Buying Guitars Online - Setting Realistic Expectations

Buying Guitars Online – Setting Realistic Expectations

Last Updated: Aug 28, 2018

Negative guitar reviews like this one are all over the internet--written by people who don't know what to expect of a guitar ordered online.

Negative guitar reviews like this one are all over the internet–written by people who know little (or nothing) about guitars.

One thing that really burns me up is seeing negative reviews left for guitars ordered online–for things that aren’t actually problems or, in some cases, are completely normal.

When putting together my recent post on really great beginner electric guitars, I read a lot of negative guitar reviews on Amazon that were totally unfounded.

That’s when a realization hit me: many people (especially beginners) have absolutely no idea what to expect of a guitar ordered online. No surprise, really, but the problem is that they’re leaving bad reviews on good guitars that usually only need some basic adjustments after the rigors of shipping.

Buying Guitars Online: The Reality

In a perfect world, a guitar that you order online would arrive at your doorstep perfectly setup, in-tune and ready-to-play. The strings would be brand new and stretched properly, neck relief would be just right, string height would be reasonable, and the guitar would be free of any excessive fret buzz.

Unfortunately, we do not live in a perfect world.

The harsh reality is that guitars ordered online rarely arrive perfectly setup. If you’re extremely lucky, the guitar will simply be a bit out of tune when it arrives. However, it’s far more likely that it’ll be out-of-tune, the strings may be uncomfortably high, or so low that they’re buzzing against the frets. If it’s an electric with a floating tremolo, I can almost guarantee the tremolo won’t be balanced properly. You may even have a few loose screws here and there.

What You’ll Learn in This Article

If you’re planning to buy a guitar online–especially if you’re a beginner or otherwise know very little about guitars–here’s what I hope to teach you with this article:

  • To better judge negative guitar reviews on the guitar you’re interested in ordering. Recognize which negative ratings are legit complaints, and which ones are just silly and can be ignored (and why).
  • To have realistic expectations of a guitar that’s been shipped to you. You usually need to budget an extra $40 – $60 to have a guitar set up properly after it arrives.
  • To not leave an unnecessarily bad review on a guitar you ordered online, thereby dissuading others from purchasing a perfectly good guitar.

Online Guitar Reviews: Real Examples

Using real Amazon reviews, let’s look at 6 examples of negative guitar reviews. I’ll post a screenshot of the review, and then provide my verdict (whether it’s bogus and should be ignored, or legit and should be taken seriously). I’ll also explain why I’ve decided whether it’s bogus or legit.

Example #1:

A negative guitar review on

My Response: Bogus!

String buzz–or fret buzz–is rarely a genuine defect in a guitar ordered online. It can often be fixed (or minimized) with a few simple tweaks, if you know what you’re doing. If you don’t know what you’re doing, you’ll have to take it to someone for a basic setup which will run you $40 – $60.

Even IF the guitar was setup prior to shipping (which they rarely are) the rigors of shipping, moving to a different climate, etc. can knock things out-of-whack. Giving a guitar a 1-star rating for having string buzz right off the truck is a shame, because it probably isn’t the guitar’s fault. Most guitars need a full setup regardless of whether they’ve been ordered online or bought off the wall at a guitar store.

Oh, and in case you didn’t already know: some string buzz is normal, depending on a combination of factors such as how hard you hit the string, string gauge, string brand, string height, and more.

You can ignore a negative review like this one.

Example #2:

A negative guitar review on

My Response: Bogus!

Ugh! Here we go again. Of course you had to take it to a local shop for a setup. As I said above, a guitar that’s been through the rigors of shipping will usually need to be setup properly to sound and play its best. The real tragedy here is that this reviewer didn’t elaborate and tell us how the guitar played after the setup. Did it play beautifully and turn out to be a good guitar after all? Or, was it unfixable–thereby warranting this sad, 1-star review being here forever?

Since we’ll never know, you can ignore this negative review.

Example #3:

A negative guitar review on

My Response: Bogus!

A 1-star review because the high E string broke? Are you kidding me? This is an unfortunate example of what happens when someone who knows absolutely nothing about guitars leaves an online review. Strings break. Heck, they sometimes break when they’re brand new and being installed for the first time. It’s maddening, but welcome to the life of a guitarist.

