. Frequently dusting off the pedals will prevent dirt and grime accumulation, and there will be less of a chance of the dirt getting into the pots, switches, and input/output jacks”

(Daniel F, 2022)

Cleaning, Storing, and Transporting

To clean your pedals, you’ll need a damp cloth and a mild soap or a guitar cleaning spray. Stay away from harsh chemicals or abrasives – we don’t want to damage these beauties! 

For the pots and switches, use a Q-tip or a rag moistened with dish soap, vinegar, or isopropyl alcohol. And remember, never spray any liquid directly onto the pedals. 

When storing your pedals, find a cool, dry, and dark place. Just like vampires, they prefer to stay away from heat sources, water sources, and windows. 

Transporting your pedals safely is essential. Use a hard case, a pedal board, or a padded bag. And no matter how excited you are to get to the gig, avoid dropping, shaking, or bumping them. 

Power Supply, Cables, and Cases: Making the Right Choices

Surely, you’ve heard the saying, “you’re only as good as your tools.” And when it comes to your guitar pedals, it’s no different. 

Your power supply should match the voltage, polarity, and amperage ratings of your pedals. Avoid using daisy chains or adapters, as they can cause noise or damage. Batteries are also an option, but remember to remove them when not in use. 

Your choice of cables is equally important. Look for quality, short cables with good shielding and connectors. Loose or faulty cables can cause noise or signal loss, which is a definite no-no for any guitarist. Use patch cables to connect your pedals together and longer cables to connect your guitar and amp. 

As for cases, opt for a hard case, a pedal board, or a padded bag that can adequately protect your pedals from dust, dirt, moisture, and impact. Soft or thin cases won’t provide the same level of protection.


In conclusion, as a beginner guitarist, learning to use guitar pedals can be a game-changer, offering a new dimension to your sound. 

This guide has walked you through the essentials – from setting up and connecting pedals to avoiding common pitfalls and choosing the right pedals for your style. 

Remember, the key lies in experimenting and finding what works best for you. Whether it’s adding distortion, delay, or reverb, guitar pedals open up a world of sonic possibilities. So embrace the journey, explore different sounds, and let your creativity flourish with your guitar and pedals.

We’d love to hear about your pedal experiences. What sounds have you created? What challenges have you encountered? Let’s chat in the comments. You never know, your insights might just help another budding guitarist find their sound. Happy strumming!

Alon Cooper

Alon Cooper

Hey! I'm Cooper, and I hope I can be a helpful friend on your musical journeys. I'm a music artist based in Austin & Amsterdam, playing venues with a band / solo, and trying to learn with the most inspiring musicians wherever I go. In the last 8 years I've lived in Australia, northern Europe, the US and more.

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