Today, in what has been called the “Golden Age” of effects pedals, a musician has access to an extremely wide variety of sound altering devices, the categorization of which can be challenging. One approach is to group them based on how they alter the sound applied to them: amplitude or VOLUME controlling, TIME-based, timbre (or TONE) altering and FILTERing, and PITCH harmonizing and modulating effects. Some popular effects (first heard in the Hammond Organ in the 1930s) are known as tremolo, vibrato, chorus, and reverb.
Dynamic, amplitude or volume effects were the earliest effects to be introduced to guitarists. They first appeared in the 1940s as simple on/off switch boards. Since that time, musicians have considered them an essential part of the pedal board set-up. By the 1950s, the design of volume pedals had significantly improved with capabilities that allowed for the smooth control of the volume and timbre or tone.
Delay devices first appeared in the late 1940s and were created by loops of tape or other recording media prominent in the experimental and avant-garde music scene. The delay time was determined by the distance between the heads and the tape speed. Experiments with magnetic tape and its application in composition, coupled with the development of electronic effects for the Hammond Organ, eventually paved the way to modern effects pedals.
Fuzz, distortion and overdrive are perhaps some of the better known and most popular effects associated with the musical styles of the 1960s. They were often a result of accidents in which the guitar amplifier or its vacuum tube was damaged. Some musicians decided they liked the accidental sound, and recorded music that way.
Filters in general are circuits that alter the frequency content of signals passing through them. Lowpass filters allow frequency below their designed cutoff to pass through and thus reduce the level of higher frequencies; highpass filters allow only higher frequencies to pass through. The development of filtering effects is closely linked with radio technology and military applications. The major concern of these applications was the transmission of the sound content of a person’s voice without losing intelligibility and recognisability. Eventually, this technology was creatively adopted for electronic music experiments. Some most noted applications of filters could be found in early synthesizers in university music studios.
Pitch-based effects are closely related to the devices for frequency and amplitude modulation that were first used for telephone and radio transmission. After World War II, as applications and technology improved, these devices found their way to electronic studios and into electronic music in the 1950s. Their production as compact effects boxes, including in the form of stompboxes, became commercially available in the 1970s. Pitch harmonizers and modulation effects shift the pitch to create new harmonies, play parallel harmonies, orharmonies that add massive dissonance, making the guitar sound like a completely different instrument.
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