And don’t even get me started with the comment about how the guitar “… sounds very bad.” The reviewer obviously knows nothing about guitars, but apparently they’re able to objectively rate its tonal quality. Oh, and I’m sure her husband’s playing ability had nothing to do with the guitar sounding bad.

Ignore reviews like this one when deciding whether to buy a guitar online.

Example #4:

A negative guitar review on

My Response: Legit!

Not only are these legit complaints, I would’ve given this guitar an even lower rating and sent it back. There’s no good excuse for a guitar to arrive with a poor paint job and flat, uncrowned frets. Frets should never be left flat on top–that’s just lazy, negligent fretwork. It’s also possible this is actually a used guitar, and a previous owner tried to do their own “fret job.”

It’s one thing for a new guitar to need a basic setup, but you shouldn’t have to pay hundreds of dollars for expensive fretwork just to get the guitar playable. Take advantage of Amazon’s generous return policy and send that sucker back to the seller in exchange for another one–one that only needs a basic setup.

Since this is a legit complaint, carefully scrutinize other reviews left on this guitar and see if it seems to be a common theme.

Example #5:


A negative guitar review on

My Response: Legit!

An acoustic guitar bridge coming unglued from the body

Unacceptable. This is a guitar that actually deserves a negative review

A bridge coming unglued on a brand new guitar is unacceptable, and deserving of a negative review. Oh sure, there are other factors that can cause this, such as rough shipping or improper humidity in your home. However, in a brand new guitar it’s often the result of negligence (or bad quality assurance) during manufacturing. A bridge that’s properly glued-and-dried should be able to withstand being jostled around during shipping as well as some normal weather changes. A bridge coming unglued should only happen with extreme abuse, extreme old-age, or long-term exposure to weather extremes.

If you see a review about the bridge coming unglued, look carefully to see if others have experienced the same thing. If not, and the guitar also has a good number of positive reviews, you may be safe to proceed with buying that model. Obviously, if you see others with the same issue, perhaps it’s a guitar you should pass up.

Example #6:

A negative guitar review on review

My Response: Kinda Legit

Is that actual blood on this guitar string?

Whoa! Is that actual blood on this guitar string?

Okay, this is just disgusting… assuming there’s actually blood on that low E string (I’m skeptical). However, I’m calling this one only “kinda legit” because this is a case where it’s actually the seller that deserves the 1-star review, not the guitar. Cosmetic issues like nicks, dents, and stains are all good reasons to send the guitar back to the seller, but they’re not an indication of a low quality guitar. These are the result of careless handling, not actual manufacturing or functional defects. This reviewer obviously received a guitar that was used (and abused).

In this case, I wouldn’t necessarily avoid the guitar, I’d avoid the seller. See if you can find this model being sold by someone else with a better track record. Oh, and don’t forget: leave a negative review on the seller, not the guitar.

Bad Guitar vs. Bad Seller vs. Bad Shipper

So, the big distinction I want you to be able to make when buying a guitar online is the difference between a bad guitar and a bad seller. Also, let’s not forget the shipping company’s responsibility in all this. I mean, have you seen what they do to packages?

It’s not unusual for a guitar shipped across the country, sometimes to a completely different climate, to need some basic adjustments upon arrival. Then, after it has acclimated for awhile, it may need adjustments again. Welcome to the joys of owning a musical instrument made mostly of wood and glue. So, if your new mail-ordered guitar has some string buzz, action that’s too high, or won’t seem to stay in tune, it’s not necessarily defective, and doesn’t necessarily deserve a negative online review.

Sure, it would be great if your new axe was ready to rock right out of the box, but that’s extremely rare. It does happen, but it’s the exception rather than the rule.

Let me explain why.

Setting Realistic Expectations

I don’t love it, and I’m not defending it, but as I’ve said throughout this article you’re usually going to need to budget an extra $40 – $60 to have a guitar that you’ve ordered online setup properly. Unless, of course, you know someone who’ll do it for free.

