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Guitar pedals will always hold a certain kind of allure, no matter how long you’ve been playing the guitar. But, if you’re new to guitar pedals, it can be difficult to know what exactly you should get first.
If you’ve found yourself feeling this way, you’ve come to the right place. The following pedals will serve any beginner well, with many likely to find a permanent home on your pedalboard.
Boss TU-3 – Best Overall
Every guitarist needs a tuner, and one of the best is the Boss TU-3 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon). This pedal has been considered the industry standard for decades.
At its core, the TU-3 is a chromatic tuner that is chock full of features. You might find this surprising given the TU-3’s fairly simplistic design layout.
The TU-3 is designed for the guitar, but can actually handle quite a few different uses, including:
- 7-string guitar
- 4-string bass
- 5-string bass
- 6-string bass
When you engage the pedal, the TU-3 mutes the outgoing guitar signal. Playing a pitch will illuminate the LED meter comprised of 21 different segments.
You’ll never have to guess which pitch you’re actually tuning as the TU-3 displays the pitch below the tuning meter. Plus, you don’t need to do anything special to begin tuning aside from turning the pedal on.
Another awesome feature of the TU-3 is that all of the LEDs have enhanced brightness. There will never be a situation where you are unable to see the tuning meter during a performance.
Plus, if you play in alternate tunings (especially the lower varieties), the TU-3 is more than capable of tuning. The pedal has a Guitar Flat mode, which can tune down 6 half-steps below E standard tuning.
If you need to, you’ll be able to adjust the tuning frequency to be outside of the standard 440Hz. The TU-3 supports a range of 436Hz to 445Hz and is accurate to within one cent.
Plus, while the TU-3 does require a 9V power adapter, it can actually be used to power 7 different pedals.
What’s So Great About The Boss TU-3?
With the advent and popularity of clip-on headstock tuners, you might wonder if it’s worth having a tuner pedal. For those who don’t perform live at gigs, a clip-on tuner might be more than sufficient.
However, if you have aspirations to perform live, you’re going to want to invest in a tuner pedal. Sure, it’s not the sexiest guitar pedal in the world and it doesn’t even create any fancy sounds to use.
But, what are you going to do when you realize your clip-on tuner is missing? If you have 30 minutes to get to a venue, stopping by a guitar shop isn’t always possible.
Even if you did remember the clip-on tuner, you could find yourself having difficulty during the gig. Venues are notoriously loud, and a clip-on tuner might prove to be too sensitive to give you an accurate reading.
Plus, depending on the clip-on tuner, it could be a bit difficult to see the screen in a darker room. With the TU-3, you’ll never have to worry about these scary and nerve-wracking experiences.
It’s no lie that the TU-3 is the only tuning pedal you might ever buy for the rest of your life. The pedal can withstand decades of heavy wear and tear and never once falter.
Plus, you won’t have to worry about the tuner taking up a precious power supply cable used for another pedal. You can use the TU-3 to power any pedal that might be lacking a power supply cable.
The TU-3 is a must-have pedal for any guitarist. Your audience will thank you, especially because the guitar signal becomes silent during tuning.
Yes, that means you won’t be able to subject your audience to 5 minutes of droning, unmusical tuning.
Morley AFX-1 – Best Premium
Some beginners feel more comfortable buying a multi-effects pedal as their first guitar pedal. This allows them to try out many different effects without having to settle for just one type.
The Morley AFX-1 (see price on Sweetwater, Guitar Center) is quite the special multi-effects pedal. It has a sense of simplicity that most other pedals of a similar nature fail to come close to.
This pedal essentially contains 4 different effect types in one seriously durable housing. Because of its analog construction, there are no screens to have to navigate through when using the pedal.
The first (and most recognizable) effect on the AFX-1 is an optical wah. This wah works slightly differently than traditional wah pedals and it put Morley on the map as a manufacturer.
There are no switches to have to worry about clicking in order to use the wah. When you press down on the wah’s foot pedal, the effect immediately becomes engaged.
The next effect in the pedal is based on Morley’s Diamond Distortion pedal circuit. With this, you’ll have 2 gain stages to work with.
Aside from the wah and distortion, you’ll also have separate circuits for a chorus effect as well as a delay. These are all modeled after classic Morley effects of the past, but sound amazingly relevant for today’s musicians.
The AFX-1 also has an FX loop, allowing you to place pedals between the distortion and modulation effects.
What’s So Great About The Morley AFX-1?
Let’s first start off by saying that the AFX-1 is a little more expensive than an absolute beginner should spend. However, it might be excusable if you’ve been playing for a while, but are new to guitar pedals.
If you have a proven dedication, the AFX-1 can be a great starting point for a guitar rig. Aside from a tuner, it has most of the things you’ll likely end up buying for your pedalboard anyway.
When you consider it from that point of view, the AFX-1 is actually a decent value for its cost. But, that’s not entirely what makes this such a prime choice for somebody that is a newcomer to guitar pedals.
