There are numerous pedals in different versions an especially these days there seem to be two trends: on the one hand there is a progress in the development of digital effects one the other hand one can see the revival of analog pedals in combination with innovative features. But how did all this began?
The first tremolo
Let us begin in the 1950th. The first known pedal ever built was the “Trem Trol 800” tremolo by DeArmond in 1948.
How it works: an engine drives – with varying transmissions – some kind of seesaw that teeters a small tube, filled with a conductive fluid. Inside of this tube one can find two wires. If they are covered by the fluid they conduct the electric signal and you can hear the sound of the guitar. If they are uncovered the signal is interrupted. What theoretically sounds pretty complicated sounds really good in practice, because the modulation of the signal (literally) runs fluently.
Effects integrated into amplifiers
The next effects that have been invented, were integrated into amplifiers. In the 50th the manufacturers installed as well tremolo and vibrato as spring reverb into their amplifiers.
The primary tremolo-effect has either been generated by a LED with a photo resistor or by the bias of the power tubes. The LED-technique is still used in numerous tremolos like the Fulltone SupaTrem and the VoodooLab Tremolo. The LED dims and lightens in a continuously interplay and produces an effect similar to the DeArmond tremolo.
The first delays
At the end of the 1950th there were already a volume-pedal (also created by DeArmond) and the primary tape-echo – the British, tube-driven WEM Copicat. It has been inspired by the sound of two studio-tape-machines, running delayed. This first, and maybe most legendary tape-echo still is produced in a transistor-version. The most famous user of the WEM Copicat are the shadows.
Already mid 50th the first Binson Echorec has been produced in Italy. This delay used – in contrast to the tape-echo – a magnetized metal-plate to create the repeats. Pink Floyd used the Echorec in a lot of their records.
The also legendary Echoplex Tape Delay has been introduced in the USA in 1959.
Les Paul one of the most innovative guitar-players of those days – not only designed the prototype of the Gibson Les Paul but also created the primary delay- and flanger-sound in a studio by using tape-machines.