If you’re ordering the guitar as a gift for a friend or loved one, don’t let them be the one to take the guitar out of the box for the very first time. I’ve read too many online reviews where the reviewer bought the guitar as a gift, and the recipient was the one who discovered that the guitar buzzed, wouldn’t stay in tune, etc. This can be an embarrassing situation for you, the gift-giver.

Instead, order the guitar at least a month in advance and have it inspected and setup prior to giving it as a gift. If it’s one of those “starter packs,” just have them repack the guitar after they’ve completed the setup. Your recipient will never know it was opened, and they’ll unbox a guitar that’s in-tune (or pretty close) and ready to rock.

But wait, aren’t guitars set up properly at the factory?

When a mass produced guitar comes off the assembly line it’ll get a very quick quality inspection and maybe some basic adjustments to get it “in the ballpark” of playability before it’s shipped to a retailer (music stores, online retailers, etc). This is done by a final QA (Quality Assurance) person, and each person can have dozens and dozens of guitars lined up and waiting for them every morning. So, out of necessity, this is not a thorough, detailed setup. It’s fast and furious.

Now, this varies by manufacturer, of course. Some of the more reputable manufacturers give each guitar more attention before they’re sent to retailers, and some high-end and all custom builders do indeed give every guitar an in-depth QA inspection and precision setup before they’re shipped.

However, if you’re ordering a cheap mass-produced guitar, you can rest assured that the factory probably spent no more than 5 – 10 minutes giving it a couple basic adjustments, if any at all.

Okay, but what about the retailer? Don’t THEY set it up before shipping it to me?

Don’t count on it, but again, it depends. Some places are better about this than others, but most of the big online retailers move so many guitars that they simply don’t have the manpower to give every guitar they sell a good setup before it goes out to you.

But then, there’s shipping

Even if the seller did give your guitar a thorough setup before shipping it to you, well, there’s everything that can happen to it during shipping. Getting jostled around and thrown is one thing. However, let’s not forget about climate changes. If you live in a dramatically different climate than where the guitar is coming from, it’s probably going to need some adjustment after it arrives–even if you let it acclimate for 1-2 days before opening the case (which I recommend).

Final Thoughts

If you’re planning to buy a guitar online, I hope you now have a better sense of how to judge the negative reviews you see. Some are downright bogus, and should be ignored. This is especially true on Amazon, which naturally has a bigger audience of shoppers who have little-to-no knowledge of guitars.

Lastly, when your guitar arrives, I hope you now have a better sense of what to expect–what’s normal and just needs a little TLC–and what’s truly a fault of the guitar (in which case, you should send it back and leave a negative review). Also, if it’s not truly the gutiar’s fault, be sure you leave your negative review for the SELLER and either don’t leave a review on the guitar itself or, if you do, thoroughly explain that it was the seller (or shipper’s) fault, and not the guitar itself.


Have you ever ordered a guitar online? If so, I’d love to hear how it went. Let me know in the comments section down below.

How to trade-in or sell your guitar to a music store

How to Trade-In (or Sell) Your Guitar to a Music Store

This post contains affiliate links, meaning, if you click through and make a purchase, I may earn a commission. This is at no additional cost to you. Learn more.

Last Updated: September 5, 2018

I just returned from a very successful outing where I traded-in an old Classical guitar to a local music store. I’m very happy with how the deal turned out–which I’ll detail down in the “My Actual Deal” section at the end of this post if you’re interested.

While sitting here congratulating myself, it occurred to me: the way I handled this transaction might be useful for those of you who might be considering trading in or selling a guitar to a music store. I take this knowledge for granted because I’ve done it before, but some of you out there might really benefit from this experience.

Why Trade-In or Sell Your Guitar to a Music Store?

Fact is, you will rarely (if ever) get as much money by trading-in your guitar to a music store as you would by selling it yourself. So, why the heck would you ever want to trade-in or sell your guitar to a music store rather than sell it privately?

If you’re like me, you’d do it because the speed, convenience, safety, etc. of trading-in is literally worth money to you. You get to skip dealing with flaky or shady buyers, and skip the hassle, expense, and risk of packing and shipping the guitar. Nowadays, I simply don’t have the time to take pictures, create for-sale ads, haggle with potential buyers, and pack and ship guitars. And god-forbid the guitar is damaged in shipping–which is a whole other adventure you do NOT want to deal with.