The sheer simplicity of this pedal is definitely what makes this one of the better pedals for beginners. This pedal only has knobs and switches, making the finding of tones a simple experience.
Plus, this pedal is built extremely well and looks as if it could survive an earthquake and a fire.
There aren’t many multi-effects pedals that offer this kind of straightforward simplicity. Plus, the sounds of each effect are actually quite decent and usable in an actual musical situation.
JHS 3 Series Screamer – Best Budget
If you’re into modern genres of music that don’t involve clean guitar tones, an overdrive is likely on your radar. One of the best for beginners is the JHS 3 Series Screamer (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon).
This pedal is based on the iconic Ibanez Tube Screamer but has the benefit of JHS modification. That means you’ll get a classic overdrive sound, with some added bonus benefits along the way.
Part of what makes the 3 Series Screamer such a great pedal is its straightforward simplicity. There are only 3 controls to worry about, which control volume, tone, and drive.
You’ll notice that there’s also a 2-way switch installed on the 3 Series Screamer. This actually changes the clipping mode (symmetrical/asymmetrical) via the engagement of the famed JHS “strong mod” Tubescreamer modification.
When the switch is on the “-” selection, the 3 Series Screamer is in symmetrical mode, operating like the Tubescreamer. The “+” mode engages the strong mod, providing more clarity and headroom to the pedal.
One of the best parts about this pedal is that it’s actually quite affordable for any beginner’s budget.
What’s So Great About The JHS 3 Series Screamer?
The JHS 3 Series is designed to provide simplicity and classic tones at a seriously affordable price. These pedals typically do not have any fancy bells and whistles and deliver as advertised.
With the 3 Series Screamer, JHS has essentially built an overdrive pedal that is ideal for any beginner. It will provide those classic overdriven tones that you’ve grown up loving, but with an added twist.
When you compare it to the price of the actual Ibanez Tube Screamer, the 3 Series Screamer is a bargain. It’s actually slightly cheaper and has an extra mode to use as you see fit.
Everybody has their own specific tastes regarding how they want their overdrive to sound. The 3 Series Screamer offers an affordable route to finding out what your own preferences are.
Chances are likely that you might actually find this pedal to be more than sufficient for your needs. It’s for that reason that you’ll often find it on the boards of many working musicians.
TC Electronic Plethora X3
Many multi-effects pedal units tend to fall short of their promises with regard to the tones they produce. Typically, the effects are usually too generic for use on stage and offer very little customization.
However, a multi-effects pedal can be one of the most ideal pedals for a beginner to guitar pedals. The TC Electronic Plethora X3 is one of the best options around.
This pedal allows you to program 3 different effects onto the pedal’s platform, offering effects such as:
- Pitch shifter
- Noise gate
Each effect is modeled after various TC Electronics effect pedals from the past. As such, you’ll find that these tones are actually more than usable for any gigging situation.
Once you select an effect for the slot, the Plethora X3 gives you 3 knobs to customize the effect’s parameters. The possibilities significantly expand when using the TonePrint software to create new sounds.
You’ll be able to store 75 different effects from TonePrint in each channel. Plus, you can save presets for nearly 130 different pedalboard configurations, recallable at any time.
The Plethora X3 also has a hidden feature in its footswitches, which feature MASH technology. You can essentially use these switches like an expression pedal for swells and ramping.
While it might be digital, the Plethora X3 is incredibly intuitive to learn how to use. It ultimately provides decently affordable access to a huge number of effects and a playground for experimentation.
The Plethora X3 might be a fair bit too pricey for some to seriously consider. However, for everything that this pedal offers, this is certainly one of the best-hidden bargains in the market.
The wah is undoubtedly one of the most recognizable guitar effects in all of modern music history. If you want a wah for yourself, start with the Dunlop GCB95 (see price on Sweetwater, Amazon)
The GCB95 is essentially the barebones basic wah pedal at its most simplistic design. Rock the pedal down, and you’ll find a hidden switch that turns the pedal on and off.
When the pedal is on, the actual motion of the foot pedal controls how the effect sounds. Because of this, some practice is needed to really get the proper technique down.
However, once you master the technique, the wah pedal proves to be quite a versatile effect. You can use it to enhance your rhythm or use it to add a vocal quality to your guitar leads.
The wah pedal is essentially just a wide-range bandpass filter. Once you realize this, you might use the wah in ways you might not have initially imagined.
Many players like to engage the wah and leave it set in specific positions. This will give the guitar a unique tone that can’t be readily found on any other pedal.
Every genre from funk to metal has used a wah pedal to a certain degree. It’s a definite go-to choice for many pedal newcomers based purely on its iconic history alone.
Just be aware that you might have the tendency to overuse the pedal once you first get it. Some time is required to really realize when it’s needed and when it isn’t.
What To Look For When Buying Your First Guitar Pedal
As a beginner, it can be difficult to know exactly what you should be looking for in a guitar pedal. So many pedals exist on the market, and each one seems similar but different at the same time.
