I know what you’re thinking – acoustic guitar effects? Isn’t that an oxymoron? But the truth is, when done with tastefulness, effects can be used to increase the interest and subtly draw intrigue to your performance. As a wedding guitarist in Tulsa, Oklahoma, here are the effects that I have found to be most useful in my shows.
Although a distortion pedal is likely to be the last thing found on an acoustic pedalboard, I have found that there are many acoustic guitar effects that would be well worth the investment for any solo musician. Throughout this article, I will point out all the benefits and disadvantages that I have personally found while using specific effects.
Absolutely essential. This is the first pedal you should purchase, but beware: it’s the last one that you should actually implement in your set. This will do one of two things – make your song stand out and dramatically add dimension to your song… or disaster will strike. There is nothing worse than a bad loopist (Yes, a loopist is in fact a legitimate word. Look it up in the dictionary that I’m making). If your loops have hiccups or don’t line up, you’ve completely lost the credibility of your musicianship. With that said, be sure you put as much time “practicing” the looper as you do hacking away at your guitar part.
One way you can alleviate some of the pressure in live gigs is to invest in a pedal with the capability to save loops. You can then make the perfect loop in your basement, and then turn on the prerecorded loop while playing live. This is the best route when you’re still a little uncomfortable looping.
If you’ve been playing guitar longer than 5 minutes, you’re probably very familiar with reverberation. This is the most common effect for pretty much any instrument on the planet. Most acoustic amps come with reverb built in.
There are thousands of reverb pedals. My advice is to pick up a reverb pedal with the ability to input an expression pedal. This will not only narrow your search by 90%, it is invaluable to the solo performer. I absolutely love the fact that I can adjust my reverb on the fly, in the middle of the song. On some songs, I use hardly any reverb, while others I need a thick ambient texture during the bridge of the song. This allows the ability to adjust your effect when you need it most. The simple “on and off” switch just doesn’t cut it for me. Here’s the Reverb pedal that I use.
Chorus is also a fairly common effect pedal and has been used as an acoustic effect for years. This is also the staple effect from the 80s and 90s. Some people like the effect thick and wide, while others like it a little less obtrusive.
Whaaaaaat? No – not what you think. Sure, this pedal can certainly get some crazy beef into your sound. But that’s not the purpose for acoustic guitar. Tune the knobs so that the overdrive is very very subtle. Just to give it a little boost in tone color. I almost exclusively use this pedal after I’ve set my loop and begin soloing over it. Doing this periodically through your set will be a nice addition.
Honorable Mention – Tuner
I can’t list this as an effect, so it’s not number 5. But having a tuner on your board (as opposed to a Snark or other type of tuner) allows you to tune seamlessly while music is being looped. You don’t have to have an awkward moment of silence. You don’t have to make up a stupid joke to pass the time. Just set the looper, tune, and then jump right back into the song.
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Here is something very important to note. Most people use effects to cover up their sound. Or, to make their music interesting (so they think.) If your music isn’t interesting to begin with, effects are the last thing you should be messing with. You shouldn’t be stumbling on your transitions from one chord to the other and then think you need to get a reverb pedal. Practice your guitar. Learn your guitar. Be good at guitar. Then, once all of that is figured out – acoustic guitar effects can subtly be added to make your set even better.