So, if you plan to trade-in or sell that old axe to a music store, here’s what you need to know and how you do it.

The Process – How to do it Right

1. Do some price research on your guitar

Before you do anything else, get on sites like eBay, Reverb, Craigslist, and others and see if you can find your exact model being sold elsewhere. Better yet, don’t focus on how much sellers currently have it listed for, but instead try to find one’s that have successfully sold in the past. On ebay, there’s a filter to show only guitars that have actually sold, and for how much:

Ebay's filtering options for completed listings

On ebay, these two guitars sold for $750.00 and $1226.00. “Buy it Now” prices appear crossed-out.

If eBay isn’t returning any useful results for you, offers a handy Price Guide at's online price database’s price guide gets better and better as it continually builds data from completed sales.

You can also search for your guitar on They don’t list guitars that have already sold, but you could get lucky and find your model currently being sold at one or more locations. This is especially useful if Guitar Center is where you’re planning to take your axe for a trade-in:

Check's used gear listings

Regardless of whether you sell a guitar yourself to a private party or trade it in to a music store, what matters is how much people are actually willing to pay for it, and there’s no better way to know than by looking at actual, completed sales.

You have to put your personal feelings aside here. The guitar might have sentimental value to you, but music stores don’t care about that.

2. Before you go to the music store, decide on the rock-bottom amount you’ll accept

After doing your research, you should have a ballpark idea of how much you could realistically sell the guitar for if you tried to actually sell it yourself to a private party. Now, decide how much less than that amount you’d be willing to accept from the music store. What is the rock-bottom amount you’d feel good walking out of that store with without feeling like you were taken advantage of? To take some of the emotion out of all this, math comes to our rescue.

For our example here, let’s say you’ve come to the conclusion that you’d be able to sell the guitar yourself for $350. In other words, the value of the guitar is about $350.

Now, you need to do some soul-searching and decide how much less than $350 you’d be happy with. Music stores will generally offer about 50% – 60% (if you’re lucky) of what they think they can sell the guitar for. An optimistic assumption is that they’ll arrive at roughly the same final-sales-value that you did: $350. So, in a best-case-scenario where they offer 60% of that amount, you’d only get $210 for your $350 guitar. Confused? The math looks like this:

$350 x 0.6 = $210

You need to not only be okay with this amount ($210), but be prepared to be offered less. This is where your rock-bottom price comes in handy. Decide how much lower you’d be willing to go and still feel good about the whole transaction.

Got your rock-bottom price? Great. Do NOT tell that number to the music store when you go in. That number is your little secret.

3. Clean and prep the guitar (and case)

Now, thoroughly and carefully clean the guitar and the case (if you’re including the case). Clean it first, then polish it, then install a fresh set of guitar strings. Last, stretch the strings thoroughly and be sure the guitar is in perfect tune before you take it in. They should be able to pull the guitar out and immediately start playing and evaluating it without having to tune.

I don’t care if your guitar is beat all to hell, do your best to clean it and make it look as good as possible. This applies to the case too. Wipe the case down and remove any scuffs if you can, and vacuum the inside. If you hand them a dusty, dirty guitar that has old, out-of-tune strings, you’re just screwing yourself. The guitar store might take one look at your dirty piece-of-junk and say “no thanks, not interested.”

4. Make sure the store accepts trade-ins or buys used guitars

If you have a particular guitar store in mind, first call and ask them if they normally accept trade-ins or buy used guitars outright (whichever you’re planning to do). If the answer is yes, then proceed to the next step. Otherwise, continue calling till you find a store that does. You don’t want to drive all the way to the store and then find out they don’t buy used guitars or accept trade-ins.

5. Go to the music store and tell them you’d like their estimate on the guitar’s purchase or trade-in value

This is it, the moment of truth. Armed with your rock-bottom price (remember: never divulge this) and your clean, shiny axe, go up to the counter and tell them you have a guitar you’d like to have appraised. Let them know whether you want to trade it in toward purchasing something else in their store, or if you’re simply wanting them to buy the guitar outright. Some stores may only do one or the other. Sometimes you’ll get a slightly better price if you say you plan to use it as a trade-in toward something else in the store.

