4 Plugins Guitarists Can Use to Go Beyond Pedal-Based Effects

Guitar pedals are, of course, awesome. They each have their own character and style—begging to be played, purchased, and placed on a pedalboard.

A collection starts small. A distortion pedal, a compressor, a delay. Then you start branching out—a hall reverb for clean tones, a volume pedal for solos, a chorus for that ‘80s cover—and now you’re hooked. There’s always another effect, another tone, another song you just can’t play without this specific pedal.

What if there were effects out there that even guitar pedals couldn’t achieve? What if there were processors that were so powerful you could use them on almost any song? What if there were a way to achieve tones you never even thought were possible?

Welcome to the dark side—or, rather, a new world of sonic wonders. The types of effects below are ones that you likely already know and love, but the added capabilities of software can bring exciting new tones, timbres, and possibilities to your guitar-playing.

iZotope Trash 2

Sure, you probably own plenty of distortion pedals, but iZotope’s Trash 2 takes things to a whole new level. Designed to distort, mangle, and transform your guitar, Trash 2 is perfect for adding extra grit, depth, or space.

iZotope Trash 2 with Expansion Packs
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The saturation and distortion module uses multiple stages to create the perfect tone. While many dirt pedals only offer basic filtering, Trash 2 allows you to control the amount of warmth, bite, and sizzle with multi-band filtering.

Choose from over 60 different distortion algorithms that range from crunchy to downright crazy—or create your own, using the graphical Waveshaper interface. Pre- and post-distortion filtering allows you to fine-tune your tone in ways that have never been possible.

Convolve mode features realistic amp, cabinet, speaker, and microphone modeling, allowing you to simulate a variety of classic tones and environments. Or use the built-in delay unit to dial-in anything from a subtle slap-back delay to lo-fi analog insanity.

The dynamics section features multi-band compression to help you dial in the perfect amount of attack and sustain, and the built-in gate is perfect for taming noisy single-coil pickups. These options make Trash 2 the perfect companion for creating gnarly, grungy, trashy tones.

SoundToys Crystallizer

There’s no effect on Earth quite like this one. Self-described as "a mind-warping sound design trip," SoundToys Crystallizer is an otherworldly plugin that uses a combination of pitch shifting and reverse-echo effects. Crystallizer is a granular echo synthesizer that can be used to create rich, evolving effects that transform your guitar into something else entirely.

Soundtoys Crystallizer Granular Echo Synthesizer
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Crystallizer grabs a "slice" of your guitar signal and plays it back (either forward or in reverse) with the ability to shift the pitch up or down three octaves, for a total range of six octaves. It also has the ability to delay or "recycle" the slice, which generates repeating, spiraling pitch effects controlled by the pitch knob.

Created by the original designers of the innovative "Reverse Shift" algorithm found in the legendary Eventide H3000, Crystallizer is more than a modern interpretation of the famous "Crystal Effects" preset. Although Crystallizer utilizes the same old-school pitch-shifting approach as the original Eventide units to retain the glitchy, retro character of the original device, it incorporates new features to bring the charm of the 1980s into the future.

Options like MIDI sync and fully automate-able parameters give you precise creative control. New gate and duck features allow you to tame the dynamics of the delays and keep them out of the way of your performance. With Crystallizer, it’s never been easier to transform simple melodies and chords into shimmering, textured soundscapes.

FabFilter Timeless 2

Timeless 2 by FabFilter isn’t just your normal delay effect—it’s more like the love-child of a tape delay and a synthesizer.

At its heart, Timeless 2 is a stereo tape delay with two independent, programmable delay lines, each capable of repeat echo, slap-back delay, chorus, vibrato, and resonant "tunnel" echo. But the highly customizable filter section and in-depth modulation features can take you where no guitar has gone before.

FabFilter Timeless 2 Delay
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Almost any parameter can be modulated with Timeless 2, just like a synthesizer. Modulation can be controlled by a variety of sources, including an XLFO, which is like an LFO on steroids. It can actually be used as a 16-step sequencer. The Envelope Generator can be used to control the ADSR envelope of your guitar, letting you craft the perfect amount of attack and sustain for your every need.

Of course, all of these parameters are also assignable via MIDI, so you can tweak your guitar performance on the fly with foot-pedal controllers. Additionally, the XY controller can be used to modulate two parameters simultaneously, which can make for some truly unique performances.

While Timeless 2 is capable of highly complex effects processing, it has a surprisingly intuitive interface, which uses a "what-you-use-is-what-you-see" design.

Timeless 2 can also be used as a simple stereo delay. Features like BPM-sync and tap-tempo make dialing in the perfect echo a breeze, and advanced features like cross feedback and envelope controls can be used to make effects like echo, chorus, flanger, phaser, and more. If spaced-out effects aren’t your thing, Timeless 2 is also great for creating advanced arpeggios by dialing in a dotted delay.


If the other options seem a bit overwhelming, you can dip your toes into the vast plugin pond with this free (and relatively simple) one from Ohm Force.

Ohm Force Frohmage
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Frohmage (pronounced like the French word for cheese) is a powerful resonant filter designed to deliver dirt, warmth, and color to your guitar tone. It uses a resonant low-pass filter in parallel with multiple band-pass filters, followed by a distortion stage to transform your tone.

Frohmage allows for up to 15 additional bandpass filters, all with fine controls for cutoff frequency and resonance. Each band is equally spaced for optimum coloration and can be controlled using the band spacing knob. For added color, the built-in distortion unit features two routing schemes, with multiple routing capabilities and tone controls.

The Evolve knob uses multiple pitch-shifted delay stages on each band to create ethereal sounds and unique phasing effects, which are great for adding movement and depth to static sounds. Turn the knob to the left for more delay in the lower bands, or to the right for more delay in the higher bands.

Each of these parameters is also fully controllable via MIDI—just plug in your favorite controller and start spinning knobs to create unique effects in real time.

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