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Since their introduction in the early 1960s, effects pedals have played an undeniable role in shaping the creative and innovative developments to the electric guitar.
The blues is the rawest American art form and, as such, it can be difficult to find technology that compliments its primal origins. Playing the blues is about tapping into our most visceral inner emotions and siphoning them into our sound. A lot of this starts with the player — as many a legend will tell you, blues is all in the hands (and the heart). That being said, there are certainly a number of classic-sounding pedals that can help a player find their inner “voice” and illuminate the raw power lingering inside them. (Alternate tunings are another great way to achieve a unique blues sound. We’ve got 4 free courses on different tunings; check them out here.)
Pedals employed by blues guitarists are typically free of modulation or delay. Instead they favor gain, saturation, or occasional filtering (a wah-wah, for example). The goal is to create the purest sound possible, to compliment the player, amplifier, and guitar itself, and to make the guitar sound more vocal. Employing the use of “broken” circuitry in the form of fuzz or overdrive, for instance, can help emulate the raspy howl of early American recordings and the stylings of vocalists like Howlin’ Wolf or Son House.
Let’s take a look at five pedals ideal for electric blues guitar. And if you’re looking to learn a bit more about the blues from a musical standpoint, check out our free online course, A Conversation with the Blues!
Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer
The Ibanez TS808 Tube Screamer is one of the most widely cloned stompboxes in the world. While this pedal has undergone revisions and seen several editions over time, the original TS808 is still considered by many to be the greatest guitar pedal of all time. Used by hugely influential guitarists like Gary Moore, Rory Gallagher, and Stevie Ray Vaughn, and modern gunslingers like John Mayer, the TS808 is versatile in its tonal characteristics and devastatingly simple to dial in. This pedal has remained a staple on rigs the world over.
Dallas Arbiter (Dunlop) Fuzz Face
Originally introduced by Arbiter Electronics Ltd. and later produced by Dunlop, the Fuzz Face is the sound of the electric blues. Although predated by the Sola Sound and Vox Tone Bender, both introduced one year earlier in 1965, the Arbiter Fuzz Face heralded the charge and tumult of smoke-belching guitar tones in the mid 1960s. Used most notably by Jimi Hendrix (see: “Foxy Lady”), the Fuzz Face is famous for its rude growl and simple interface. Loaded with a pair of germanium transistors, the sound of the Fuzz Face will transform under environmental pressure or as the pedal heats up — all part of its unique charm.
Xotic EP Booster
Designed by Xotic Effects to recreate the preamp gain generated by the Maestro Echoplex, the EP Booster provides +20db of true bypass, clean boost. The pedal can be used exclusively as a lead boost or gain stacked with other units to create a sharp, syrupy bark. Built to replicate the circuitry of the Maestro Echoplex famously used as a delay unit by guitarists like Jimmy Page, Joe Perry, Eric Johnson, and David Gilmour (to name a few), the EP (“EchoPlex”) Booster distills just the sweet warmth endowed to the guitar tone by the Echoplex’s tube-driven front end.
Dunlop/Vox Cry Baby Wah
The Dunlop Cry Baby Wah was introduced in 1966 by Dunlop Manufacturing, Inc. as a copycat of the Vox Cry Baby Wah. Since the moniker was never patented by Vox and the Thomas Organ Company, Dunlop swooped in the very same year and replicated the design under the same name. Used by Jimi Hendrix (again) and Eric Clapton, the Cry Baby Wah is often employed by guitarists as an expressive lynchpin in their sonic toolkit to help create a whimpering sound for their guitar.
The roots of the wah effect can be traced back to the 1920s, when horn players used bell mutes to create filtered sounds with their instruments to mimic vocal stylings. Using a frequency filter, the wah pedal creates a spectral glide, which modifies the “vowel” quality of a sound or tone. The Cry Baby also found a distinct place in the development of blues-infused funk throughout the 1970s and has been found on rigs in every genre of music since.
Voodoo Lab Micro Vibe
The vibe effect was pioneered by a young Buddy Guy, who, during a session with Chicago bluesman Junior Wells, plugged his guitar into the Leslie speaker cabinet traditionally used with the Hammond organ, creating a space-age flurry of modulation that would leave a permanent bruise on guitar players for decades to come.
Quickly becoming a favorite implement of guitarists like Jimmy Page (see: “Good Times Bad Times”), Hendrix, and Procol Harum’s Robin Trower, this psyched out rotary effect was boxed up in 1968 with the Uni-Vibe pedal by Shin-ei. The Voodoo Lab Micro Vibe is a modern clone that can add a little something extra to your sound, generating a spacey, Leslie-like rotary warble. And with just two controls, it’s a breeze to blend the Micro Vibe with your existing guitar tone.
What pedals do you use to create that bluesy feel? Share your thoughts in the comments below!
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