Resist the temptation to be overly-helpful and point out cosmetic issues or other minor flaws with the guitar. Let them find those things during their evaluation, and if they don’t, it’s their problem. However, do be honest and disclose any serious damage and/or repairs.

At this point, they might ask “how much you lookin’ to get for it?” If you can avoid it, don’t give them a number (or a range) even if they press you for one. Instead, say something like “I didn’t have anything specific in mind, I’m just curious to see what you think it’s worth.” They may badger you a bit–perhaps even ask how much you paid for it.

Now, some people are seriously averse to negotiating. Believe me, I get it.

So, if you get too uncomfortable and find that you simply don’t have the willpower to resist giving a number, then be sure what you say is well above your absolute lowest number. This happened to me the first time I traded-in a guitar. However, I was mentally prepared to be interrogated and therefore inflated my “range” slightly above what I knew the guitar was worth (based on the research I did in Step 1 above).

So, using our example and knowing you could sell the guitar yourself for $350, say “oh… around $350 – $400.” They might huff dismissively or act like you’re insane, but that’s perfectly okay. It’s all part of the game.

In general though, resist the pressure to throw out the first number, if you can.

6. They’ll make you an offer. You’ll act like it’s low (even if it’s not).

Let’s consider a best-case scenario and assume they make you a totally fair offer of $210 (for our $350 guitar). In fact, that’s a really good offer from a music store, because it’s 60% of $350–at the top end of what we were hoping to get for the guitar.

Even if this happens, you’re not going to smile and enthusiastically accept. You’re going to furrow your brow a bit and act like it’s a number you weren’t quite expecting–like it’s a bit low. Don’t act like a total a-hole or act insulted, because (in this case) they know it’s a good offer. Just pause and look introspective for a bit, and decide what you’d like to do next:

  • If you were planning to buy something else in the store that day (e.g. the guitar was a trade-in), ask them if they’d be willing to discount something in the store. Most of the time they’ll be glad to do so… sometimes up to 10%. So, you not only get a fair price for your guitar, you score a little bonus cash. Or…
  • If you were planning to sell the guitar outright to the store, you can simply accept their offer if you’re not comfortable negotiating. Or…
  • If you were planning to sell the guitar outright to the store and you are comfortable negotiating, go for it. If you’re going this route, I’ll assume you know what you’re doing, so I’m not going to try and give negotiating tips in this blog post.
  • Don’t accept the offer and walk away. I’m not sure why you’d do this though after getting a fair offer, unless you had a last-minute change of heart.

Final Thoughts

That’s really all there is to it–this doesn’t need to be stressful or complicated. For this example, I used a fictional guitar valued at a fictional $350, but here’s a secret: it’s not actually fictional. This whole article is based on the exact trade-in experience I just had.

My Actual Deal

As promised at the beginning, here are the details of the actual transaction I just made a few hours ago.

After doing the kind of research I outlined above, I’d decided I could probably sell my 1999 Alvarez Yairi CY116 Classical acoustic guitar myself for about $350 (with hardshell case). However, I didn’t have the time nor energy to deal with private buyers, packing, shipping, etc.

So, I decided to trade it in at a local music store instead.

First, I decided that the rock-bottom price I’d accept was $180. Best-case, I was hoping to get as much as $210 for it (60% of $350 = $210). So, I was thrilled when the store offered me $270! Regardless, I furrowed my brow, looked a little pensive, and (politely) said “Hmm, that’s a little lower than I was hoping for.” Since I needed a Focusrite Scarlett 2i4 for my studio I asked, “If I bought an audio interface today, would you be willing to knock a little off the listed price?” Sure enough, they said they’ve give me 10% off any interface that’s not already on sale.

So, on top of $270 cash (for the guitar) I got a Scarlett 2i4 interface for only $179 (discounted from $199). After all was said and done, I walked out with a new audio interface and a about $74 in excess cash. Bad ass!


Have you ever traded-in or sold a guitar to a music store? How did it go? I’d love to hear about it in the comments section down below.

Essential Pedals Every Guitar Player Should Have

Essential Guitar Pedals Every Guitarist Should Have

There are a lot of different guitar effects pedals out there. From individual pedals to multi-effects to amp-based and even software, the number of options we have as guitar players is growing everyday. This huge variety can be intimidating for new guitar players. Luckily, we can break the vast sea of options down into a handful of essential pedals that every guitarist should have.