How can somebody determine whether a certain pedal is better for themselves than something else? You might find yourself frustrated by this question, especially if you don’t know anything about pedals.
However, if you keep the following ideas in mind, you’ll form an understanding of the basics. This simple information can help you in any other pedal purchase you make down the road.
Consider The Essentials
If you don’t own any guitar pedals, it’s best to first consider purchasing the essential and necessary pedals. These might not always be the most glamorous of choices, but you’ll thank yourself later for going this route.
The essential pedals every guitarist should have in their rig include (at the very least) a tuner. Sure, a tuner doesn’t make cool sounds, but it’s a vital tool to ensure that you’re playing in tune.
After that, you’ll want to consider what kinds of music you find yourself drawn to playing. Each genre typically has its own ideal guitar pedals, some of which are necessary to provide a certain sound.
More often than not, guitarists will usually opt for some kind of overdrive or distortion pedal. The majority of popular music from the last 60 years has featured some distortion to some degree.
After that, many guitarists tend to gravitate towards either a wah pedal or some kind of delay pedal. Once the essentials are taken care of, guitarists will usually start exploring modulation pedals.
Resist the urge to buy the weird pedals until you’ve at least covered the essentials. Otherwise, you’ll have a pedal you can only use for 5 seconds rather than a pedal that’s used constantly.
There are many different types of guitar effects in production today, with each type vastly different than the others. You need to know what each effect sounds like ahead of time before you buy it.
It’s always a good idea to try pedals out in a store before buying. This way, you know exactly how the pedal responds to your particular playing style.
If you ignore the trying-out phase, you’re setting yourself up for disappointment. Plus, you deprive yourself of one of the best parts about buying pedals: trying new pedals and making weird noises.
Design & Special Features
Guitar pedals have become insanely complex in the last decade and are only getting more advanced. Complex pedals carry with them a steep learning curve required to use with ideal settings.
As a beginner, it might be in your best interest to seek out simplistic pedals with minimal knobs. This will provide a straightforward approach to using the pedal and understanding its various functions.
It’s always a good idea to be mindful of the size of the actual pedal itself. Once you start building a pedalboard, you’ll quickly realize how valuable the space on the board actually is.
More often than not, miniature pedals can offer the same functionality as the standard form factor pedals. Unfortunately, not every pedal is uniform in size, nor are all offered in different sizes.
If you’ve glanced at the pedal market, you know that guitar pedals can quickly become expensive. That doesn’t mean that you need to take out a loan to be able to find some worthwhile pedals.
In fact, most of the tried-and-true guitar pedals are reasonably affordable. Instances where pedals are super expensive are usually because it has some valuable creative twist in their design.
For the person that’s new to guitar pedals, it’s best to try and keep your costs down. If possible, try to shop around the $100 price range.
In this range, you’ll find your staple pedals that offer the basics along with (usually) a sense of durability. Under scarce circumstances should you ever consider spending more than $200, especially as a beginner.
It takes time to learn about pedals and everything each offering does in its own unique way. Spend your money when you’re absolutely sure about a pedal’s function and why it’s unique enough to warrant its price.
The only situation you might spend a decent sum of money is when you’re purchasing a multi-effects pedal. These give you a range of options, providing you with an opportunity to try many different effects on for size.
And while everyone wants to buy new, don’t be afraid to dig around on the used marketplaces. Just about any used pedal will sell for less than what it was originally purchased for.
Going this route will save you some serious cash. You could even save enough to buy multiple pedals for the price of 1 new pedal.
In any case, buying used is ideal for trying out different effects without forking over a wad of cash. If you don’t like the pedal, you can essentially sell the used pedal for exactly what you bought it for.
Best Brands For Beginner Guitar Pedals
There are many manufacturers producing guitar pedals these days, which has absolutely spoiled today’s guitarists. Of course, if you’ve never purchased a pedal, it can be hard to know which brands are worth checking out.
If you’re feeling unsure about where to begin your research, it’s a good idea to start with established brands. A good reputation does not come easy in the music industry, and pedal companies often face the brunt of judgment.
With that being said, it’s worth your time to check out the pedals offered by the following brands. Each of these brands has an immensely positive reputation amongst guitar players everywhere.
JHS was founded by Josh Scott in 2007 and is one of the leading pedal companies of the last decade. The company has an entire line of quality pedals designed specifically for beginners and those on a budget.
Boss officially got its start in 1973 and has become one of the most widely-recognized pedal manufacturers in history. Many of its pedals have become classic icons, setting the standard and providing the inspiration for innovation to come.
Top First Guitar Pedals For Beginners, Final Thoughts
Guitar pedals can be an easy way to add dimension to the song that you are playing. However, you should always remember that pedals will never take the place of playing skills.
With that being said, adding an effect to your tone in certain instances can be quite tasteful. Just be sure to try each pedal out for yourself before purchasing so you know exactly how it sounds.
Side note, do you want to learn to play guitar songs the easy way? Learn how here – results are guaranteed!