If you’re just getting started with electric guitar, you’re probably wondering what pedals to buy. There are so many different types of effects and for each effect there are so many different options.
In this guide we’ll have a quick look through at some must-have guitar effect pedals for beginners. These are pedals that you can buy once and will last you forever.
Think of these pedals as the absolute essentials to get you started. If you don’t have some of these pedals, you’re going to miss out on a lot. If you want to build up a bigger pedalboard that covers a lot more types of sounds and effects, check out this Guide on Beginner’s Guitar Rig. The guide will give you recommendations for a complete guitar rig.
Guitar Tuner Pedal
Okay so technically this guitar pedal isn’t an effect, but it’s definitely a must-have pedal. Even if your amp has an inbuilt tuner or you have an app on your smartphone it’s a good idea to buy a dedicated tuner pedal.
Playing in tune is so important for your development as a beginner. Every time you play your guitar, your ears are learning to get used to what they hear. If you play a perfectly in-tune guitar your ears will learn to accept that sound as normal.
If you practice with an out-of-tune guitar, your ears will eventually accept that out-of-tune sound as normal. The problem is that when you play with other musicians or perform, everybody will hear that you’re out of tune except you. There’s nothing worse than seeing somebody play guitar who doesn’t even realize they’re out of tune.
To avoid this problem, get a tuner and tune your guitar as best as you can every time you play it.
The other reason a guitar tuner pedal is a must-have is that it gives you an easy way to mute your signal whenever you need to. It might not sound like much, but most guitarists who perform live uses a tuner for this reason. Later on if you start performing live, it’s really handy to use a tuner to mute your sound as you need to.
The guitar tuner I recommend is the PolyTune 2 Mini by TC Electronic. The reason this tuner is so good is that with a simple strum of your strings, you can instantly see which strings are out of tune. It’s quick and easy to use.
There are plenty of tuners by other brands, but once you try out the PolyTune, trying something else feels like a step backwards. Plus it’s a tiny pedal so it won’t take up much floor space.
Buying a guitar tuner pedal should be the first pedal you consider buying from this list. If you can’t afford more than one pedal, start with a tuner.
Being able to switch between a clean tone and a drive tone is crucial in so many songs. Getting a good drive tone is really key to so many styles of music.
There are two ways you can switch back and forth between a drive tone and clean tone:
- Use a dedicated drive pedal
- Use a foot controller to switch channels on your amp
If you already have an amp, check to see if you can connect a foot controller to switch between channels. If so, buying a channel selector is a wise choice. You’ll be able to use your amp’s drive sounds and clean sounds and won’t need to worry about finding an appropriate drive pedal.
If your amp doesn’t allow you to connect a foot controller or it doesn’t have multiple channels, you’re going to have to use a dedicated drive pedal. Of course, if the music you play doesn’t ever switch between clean and drive tones you won’t need to worry about this, but its really useful to be able to switch between tones.
It’s hard to recommend a drive pedal because there are so many different types with different sounds. Choosing between fuzz, distortion and overdrive is hard enough – its even harder when many pedals offer more than one type of drive tone.
To help you figure out what drive pedal is best for you, check out the recommendations in this guide. You’ll notice that almost every person recommends a drive pedal. Each person’s recommendation on what drive pedal to buy is different so read through the options and see which one suits you best.
There are two reasons I highly recommend every electric guitarist buy a wah pedal:
1. It’s iconic. Everybody recognizes a wah pedal – even people who have never picked up a guitar in their life. It’s ridiculously fun to play with and people love hearing and seeing a guitarist stomp on it.
2. It will help you learn to develop expression. The wah pedal is one of the most expressive guitar effects available. It can make your guitar speak and scream in ways that aren’t possible without one. Having a tool to help you develop your own music expression and get some vocal sounds out of your guitar is so powerful. I have seen with my students how much a wah pedal has improved their musical ability. So while it’s a fun effect to play with, it’s also a great educational tool.
In my guide on the Best Wah Pedals I explain what to look for in a wah pedal and give a few different options worth consider. I recommend reading through that guide to really understand wah pedals before you buy one.
To give you an idea what popular wah pedals are available, here is the Original Crybaby by Dunlop:
It’s a good priced option with the classic wah tone. While there are other wah pedals I recommend over this one (as explained in the best wah pedals guide), this is a solid choice.
Once you buy a wah pedal, you can learn how to use it in my lesson on How to Use a Wah Pedal. It gives you basic exercises to learn how to control it and use it to shape your tone.
Delay is the most commonly used guitar effect across all styles. Whenever you hear a lead tone or solo, the chances are it uses at least some delay. Delay can give you a bigger and thicker tone, it can create a lush and ambient soundscape, or it can be used to come up with some really interesting rhythmic effects.
This Guide on Best Delay Pedals shows a wide range of different delay pedals and what to look for. Some options are basic while others have so many different features it can feel overwhelming. If I were to pick one delay pedal for beginners, it would be the Flashback Delay by TC Electronic:
It’s a simple delay but it has the flexibility to give you a staggering range of delay types. So in the future, if you ever need a reverse delay, tape delay, ping pong delay or any other type, you’re likely to find that the Flashback can do it.
It’s not a cheap pedal compared to the other pedals in this list, but delay is such an important effect it’s a good investment.
Okay so technically this pedal isn’t an ‘effect’ either, but it’s such an important pedal every guitarist should have. A looper records what you play and plays it over and over in a loop. As a beginner, this can be such a powerful learning tool. You can record yourself and listen back to hear if you played any mistakes. Or you can use it to strum a chord progression, loop it, then play over the top of it.
The most popular looper pedal at the moment is the Ditto Looper by TC Electronic. It’s a tiny pedal at a low cost (compared to other loopers).
To see other popular options, check out the guide on Best Looper Pedals. There are a lot of great options with loopers so the one that suits you best depends on whether you want something simple (like the Ditto) or something with more features and control.
Other Useful Guides
The above pedals should be thought of as the bare essentials for electric guitar. With these pedals, you can get a nice tone that keeps you inspired and motivated to keep practicing and playing. When you’re ready to expand your pedal collection and find some new sounds, check out the below guides:
Beginner Guitar Pedal Rig – this guide gives you a complete rig that covers all common effects you’re likely to come across. If the pedals above are the bare essentials, the pedals in this guide are the next step up.
Must Have Guitar Pedals Chosen by Top Guitar Bloggers – this is a compilation of recommendations from a few different guitarists on different websites. Each person was asked what their three must-have pedals would be that would last a lifetime. There are a lot of great recommendations so check it out.
Must Have Guitar Accessories – while guitar accessories may not be as fun to buy as a new pedal, they can be really handy. Check out the list and see what accessories you’re missing out on.
Guitar Effects Course – if you’re thinking about buying some pedals but aren’t sure what each effect does, this is the course for you. The course will explain in detail every common type of effect you’re likely to hear used on guitar. Go through the course and you’ll have a strong understanding of guitar effects and what pedals would be best for you.