How To Use Guitar Pedals: Beginners Guide

Almost every brand from guitar to amp manufacturers are making pedals today. With this many available, it’s very easy to get confused as to how they need to be used. There are many types, from distortion and overdrives, to delays and reverb.

Each type has a huge benefit to your sound and performance. But using guitar effects incorrectly can be disastrous! So it’s very important to learn how to use guitar pedals correctly.

Not every pedal will work in just any position, either. The placement in the chain will need to be correct to utilize them to their full potential. A designer has gone to great lengths for you to enjoy this device, so you may as well use it correctly.

Quick Summary

  1. Connect the pedal: Connect the pedal to your guitar and amplifier using patch cords. Plug one end of the cord into the output jack on your pedal and the other end into the input on your amplifier.
  2. Power the pedal: Pedals require a power source. This can be a battery or an external power supply, depending on the design. Connect the power source to your pedal.
  3. Experiment with settings: Once the pedal is connected and powered, experiment with different settings to obtain the sound that you desire from the device.
  4. Organize your pedals: If you have multiple pedals, you may want to consider using a pedal board to organize them. This will also help with connectivity issues.

How Do Effects Pedals Work?

Guitar effects pedals work by altering the signal that is sent to their input. This is all based on the circuit design. Some effects pedals are designed to add modulation.

Some provide reverberation or even delay sounds to the original signal. The modified signal is then sent from the pedal output to the next device in the chain.

There are effects pedals that create distortion sounds by clipping the signal. Similar to a high-gain amplifier. This can then sound like really aggressive rock and roll or metal sounds to fit that genre of music.

Guitar effects pedals are a great way to create different sounds. They can also add more versatility to your music.

Many professional guitarists play them, as they are hard to beat when it comes to originality in tone. No matter what kind of music you play, some pedals are a perfect fit on the market today.

How To Use Guitar Pedals

To effectively use guitar pedals, it’s important to understand the function and settings of each type. Below are guidelines for using common types of guitar pedals:


  1. Level: Adjusts the output volume.
  2. Gain: Controls the amount of distortion.
  3. Tone: Modifies the color of the distorted sound.


  1. Time: Sets the duration between the original sound and the echo.
  2. Feedback: Controls the number of echo repetitions.
  3. Mix: Balances the original sound and the echo.


  1. Level: Controls the volume of the reverb effect.
  2. Decay: Sets how long the reverb lasts.
  3. Tone: Adjusts the brightness or darkness of the reverb.


  1. Rate: Controls the speed of the chorus effect.
  2. Depth: Sets the thickness of the sound.
  3. Mix: Balances the dry and wet signals.


  1. Foot Pedal: Controls the frequency range.
  2. Operation: Press down to engage the pedal, then rock it back and forth to sweep through frequencies.

For each pedal, it’s advisable to start with moderate settings and adjust according to your preference. Always remember to deactivate the pedal by pressing the footswitch again when the effect is not needed.

Related: How to connect effect pedals to your amp.

How To Set Up Guitar Effects

We will assume you have already decided on an effect pedal or even a few to buy. Perhaps you already have them and know what sounds you are looking to obtain. It’s just a matter of learning how to connect them.

There are a number of ways to connect effects pedals to other devices. But in this guide, we will focus on using them with an amplifier.

This is the most common way guitar players use their effects pedals. So if you are following along, you will have a few devices ready to be connected together.

  • Guitar
  • Amplifier
  • Effect Pedals
  • Instrument cables

Your instrument cables will plug into the input and output jacks. These are on the sides or top of your guitar pedal.

How To Use Guitar Pedals

How To Connect Your Effects To Your Guitar and Amp

Connecting a guitar to an amplifier is quite easy. Simply plug the cable into the instrument at one end and the amplifier input at the other. Then you are ready to rock! When putting a guitar effects pedal into the chain, or a few of them, you will need enough cables.

Most guitar pedals have their input on the right side. You can pretty much consider this universal among them. And so if you are the type of person who normally likes things from left to right, you may be disappointed here.

So it’s good to remember that this is the input side. Even if yours has top-mounted jacks. The one on the right side will be your input. It’s always best to consult your user manual to verify this. Just in case you have a boutique unit that doesn’t follow this rule.

Once you have verified this, you would then connect your guitar to the input. Use a fairly long instrument cable. You will want to get an instrument cable that is at least 10 feet long. Anything shorter will only prove to be an annoyance.

