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The 50 greatest guitar effects moments of all time

The 50 greatest guitar effects moments of all time
(Image credit: David Redfern/Redferns; Sergione Infuso/Corbis via Getty Images; Fin Costello/Redferns)

In our recent poll, Total Guitar readers voted in their thousands to decide the greatest effects-featuring song of all time. Your favourites included everything from Pink Floyd’s Run Like Hell and Echoes, illustrating David Gilmour’s mastery of delay, to Isaac Hayes’ classic Theme From Shaft, with its signature wah-wah from Charles ‘Skip’ Pitts. 

But in the end, the battle for number one was a straight shoot-out between two of the most brilliant and influential players of them all, Jimi Hendrix and Eddie Van Halen. Read on as we take you through the top 50, complete with tips on how to dial in some classic tones.


50. Queen – Brighton Rock

EFFECTS: Delay, Treble Booster

When it comes to innovation on guitar, Brian May has always been in a class of his own. And he’s been doing it since Queen’s earliest days – as evidenced by his use of delay on Brighton Rock. His lead three and a half minutes into the track uses Echoplex’d repeats as counterpoint melodies, driving his three AC30s to their cosmic limits and turning his guitar into an orchestra that’s able to call and respond to itself unaccompanied. 

On the recording there’s only one original and one echoed guitar, though for live performances he would run one amp uneffected and have two separate AC30s for an additional repeat. 

To get the sound at home, you’ll need a British valve amp tone with a treble booster in front (the Queen guitarist used a Dallas Rangemaster during their early years) and a delay set to loud single repeats at around 800 milliseconds.


49. Pantera – Becoming

EFFECT: Whammy

Dimebag Darrell had a few staple pedals over his career, though for many the DigiTech Whammy is the first that comes to mind. On this Far Beyond Driven track, he incorporated a pitch-shifted screech – what him and his bandmates called the ‘step on the cat’ effect – by setting it to go up two octaves and “produce a sound that was completely fucked up!”  


48. Isaac Hayes – Theme From Shaft

EFFECT: Wah 

In all fairness, if someone who didn’t play guitar asked you what a wah-wah was, one of the first things you’d go to is the Theme From Shaft. The part was played by Charles ‘Skip’ Pitts, who sadly passed away a decade ago and was widely considered to be one of the pioneers of soul and funk guitar.


47. Metallica – Welcome Home (Sanitarium)

EFFECTS: Chorus, Tremolo 

With a built-in stereo chorus effect based on Boss’ legendary CE-1 pedal, the Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus amp has played a huge part in Metallica’s clean tones over the years. 

It can be heard during the intro of this Master Of Puppets track with the chorus engaged, and the same part gets doubled with a tremolo effect when the band come in – all of which adds a great deal of dimension to its melancholy.


46. The Cure – A Forest

EFFECT: Flanger 

This atmospheric intro is drowning in effects, but the flanger is definitive. Robert Smith set his analogue Boss BF-2 like this: Manual (sometimes called delay time) 1 o’clock, Depth 3 o’clock, and Rate and Resonance (sometimes called feedback) both 12 o’clock. There’s also reverb and delay (all knobs at noon) to contend with.  


45. Pink Floyd – Marooned

EFFECT: Whammy 

30 years into his career, Marooned found Gilmour using the Whammy not for its sliding effects, but to extend the range of the guitar. He leaves the pedal in its octave up position for long periods, allowing previously unreachable notes. Watch your treble settings so you don’t slice eardrums. 


44. Muse – Plug In Baby

EFFECT: Fuzz 

One of a handful of 21st century riffs to have muscled into the rock canon, Plug In Baby is classically influenced without donning a frilly shirt. We’re trying not to force specific brands or pedals on you, but this song really is the product of the Z.Vex Fuzz Factory.

Matt Bellamy’s is built into his guitar. The squeals that open this track are made by turning the Comp control anticlockwise until it starts to oscillate. Then play with Stab to control the pitch of the squeals. When you’re ready to play the riff, turn Comp back up so it stops misbehaving.


43. Robin Trower – Bridge of Sighs

EFFECT: Uni-Vibe 

Trower’s Uni-Vibe, a rotating speaker simulator, makes this 70s classic stand out. You can get a similar effect with a phaser, but they have a more predictable sweep, while vibratos are more sudden. Set your speed and intensity around 1 o’clock, and turn on the effect before you set your amp EQ. 


42. My Bloody Valentine – Only Shallow

EFFECT: Reverse Reverb 

Genuine backwards reverb, created by flipping tapes, precedes the instrument. Since pedals are generally not clairvoyant, they repeat what you just played with reverb tail reversed. 

Kevin Shields used the Yamaha SPX90, but many pedals will do. This track also features the riff played backwards and forwards simultaneously, recorded through two Fender Bassmans with tremolo speeds.


41. Guns N’ Roses – Paradise City

EFFECT: Chorus 

Paradise City sounds more organic than most chorus tones of its era. It’s shimmery, but you can still hear the wood and valves underneath. History doesn’t record what Slash used in the studio, but live he steers clear of digital effects. He currently uses MXR’s M234 Analog Chorus. 

Photos of his pedalboard show different settings at different gigs, so he’s not scientific about it. It’s always subtle, with level, rate, and depth almost always set between 12 and 1 o’clock. Some people (wrongly) deny there’s even a chorus on the recording, so if you’ve got a warble, dial it back.