An industry unto themselves, players still use everything from old amps with built-in reverb and tremolo to brand-new technology such as Line 6's Helix multi-effects. Effects are so pervasive that just about every guitarist keeps several in their rig at all times. From single pedals designed to enhance your guitar's tone to otherworldly designs that create sounds never heard before, there are enough types, brands, and formats to keep every guitarist's gear addiction satiated for a very long time to come.
What type of pedal you should add to your collection is completely dependent on what tone you're going for. But one style of effect almost all of us use at some point is drive. Drive pedals include overdrives such as the Ibanez Tube Screamer, distortions such as the BOSS DS-1, and a classic example of a fuzz such as Electro-Harmonix's Big Muff Pi. Blues players that want to punch their amp a bit harder and jazz fusion guitarists looking for a thick sustaining lead tone all rely on these tools to get their message heard.
Time-based effects are another popular pedalboard addition. These are your delays and reverb effects. Pedal companies such as MXR, JHS, Line 6, and TC Electronic all make stellar examples of these. Delays are incredibly popular for adding ambient repeats to your sound or even for creating a rhythmic element all their own. Reverb, on the other hand, can place your tone perfectly in the mix, or even impart your sound with the sonic signature of a massive cathedral, the 1960s' finest spring tones, or anything in between.
Modulation effects, such as chorus, flanging, phasers, vibrato, and rotary effects, are where the sonically adventurous tread. The chorused sound of "Message in a Bottle," the jet-plane flange of "Unchained," and Hendrix's Uni-Vibe soaked "Star Spangled Banner" simply wouldn't have had their genre-defining impact without the tones generated by iconic guitar pedals and effects. Whether you prefer subtler tones or sonic anarchy, this is where you'll find it.
So you know the sound you want and the effect type you need. Now you just need to figure out what type of device you'll get it from. Single pedals are more popular than ever. Each offers its own signature tone. And they can be mixed and matched to achieve the exact tone in your head. Or maybe the ease of use and sheer versatility of a multi-effects unit is for you.
Today there are so many exciting things to think about when looking for guitar pedals and effects that it's an exceptional journey that never ends. Do you want true bypass or buffered? Do you need to incorporate a looper into your setup? Should you consider one of the many mini pedals to save on board real estate? Often the answer to all these questions is "Yes."