The other jack is the output. This jack is going to send a modified signal to the amplifier. Again, you will want to connect the output jack on your guitar pedal to the input jack on your amplifier.

Depending on how far away your amplifier is, will determine what length of cable you will need. It doesn’t hurt to have a 15 to 25-foot cable for this role.

And that is it! You’re now connected and ready to send a signal correctly! We call this a mono connection. Next, we will look at connecting more than one. Then later on in the article, we will look at powering them as you learn how to use guitar pedals.

How to Chain Guitar Pedals Together: Multiple Devices

Now that you know how to connect one pedal to your rig, let us look at many. The thing about them is that you can never really stop at one. There are some great sounds available. Normally, a player will build a board full of pedals.

And so we will want you to know how to connect your new board together and use your amp. In our example, we will again use what we learned above. All inputs are on the right side of the pedals and the outputs are on the left. This will allow us to connect them one to the other quite easily.

One will simply flow into the other. This will help keep our connectivity clean. But we can’t use a 10-foot instrument cable this time, otherwise, we will have a mess of them.

In this case, we will want to get what is called pedal board cables. Some people call them patch cables, and rightfully so. But even your 25-footers are called that too, so we will refer to them as effect board cables. They are necessary effects pedal accessories.

These cables are much shorter and are used to connect guitar pedals together. Without a mess of extra due to length. These cables keep your set-up clean and tidy.

So in this example, we will connect 3 pedals together. Your accessory list to do this cleanly should look like this:

  • Guitar
  • Amplifier
  • 3 Effects
  • 2 pedal board cables
  • Two 15 foot instrument cables

You will once again connect your guitar to the first unit in the chain with a longer instrument cable. In this case, we will pretend it’s a tuner model. The tuner will then connect to the next pedal in the chain using an effect board cable.

Remember, the input is on the right side and the output is on the left. You will proceed to connect all the pedals together in this fashion. Up until the only thing left, is to hook up the chain to the amplifier with the final instrument cable.

That’s it! With pedals that have only 2 jacks, it really is that easy. Some noise gates have 4 jacks. They must be used for optimal results, then you will need to learn about the 4 cable method. But let’s keep it simple for now as you learn how to use guitar pedals.

Guitar pedal connection diagram

Connecting Stereo Guitar Pedals

There are guitar effects that are designed to also work in stereo and mono. These pedals will also have 3 to 4 jacks and allow the player to use them for a stereo setup. To use the stereo capabilities, you will need 2 amplifiers. Or one that provides this option. 

There are some solid-state amps that provide stereo connectivity and will make it easy to use. But for the average player, running the pedal in mono is good enough, especially if this is all new to you. Keep it simple for now.

Powering Your Pedals

Understanding how to power your guitar pedals is crucial for both sound quality and equipment longevity. Here are the primary methods:

Battery Power

  1. Type: Most pedals use 9-volt batteries.
  2. Installation: Open the pedal’s battery compartment, usually located at the bottom, and insert the battery.
  3. Usage: Ideal for short sessions or as a backup power source.
  4. Considerations: Batteries can deplete quickly, especially in digital pedals. Always have spare batteries if you opt for this method.

AC Adapter

  1. Voltage and Current: Ensure the adapter’s voltage and current ratings match the pedal’s requirements.
  2. Connection: Plug the adapter into an electrical outlet and connect it to the pedal’s power input.
  3. Usage: Suitable for extended playing sessions and performances.
  4. Considerations: Using a mismatched adapter can damage the pedal. Always check specifications before connecting.

Daisy Chaining

  1. Configuration: Multiple pedals are powered using a single AC adapter, connected in a chain.
  2. Compatibility: Ensure all pedals in the chain have similar voltage and current requirements.
  3. Usage: Useful for setups with multiple pedals to reduce cable clutter.
  4. Considerations: Not all pedals can be daisy-chained due to differing power requirements or potential for electrical noise.

Isolated Power Supply

  1. Design: A dedicated unit with multiple isolated outputs for individual pedals.
  2. Compatibility: Can accommodate pedals with varying power requirements.
  3. Usage: Ideal for complex setups and for minimizing electrical noise.
  4. Considerations: These units can be expensive but offer the most reliable and clean power source.

For optimal performance and safety, it’s important to read the user manual for each pedal to understand its specific power requirements.