If you’re like me, you won’t have the cash to invest in an entire pedal board all at once. Most guitar players slowly accumulate different pedals as their sound changes and develops over time. Knowing the essential pedals can give you a roadmap to understanding which pedals to buy and which to skip.

For complete beginners I recommend digging into the pedals your favorite guitar player uses on his or her board. Each style of music will have a few pedals that are used consistently across the genre (I’ll give some examples below). The best way to shape the sound you want is to know what gear your favorite guitar player uses and slowly build your audio chain until you can recreate the sound you desire.

You may have realized by now there’s a lot to learn with regards to guitar effects.  The same pedals can sound different depending on the amp, type of guitar pickups, other pedals in the chain, or where the pedal is placed in the chain. However, I believe the best way to start is with the basics.

Below is my attempt to give you the foundations you’ll need to pick and choose the best pedals for your style. If you’re just starting to build your effect chain I’d recommend starting from the top of this list and working your way down. Be sure to skip any pedal that does not fit your genre.

Let’s begin!

This post contains affiliate links, meaning, if you click through and make a purchase, I may earn a commission. This is at no additional cost to you. Learn more.

Overdrive Pedal

TC Electronic MojoMojo Overdrive Pedal

The MojoMojo overdrive pedal isn’t just affordable, it’s awesome.

Overdrive pedals were originally designed to be used with tube amps. They boosted the signal to the point where your tubes would distort due to the higher gain. This organic sounding distortion of a slightly overdriven tube amp has been replicated in modern overdrive pedals.  Overdrive pedals are heavily used in blues, rock and even country.

The distorted sound from an overdrive pedal is due to the audio signal being pushed until it begins to clip. Basically, the regular sine wave is amplified beyond the threshold of the amp and begins to take the shape of a square-wave. To completely cover the technical details of distortion would require an article of its own.

For beginners, I’d recommend picking up something like the TC Electronic MojoMojo.  It’s very budget friendly with a true bypass and two EQ knobs. Perfect for those looking to boost their midrange during solos.

Distortion Pedal

Boss DS-1 Distortion Pedal

The Boss DS-1 is a great first distortion pedal.

Distortion pedals are like overdrive pedals on steroids and most commonly heard in metal, heavy rock, and punk music.  They’re designed to emulate high-gain amps and produce a heavily clipped audio signal. It’s this heavy clipping of the audio signal that produces the gritty effect of distortion.

They’re best used on the clean channel of your amp. Using them on the distorted channel will produce an incredibly muddy or “fizzy” tone. As a side note, overdrive pedals are sometimes used in front of distortion pedals to boost the amount of gain received by the distortion pedal, but be careful when doing this as the wrong pedal settings can cause excruciating feedback.

The best place to start when choosing a distortion pedal is to find the pedals your favorite guitar player uses. For beginners, I’d recommend something like the Boss DS-1 distortion pedal. It’s currently one of the most popular distortion pedals on the market (for good reason) and one that most of you will be familiar with.

A Note About Fuzz Pedals

If you need even more distortion you’ll want to consider getting a fuzz pedal. Fuzz pedals crush the waveform into extreme distortion and produce a very distinct “fuzzy” sound quality. Hence the name.

Video: Overdrive, Distortion, and Fuzz Compared

It’s a good idea to have some reference for sound when choosing the style of distortion pedal you’ll need. The video below gives a quick demonstration of these different types of distortion pedals and the sound characteristics of each:

Wah Pedal

Cry Baby Wah Pedal

The industry standard Cry Baby Wah Pedal.

Next up on the list – the wah-pedal. Used in almost every genre, the wah-pedal is a must-have for every guitarist. They’re incredibly versatile and can be used to create many different types of tones and effects.

They work by allowing the guitarist to control the frequency spectrum of the audio signal. The pedal uses a bandpass filter that is moved up and down the frequency spectrum as you move the pedal with your foot. This delivers the signature crying wah-wah sound.

