Modulation Pedal Basics – Which One Do I Need?

You only have to dip your toes into the world of guitar effect pedals and you’ll be sucked into a whole new world of tonal discovery. The guitar is an expressive instrument and pedals and effects are a great way to further shape your sound. In this video, Ayla Tesler-Mabe gives us the rundown on modulation pedals.

What are modulation pedals?

Modulation pedals are a type of guitar effect that takes a characteristic and continuously changes it. They have two main parameters: rate and depth. Rate controls the speed or frequency of the effect while depth controls the intensity or amplitude of the effect.

Tremolo: This effect modulates the guitar’s volume. It’s just like turning the volume knob up and down repeatedly. Tremolo can be made to sound stuttery or smooth depending on the specific pedal you have. This effect is sometimes called “vibrato”, but that name is reserved for a different effect that we’ll talk about later next.

Ayla’s pick: Seymour Duncan Shape Shifter Stereo Tremolo Pedal
A great alternative: MXR Tremolo Pedal

Vibrato: Vibrato is very similar to tremolo but instead of modulating volume, it modulates pitch. This effect essentially does the same thing a whammy bar does if you moved it up and down. If you play indie, soul, or lo-fi music, this effect is a must!

Ayla’s pick: TC Electronic Tailspin Vibrato Pedal
A great alternative: Walrus Audio Julia V2 Analog Chorus/Vibrato Pedal

Flanger: If you take two identical guitar signals and put them together while delaying one by a tiny amount, then change that delay amount over time, you get flanger. This effect sounds similar to phaser while it soars up and down but sets itself apart by making a “swooshing” sound.

Ayla’s pick: Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Electric Mistress Analog Flanger
A great alternative: MXR M152 Micro Flanger

Phaser: This effect is similar to flanger in many ways but instead of just delaying one side, the cloned signal has a phase shift applied to it bringing it in and out of phase with the clean signal. This also creates a “swooshing” sound but it has its own unique character. Listen to the sample in the video (at 7:34).

Ayla’s pick: MXR EVH Phase 90 Eddie Van Halen Phase Pedal
A great alternative: TC Electronic Blood Moon Phaser Pedal

Chorus: The ’80s are back, baby! After a brief hiatus from many pedalboards, chorus pedals have become pretty popular again. Chorus essentially blends a slightly detuned copy of your signal with your unaffected signal. It is the ’80s guitar sound.

Ayla’s pick: Boss CE-2W Waza Craft Chorus Pedal
A great alternative: MXR M234 Analog Chorus Pedal

Uni-Vibe: This effect was originally created to try and emulate a Leslie speaker. It’s essentially a combination of chorus, vibrato, and phaser that was made popular by Jimi Hendrix. David Gilmour also loved this effect!

Ayla’s pick: MXR M68 Uni-Vibe Chorus/Vibrato Pedal
A great alternative: JHS Unicorn V2 Analog Uni-Vibe Pedal

Combining Modulation Effects

Don’t be afraid to combine different modulation effects together to create totally new and wild sounds. There are no rules. If it sounds good, it is good!

2 thoughts on “Modulation Pedal Basics – Which One Do I Need?”

  1. “flan-jer is correct. It comes from “flange” because originally, the effect was created by someone slowing down a real-to-real tape by putting pressure on the flange, or outer rim, of the tape real.

  2. Nicolas Oliver

    …a true student of the intricacies of the electric guitar and the legendary songs players of years past. There is hope for good music with kids like you carrying on! Blessings..

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