Picking the right pedal for you and your playing style can take time and effort. But as you’re perusing the catalog when looking for a new effects pedal, you may come across two types: analog and digital. As the world becomes increasingly digital, guitarists are debating whether to use analog or digital pedals. But to answer that question, you’ll first need to break down the difference between the two types and understand the pros and cons of each.
In this article, I will go over the difference between analog and digital effects pedals, the pros and cons of each type, and answer the burning question: should you use analog or digital pedals?
Analog vs digital: what’s the difference?
Here is a breakdown of what analog and digital mean, how they differ, and how they correlate to effects pedals.
Analog effects change your sound signal by altering the voltage, tubes, transistors, or other electrical means. Analog effects were the original type of effects pedals used by musicians and are known to have a warmer and better quality sound. Analog is the most authentic copy of a sound and maintains the highest quality over digital. For example, vinyl records are analog copies of a record. Even though this technology is much older than digital copies of music, vinyl still has the highest sound resolution.
Digital signals alter the analog signal using a series of 1s and 0s. Digital guitar effects take an analog effect and copy it into a digital format. When you plug your guitar into a digital effect pedal, the pedal takes the analog guitar signal and converts it to a digital signal using an analog-to-digital converter (A/D). The signal is then altered by the series of 1s and 0s that make up the “effect”. Finally, the digital effect passes through a digital-to-analog converter and goes through the pedal’s output as a sound signal.
Digital pedals do not generally have as warm of a tone because the signal is not continuous, while analog pedals use a continuous signal. Take a look at the graph below to get a better idea.
Are analog pedals better than digital pedals?
Digital guitar effects had a massive rise in popularity in the 80s because they were able to produce effects that you couldn’t get with analog. But the technology wasn’t quite ready yet. They didn’t sound nearly as good as their analog counterparts. Nowadays, the sound resolution of digital pedals is getting much better, and some higher-end digital pedals are almost indistinguishable from analog pedals.
So, what type of pedal should you go for?
This answer depends on various factors, including your needs and wants. Analog pedals tend to have a better overall sound. However, digital effects have a much wider range of capabilities since they are not limited to the analog system. Here are the pros and cons of each type of pedal.
Pros of analog pedals
- Has a warm sound that maintains the original tone
- Can accurately represent the nuances of your performance
- Easy to use and fix
Pros of digital pedals
- More versatile, especially when it comes to multi-effects pedals
- Access to a variety of different and unique sounds
- The sound is a copy that is produced through an algorithm so you’ll get the same effect every time you plug in
Cons of analog pedals
- Takes up more pedalboard space than the digital multi-effects pedals
- More difficult to experiment with
- The sound of the effect can change based on the way you play and what other effects you are using
Cons of digital pedals
- Will never fully replicate the sound of the analog counterparts
- More difficult to fix than analog pedals
- Very consistent sound, so the sound doesn’t feel as “alive” and won’t change based on your playing style
Can you mix analog and digital pedals?
Of course, you can! If you mix and match digital and analog effect pedals on your pedalboard, there will be zero impact on the effect pedals. Since digital pedal technology has improved so much in the past few decades, it is common for musicians to use a few digital pedals on their pedalboard or a digital multi-effects pedal along with a few analog distortion, overdrive, reverb, or other effect pedals.
What order should your pedals go in?
It surprises many guitarists that there is a specific order your pedals should go in. Whether you are using digital or analog effects, you should ensure that you place them in the right order on your pedalboard. The proper order is tuner, volume, compression, wah, overdrive/distortion/fuzz, modulation, delay/reverb, and loop pedals.
What are the best effects pedals for beginners?
There are many different guitar effects pedals to choose from, making it difficult for beginner guitarists to find the best effects pedals for their playing style. I recommend beginners to focus on the basics and start off by purchasing the following pedals: tuner, overdrive, distortion, reverb, delay, and modulation.
Want more info on different kinds of effects pedals and how to use them? Check out my in-depth guide.