Turning Pedals On and Off

Now that we have our effects hooked up and powered, we can begin using them. In order to turn them on and off, they have been equipped with foot switches. Normally located at the base of the top face, pressing this switch will activate the pedal.

Pressing it again will deactivate it. Some will have two-foot switches for different sections or effects. In some designs, you will find perhaps a boost section and drive section built into the same pedal. This will normally require two-foot switches.

There are many designs that offer players a great deal of functionality. One thing to be true in all designs, the foot switches are your means of turning them on and off. This is one of the more obvious things, as you will realize when you learn how to use guitar pedals.

True Bypass Vs Buffered

You will notice some pedals are described as being true bypass, while others are buffered. This means that when the effect is turned off, one of these two conditions exists.

True bypass means that when turned off, the signal is sent through the mechanical foot switch. With a true bypass model, it’s as if the unit isn’t even in the signal chain when turned off. True bypass circuitry will never alter the sound.

Buffered means the circuit is still part of the guitar signal chain. It’s just not producing the effect in this state. But with a buffered model, there is a good chance that the pedal would affect the sound when turned off.

Whereas a true bypass would not. A benefit of a buffered bypass is that it lowers the impedance, allowing for a stronger guitar signal. Some buffered types alter the sound slightly at the expense of this benefit, some do not.

True bypass is usually preferred in distortions, overdrives, and boosts. But buffered has its place too.

Adjust the Settings On a Guitar Effects Pedal

Most guitar effects come with controls to alter how they sound and perform. These controls allow the player to change gain levels, EQ settings, and volume, for example.

When using your pedals for the first time, it’s always a good idea to consult the manual. This is to learn about the different functions. These controls are what you need to use to get the sound in your head.

With a bit of time and tweaking, you will find that these units have some great range. They can offer you a lot of different sounds. So spend some quality time with them.

Troubleshooting Common Issues

When using guitar pedals, you may encounter some issues that affect sound quality or functionality. Here are common problems and how to address them:

No Sound

  1. Check Connections: Ensure all cables are properly connected between the guitar, pedals, and amplifier.
  2. Power Source: Verify that the pedals are adequately powered, either by battery or AC adapter.
  3. Volume Levels: Confirm that the volume on the guitar and amplifier is turned up.

Signal Loss or Weak Signal

  1. Cable Integrity: Inspect cables for damage and replace if necessary.
  2. Pedal Settings: Adjust the level or gain settings on the pedal.
  3. Battery Power: A dying battery can result in signal loss. Replace the battery if needed.

Noise or Hum

  1. Isolate Issue: Identify the source of the noise by disconnecting pedals one by one.
  2. Power Supply: Use an isolated power supply to minimize electrical noise.
  3. Ground Loops: Ensure there are no ground loops in your setup, which can cause hum.

Pedal Malfunctions

  1. Footswitch: If the pedal doesn’t activate, the footswitch may be faulty. Consult the manufacturer for repair options.
  2. Knobs and Controls: If turning knobs doesn’t change the effect, they may be damaged. Consider repair or replacement.
  3. Internal Issues: For unexplained malfunctions, consult the user manual or contact the manufacturer.

Inconsistent Effects

  1. Calibration: Some pedals require periodic calibration. Refer to the user manual for instructions.
  2. Signal Chain: The order of pedals can affect the overall sound. Experiment with different arrangements.

For each issue, always start with the simplest solutions before moving on to more complex troubleshooting. If problems persist, consult the user manual or seek professional repair services.


Do you step on a guitar pedal?

Yes, a majority of guitar pedals are activated by stepping on the foot switch. There are some that do not need this, as they are normally always active. But if there is a foot switch on the pedal, it requires you to step on it.

Sometimes, some pedals will have more than one switch. This allows you to also turn on and off other functions, which can be great for versatility!

What do foot pedals do for guitar?

Guitar effect pedals are used to alter the clean sound of your instrument. By doing this you can add things like reverb, delay, and even high gain distortion. You can even change the frequencies and create different sounds.

They add new sounds to a guitar’s output that are a lot of fun to use and are great accessories.

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Don East

My name is Don East, I'm the editor for Killer Rig. I've been playing guitar for over 20 years and have designed and manufactured products like guitar amps, effects pedals, and more. Over the years I have played in many bands and have a deep love for quality gear. I am an electrical engineer and have a passion for music gear, and now want to share what I know with the community!