How do these things actually work?

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by Mud Flaps, Dec 1, 2004.

  1. Mud Flaps

    Mud Flaps

    Feb 3, 2003
    Norton, MA
    Does anyone have a good explanation for how effects pedals work or know where I can find one? Please don't try to explain to me every single pedal on the market, but just the basic ideas behind a chorus, wah, autowah, Bassballs, distortion, etc. I'm not asking about what they do (already known), I want to know what is actually going on inside the guts of the thing. Would you be so kind as to tell me?
  2. Heckxx


    Nov 2, 2004
    Libertyville, IL
    Well, on a very technical level, just a bunch of circuits, transistors, resistors, and other electrical gadgetry stuff. Like this:

    Like, did u want an explanation of what these effects do to the sound, (like a flanger just copies the signal, and plays it back after a very short constantly-oscilating time)?
  3. tplyons


    Apr 6, 2003
    Madison, NJ
  4. i know there is some good info on in the effects section (there is a link called "effects explained") and it will tell you what happens to the soundwave itself...i didn't look at the other two links in this thread, so this may just add to redundancy, but i thought i'd throw this site out there as well.
  5. Mud Flaps

    Mud Flaps

    Feb 3, 2003
    Norton, MA
    That was not what I wanted, but turned out to be just as if not more helpful and interesting than my original question.

    I guess what I want (sorry for my lack of clarity) is something between your's and Heckxx's explanations. I want to know how these things work (which is what Heckxx was trying to show me. Unfortunately, I don't have the knowledge to read that diagram and understand how it would change the sound. It needs to be in more laymans' terms for my poor little brain.) and what your link did.

    Your link has accomplished the second part of what I was trying to ask. For example, your link says, "[the wah moves]the frequency... from around 400Hz to 2Khz." Now what I want to know is how it does that. The only complication is that I need the explanation to be in simpler terms than electrical diagrams.

    Thank you for trying to help me.
  6. Kheos


    Aug 12, 2002
    I guess a wah boosts a part of your wave, and changes what part it boosts
    I've an active bass with a parametric equalizer and I can make my bass go waaaah, by setting the boost to max and turning the other knob(the knob which says what part it should boost)
  7. Yah, I think you could think of it as being similar to sweeping with a parametric equalizer.

    IE) the wah pedal boosts frequencies according to what angle the pedal is at. If it's all the way back you would be boosting 400Hz and all the way down you'd be boosting 2kHz. By lifting your toe up and down you'd be sweeping through the different frequencies giving it that wah sound.
  8. NV43345


    Apr 1, 2003
    GO to this is Rolands web site. They make Boss pedals and have a virtual pedal board you can try out
    all the different effects and see what each one sounds like,
    how some sound together. :) Go to Ineractive and the menu
    will pop down, then click on virtual pedal board.
  9. Mud Flaps

    Mud Flaps

    Feb 3, 2003
    Norton, MA
    Just another general note, I was just using wah as an example to show what I want. I'm not really too interested in wah itself.

    Thank you for your help.
  10. Well a wah is basically a variable band-pass filter, this is done using a simple resonance circuit (dunno if thats the correct english term) and a variable resistor. Of course real world whas are a bit more complex as they also often amplify the bandpassed signal and/or mix it with the original signal and many also buffer the signal (a buffer basically protects resonance circuits after the buffer from being affected by those before it)

    The bassballs effect works similarly except that it has two band-pass filters and the variable resistors are replaced with another circuit which varies it's resistance with the varying volume of the input signal. (and it has an integrated distortion iirc)

    For distortion there are basically two methods: diode and transistor clipping.
    in diode clipping the signal is usually amplified to such a level that the diodes begin behaving in a non-linear fashion (they distort). Transistor clipping is usually used in fuzz effects and is most commonly achieved by "underpowering" it (ie. taking away some of its base voltage) which again results in non-linear behaviour

    Well that's all for those effects that i bevlieve that i am able to explain off the top of my head.

    oh, eq's are just a number of band-pass filters (and one low and one high-pass at the ends of the covered spectrum) hooked up in parallel with variable gain (and if it's a parametric eq also variable frequency and slope (Q))
  11. Swimming Bird

    Swimming Bird

    Apr 18, 2006
    Washington DC
    I ain't got paid to play in months
    Hey all -- I was curious about this myself and the OPs question is never really answered here, so RESURRECTED.

    Anyway, to avoid confusion, I'll be more specific: in a completed pedal what exactly is the IC doing and what do the various resistors and whatnots soldered to it do?
  12. bongomania

    bongomania Gold Supporting Member Commercial User

    Oct 17, 2005
    PDX, OR
    owner, OVNIFX and OVNILabs
    OK, are you effing joking? There are whole college classes dedicated to explaining how each component works. Plus when you get into IC's each different IC contains several different components that create complex functions. "Integrated Circuits", like little circuitboards inside a small black box.

    I'm not saying it can't all be explained, certainly it can. But not in a few posts on a forum.

    Edit: Even if someone was kinder than me and took the time to explain the relatively simple function of a resistor or the general qualities of an op-amp, the nature of a circuit is that the components work together in a carefully-balanced brew to perform a complex (and variable) function. It's like learning what rice and salt "are" versus learning how to create and understand recipes. If you like a casserole, you can't just ask "what do all of the ingredients in the kitchen do exactly?
  13. Pilgrim

    Pilgrim Supporting Member

    Unless you're knowledgeable about electronics, I don't think you're asking a question that can be answered. Isn't it enough to get a good description of what each pedal does? Answering how requires getting into the electronic characteristics of the components and how they interact. Without a solid electronics background, there's no way that will make sense to you. I know more than a bit about electronics, but I know it's far over my head.

    I think what is most practical for you is to seek a good, coherent description of what specific pedals do. That's something I would also enjoy.

    One good start is to read the thread stickies at the top of the Effects forum, as there are links to threads which describe (for instance) the difference between fuzz, distortion and overdrive...which seems to be a matter of degree rather than a clear distinction.
  14. Swimming Bird

    Swimming Bird

    Apr 18, 2006
    Washington DC
    I ain't got paid to play in months
    Heh, fair nuff. Can anyone point me to a handy online reference or do I need to start buying textbooks?
  15. flakeh

    flakeh Banned

    Apr 21, 2007
    Ontario, Canada
    resurrection of the year right here.

    Heres a rule of thumb on most forums, if its older then 2 years, don't bump it, make a new thread.
  16. Harmony Central has a somewhat incomplete laymens description of effects. has some relatively basic articles that touch on the electronic engineering side of the topic.

    But what you're asking is impossible to answer. To understand how a wah filter works, for example, you literally must understand each component and how they interact. Like Bongo said, you can spend a long time studying just one of the components!

    There are hundreds of sites to learn basic electronics, just search around. Personally, unless you've got a ravenous interest in learning electronics, you won't last long without some motivation - such as that provided by a class at a local tech college or something like that. It's very easy to get discouraged without someone who can show you the ropes before you delve into reading text books.