Use a wah to add accents or a “vocal” quality to solos, for creating that signature funky rhythm guitar sound, or as a quick way to alter your tone. It may take some practice to get the timing right, but once you have a handle on it you’ll appreciate the added versatility of the wah.

Here, John Petrucci gives us some examples of the power of a wah-pedal:

My recommendation for wah-pedals is pretty easy: the Dunlop Cry Baby. There are a few other contenders, but the Cry Baby is basically the industry standard by which all others are judged. Whenever you see a Wah pedal on a pedalboard, it’s usually a Cry Baby.

Delay Pedal

Donner Yellow Fall Analog Delay

The Donner Yellow Fall Delay is a an affordable way to get your first taste of delay.

Think of delay pedals as creating a kind of echo. The audio signal that is received by the pedal is looped multiple times in adjustable intervals. Ultimately, this creates huge spatial effects in your sound which can be really pleasing to the ear.

You’ll find both analog and digital delay pedals. With digital delay pedals the sound first enters the pedal and is recorded. The pedal then plays back the sound in intervals that are set by you. You can choose the amount of time before playback as well as other effects such as filters and playback volume. Delays give an ethereal quality to the sound and can even be used as a rudimentary loop pedal.

Using small intervals of delay can even replace the need for a standalone reverb pedal (most amps these days have built in reverb anyway) and sound great on epic solos.

With digital delay pedals, be sure to get a pedal with a high sample rate. Look for something at least around the 16-24-bit sample rate; anything lower than 16-bit won’t have the resolution needed for a pleasing reproduction.

Delay pedals can get somewhat complicated (and expensive), so for beginners I’d recommend the Donner Yellow Fall delay pedal pictured here. It’s a straightforward, budget-friendly delay that’ll give you control of the mix, delay time, and number of repetitions without overcomplicating things.

Modulation Pedal(s)

Modulation is another group of guitar effects that would require an entire post to cover completely. Modulation is a high-level category that includes phasers, flangers, choruses, and tremolos. Each type of modulation affects the audio signal in a unique way that really needs to be heard to be understood. So, here’s a video that demonstrates each effect so that you can hear the differences between them:


Phasers split the guitar signal and shift one wave out of phase with the other. The phase is shifted from 0 to 360 degrees and is blended back in with the dry signal. This creates constructive and destructing inference that results in a very unique audio effect.


A flanger works in the same way as the phaser but the shifted frequency is spaced in intervals rather than sweeping over the entire 360 degrees.


A chorus pedal also splits your signal into two, but instead of shifting the second signal completely it is only pitched slightly. The second signal is also treated with some delay to replicate the sonic quality of large choirs and string sections.


Tremolo pedals, on the other hand, have nothing to do with frequency shifting. Rather, the waveform amplitude is rapidly decreased and increased at a user-defined rate. This creates fluctuations in volume that recreate the tremolo effect which first appeared in amps in the 1960’s. Typically, you can adjust the speed and the volume dip of the guitar signal. As a side note,  don’t confuse the effect created by a tremolo pedal with the tremolo bar on a guitar like the Fender Stratocaster. The tremolo bar on a guitar works by shifting the pitch of the signal and has nothing to do with volume.

Not Sure? Try an All-in-One Modulation Pedal

You could end up spending a fortune on all the different modulation pedals that are commonly used with guitar, but I recommend getting an all-in-one modulation pedal instead, to take the pressure off the bank account while allowing you to experience and experiment with these different effects. Pick up something like the NUX Mod Core or the CNZ Audio Mod Station, which will give you plenty to modulation effects to experiment with while saving you money and saving space on your pedalboard.

Final Thoughts

I hope this has given you the background knowledge you need to make informed decisions when buying some of your first guitar effects pedals. Just remember, I’ve only skimmed the surface of the number of effects available to guitar players. There are limitless possibilities for you to experiment with over your progression as a player!

What Are Your Favorite Guitar Pedals?

I’d love to know what your must-have guitar pedals are, and why. What do you like about them? Let me know in the comments section below!

Joel Bennet

Written by Glen Parry

Guest Contributor

Glen is an avid musician and audiophile. Through his 13 years of experience, he hopes to answer any guitar or audio related questions you may have. Check out his guitar related buying guides such as how to choose the best guitar stool at