I'm looking at getting some pedals for my guitar (I play acoustic, and as I just recently got an amp, I haven't had any in the past) mostly for live performances, as it's tough to assume a bar or some other place will have basic reverb, etc.

What are the pros and cons to using pedals vs effects units vs DAW effects? Are there any huge red flags with using or not using pedals?

Note: I'm not looking for a "buy these pedals" list. It caught my curiosity when I was asked if I was going to use the pedals for recording.

EDIT: I will not be using the amp for recording or for singer/songwriter performance, as it's the amp for my home studio. I only mentioned it because it's the easiest way to hear what the pedals are doing.

EDIT 2: Also, I'm focusing on studio recording, not live recording.

  • Did you get a guitar amp, or a vocal (or mini p.a.) amp? How are you connecting the guitar to the amp? How is your voice amplified (i'm assuming a singer/songwriter setup)?
    – Powertieke
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 15:35

4 Answers 4


Three issues with using pedals as effects units in your DAW

  • Pedals are designed to accept an instrument-level signal with instrument level impedance; this can have a negative effect on the sound (see this wikipedia article on re-amping for some more info)
  • Pedals typically have unbalanced I/O (meaning for long cable runs, you could have more noise than if the I/O were balanced)
  • Pedals typically lack input trim and output level controls, meaning you may need to have a means to control that somewhere else to avoid overs in your pedal or DAW.

Two issues with recording guitar without an amp:

  • Potential impedance mismatch when plugging straight into a board
  • More importantly, guitar tends to sound pretty unnatural when recorded without some sort of amp emulator. You can certainly get a certain type of effect, but for idiomatic guitar tones, you need an amp, either real or emulated.
  • I think recording the amplifier should be taken into account here, it is not always desirable to plug a guitar element inside your mixing console, unless you have specific instrument-inputs, in which case the issues you describe are of less matter. (Instrument inputs always have gain control, accept "instrument-level" signal and expect unbalanced cables.) If you don't have an instrument input and you still want to direct connect: use a DI. Takes care of balanced cables issue, and gets the signal so that it can go into any microphone input.
    – Pelle ten Cate
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 15:56
  • @Pelle: As I mentioned in an update to the question, the amplifier will not be directly involved with recording, merely used for playback. Good point, though. =)
    – Jeff Rupert
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 17:13
  • 1
    I think I improved it, but made it community wiki so others can tweak
    – davetron5000
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 21:24
  • In regards to recording guitar sans amp... would you say that applies to an acoustic guitar as well? (One that has mics on it, too.)
    – Jeff Rupert
    Commented Dec 13, 2010 at 15:33
  • The impedances shouldn't matter. Most guitar pedals will act like a DI box anyway, with a large input impedance and a smaller output impedance.
    – endolith
    Commented Dec 15, 2010 at 20:27

As for guitar effects, if you are micing the amp for recording, you can choose to add effects using pedals. This has the advantage of playing 'wet' (i.e. you are playing with the sound you want on the recording) which many guitar players like. A disadvantage is that every effect you add will end up in the recorded signal, so you cannot remove/reduce/change the effect after recording if you like the take, but don't like the effect setting.

So pro : Record with 'your' sound
con : less flexible when mixing

  • Definitely true. As I mentioned in an update to the question, the amplifier will not be used in the recording process. I probably should have mentioned that originally, but it slipped my mind. The flexibility of post-recording effects is what prompted me to ask the question.
    – Jeff Rupert
    Commented Dec 10, 2010 at 17:19

I try to minimise the number and complexity of effects on the recorded signal. I still play "wet" i.e. I don't put effects on the recorded signal, but I like as little noise as possible in the original recorded version. Several daisy chained pedals does not help in this regard. If you want the convenience of setting your sound up prior to recording though I have two small practical tips.

  • Some effects pedals e.g. Digitech Grunge, have two outputs (one for an amp and a line-out) which is helpful in easily getting the correct level of gain for recording.
  • Using power supplies in pedals can sometimes generate a noticeable background hum in the signal. Experiment using with and without batteries to see if it's a problem.

An important factor is your creativity, if you are writing/trying things out at the same time you are recording.

With pedals, because they are easily accessible while you play, you find cool sounds, which inspire you to record ready things.

With effects in the computer, mouseing around to find sounds is unfeasible, so this hampers your possibilities.

You could get a foot controller for you computer effects, but this is more setup and maintenance, if you like to be ready quick.

Also, performances inspired from ready sounds recorded tend to sound better, have more energy than performances out of generic sounds that are tweaked later in the computer.

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