So, let's say you have been playing your electric guitar for awhile and haven't quite figured out how to sound like your favourite band. You know how to play all their songs, but the guitar just doesn't sound right. You've heard about effects pedals, but you have never used one. Could one of these pedals be the answer to all your questions? The answer is yes--and no! An individual effect pedal may produce one of a thousand different sounds, and it's up to you to decide which ones are adequate insofar as what you're trying to achieve musically.
To begin, you'll need to go to a music store and see what's available and try out different effects pedals to hear for yourself the sounds they produce. A number of distortion pedals, for example, are on the market, and they produce sounds decidedly most appropriate for metal, punk, grunge, blues overdrive, or any number of different styles. Each one is activated by stepping on it while one plays. It remains on until one steps on it once again to turn it off. If your amp's distortion channel just doesn't give you the sound you want, it may be worth trying out a distortion pedal or two. Other pedals operate the same way--that is--they are activated by stepping on the pedal one time and deactivated by stepping on the pedal again. Digital delay effects, which allow repetitions of the last note played, and chorus effects, which provide a smooth element to one's clean channel, are popular pedals that follow this operation.
Not all pedals, however, are used in the same fashion. Wah pedals, like the popular Crybaby pedal, are used by first stepping all the way down on the pedal to activate a switch and then gently rocking the pedal back and forth as the "wah" effect increases and diminishes to one's liking. Volume pedals operate similarly. One can rock the pedal to one position to decrease volume gradually or all at once. Another pedal that rocks back and forth is the whammy pedal, which simulates the use of a whammy bar for electric guitars that do not come equipped with them and for those players who don't want to knock their guitars out of tune by using an actual whammy bar.
Another option that one should take a look at when browsing through the effects pedal selection at the music store are multi-effect pedals. Several brands manufacture effects pedal boards that provide lots of different effects in one unit. While such products are usually more expensive than an individual pedal that performs one function, they can be a more economical choice since for one price one can set several effects before one's feet. Many offer both distortion pedal-style, single-tap pedal action as well as a rocking pedal for wah, volume, or whammy effects. It's important to keep in mind, however, that multi-effect pedal boards have a reputation for providing inferior quality to those of individual pedals.