Can You Use Guitar Pedals With Any Amp?

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One of the most important, but also most difficult, part of learning to play guitar is developing your own sound, something that for many players involves technique and tone, including things like effects.

So if you want to use effects to explore new sounds, you might wonder: Can you use guitar pedals with any amp?

You can use just about any kind of pedal with just about any kind of amp, from tube to solid state to hybrid to modeling amps. You should know that while you can use pedals, they might sound different on different amplifiers because of factors like the preamp circuitry or gain level.

Let’s look at how pedals can interact with an amp, whether some pedals can only be used with some kinds of amps, and what pedals to choose based on the type of amplifier you’re using.

If You Use A Tube Amp Can You Use Pedals?

To understand why you can use pretty much any pedal with any amplifier, consider this: the concept of guitar effects and the guitar effects pedal both came about when vacuum tubes were the only way to power a guitar amp.

Effects have been part of recording for just about as long as recording has existed, but for a very long time, that was pretty much where effects ended.

Reverb was added by doing things like playing a recording through a speaker into a concrete chamber, with a microphone to pick up the echoes and a control to blend them with the original signal. A great idea, but not very practical for concerts.

A passable imitation developed in spring reverb tanks, which passed the signal through a container that held springs, and could be either a standalone unit or part of a guitar amplifier, all driven by vacuum tubes.

The tubes made reverb tanks, and electronic equipment in general, much less robust than what we take for granted today.

Even the very first standalone effects pedal, the DeArmond Tremolo Control from the 1940s, wasn’t very practical for live performances. Also powered by vacuum tubes, its mechanism is brilliantly simple in concept but very complex and somewhat fragile in execution.

The pedal contained an electric motor with a spindle attached to a vial with an electrolytic liquid inside. The guitar signal passed through the liquid, and as the motor shook, the fluid moved around and the intermittent grounding out modulated the volume.

This video give a demonstration of the pedal and some of the sounds you can get from it.

Bo Diddley would use the effect in his No. 1 hit from 1955, “Bo Diddley,” but the relatively fragile device was fairly niche.

After the DeArmond Tremolo Control launched, many amps would start including effects like tremolo and reverb, but it wasn’t until the 1960s and the wide scale adoption of transistors that more effects pedals began to appear.

Transistors made it possible to make more robust and simpler electrical devices, starting with radios in the 1950s. Without getting into a long digression, the development of the transistor is among the most important events of the 20th Century, leading not only to solid state radios and amplifiers, but, eventually, integrated circuits and the personal computer.

In 1962, Gibson launched the Maestro Fuzz-Tone, made famous by the opening riff Rolling Stones song “(I Can’t Get No) Satisfaction,” which was the first distortion pedal offered. It imitated the sound two recording engineers had heard when part of a recording console failed while laying down the bass track for a Marty Robbins song.

The same year also saw the launch of the Kay Vanguard amplifier, the first commercially available solid state guitar amplifiers. The rise of solid state amps would make pedals even more ubiquitous.

What Pedals Work With A Solid State Amp?

Distortion for guitar entered music well before the Fuzz-Tone, though. Some people credit Jackie Brenston and His Delta Cats with making 1951’s “Rocket 88” the first rock n’ roll song because of the prominent distortion.

That distortion, of course, came from a tube amp. And even today, if you ask most guitar players what kind of sound they prefer, they’ll say they like the distortion from a tube amp.

There’s science to back that up: The way vacuum tubes handle being overloaded with a signal creates a characteristic warm sound with harmonic distortion that sounds appealing.

The distortion from a solid state amplifier sounds quite different and far less musical. As more players started playing solid state amps, they wanted a way to imitate the sounds they’d fallen in love with from tube amps.

Enter effects pedals. Engineers were able to use transistors to imitate the way tube amplifiers broke up into overdrive and create pedals based on that.

That isn’t to say that overdrive pedals are only for solid state amps. While many players like the natural overdrive a tube amp produces, others like to add a boost to their signal and overdrive the amp that way.

Many players actually like using a fairly basic solid state amplifier when using effects. That’s because of the way solid state amps work.

Tube amplifiers have both a preamp and power amplifier section that can be pushed to distortion. The more gain added to the guitar signal, the more preamp distortion happens, and the louder the amp gets, the more power amp distortion is present.

On a solid state amp, however, there is far more clean headroom. That lets players have a loud, clean tone for a base sound and then add effects pedals to that.

With different kinds of overdrive or distortion pedals, players can create different sounds that they can turn on and off with a single step.

Can You Use Pedals With Hybrid And Modeling Amps? 

The next step after solid state amplifiers came in the 1990s, with the launch of modeling amps. Some were hybrid, meaning they used a tube preamp with a solid state power amplifier, while others were all solid state.

All of them had the same basic goal, though: To offer up a passable imitation of some of the most iconic amplifier models of the past. The idea was to give players multiple different amp options in the same chassis, thanks to advancements in computer modeling software.

Many modeling amps also took the computer modeling idea a step further by including onboard effects. Some even went so far as to offer up multiple versions of different effects, from spring and plate reverb to different chorus types.

Some of the higher end models even offered optional foot switches and even pedal boards to control different settings.

For the most part, though, unless you spring for a set up like that, using the onboard effects, even from a good modeling amp, is not going to be nearly as versatile as a guitar effects pedal set up would be.

That’s because most modeling amps limit the number of effects that can be used at once. You might only be able to pick one, for example, or only be able to choose between reverb or tremolo.

And that’s not including situations where the effect you might want isn’t an option at all.


Plenty of people might never think of putting a distortion pedal in front of a tube amp, but others might think that is central to the make up of “their” sound. That is one reason guitar pedals have been around for more than 75 years and aren’t likely to go anywhere soon.

While some players make their guitar and amp combo the centerpiece of their tonal equation, there are others who could pick up any guitar and sound the same, as long as they have their pedal board to plug into.

No matter what amp, what guitar, or what style of music someone plays, the ability to switch up sounds in an instant is what keeps people coming back to guitar pedals.