I prefer effects that add to the guitar's sound without making it sound unmusical or mechanical. Effects that emulate or enhance natural processes in the environment seem to work best.
That said, I often play with no effects. On one of my amps, which has a switchable loop, I sometimes put an Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man in the loop and use it to fatten up my lead sound. That's it. Which is not to say that I'm some rock god because I run straight into the amp - it's just the sound I've come to prefer over the years: amp overdrive and spring reverb.
So, why no (or rarely, few) pedals for me? Believe me, it's not for lack of trying pedals to see whether there's a new and useful sound to be had. I always come back to wanting to hear just the guitar.
The bands that I've heard make good use of pedals tend to generate a wash of sound with the guitar and color it - add interest to it - with the pedals. Some people are really good at this. There's a local guy who heads a kind of psychedelic pop band; he has something like twenty pedals (I'm not exaggerating) on his board, and sounds great in the context of his music.
I've heard other players kill their tone with overuse of pedals. It all depends on the musical context and the skill of the player.
At any rate, here's a list of my effects preferences:
- tape delay/echo
- Fattens up the sound, adds just a hint of murk and wobble.
- Adds "hang time".
- Hey, c'mon... what's an electric guitar without it?
- All that intermodulation distortion, mmm...
- Nothing's quite like it... Sadly, nothing's as tough to carry.
- Just a touch of compression adds sustain to a touch-sensitive amp without compromising playing feel.
- Done to death, usually poorly...
- Nice swirl... best in Uni-Vibe form * with the speed controller. But it's still too damned repetitive and predictable.
- Thins out the sound.
- The first woosh is exciting... by the fourth or fifth time though, my teeth start to itch.
- That's what fingers are for...
- octave up/down
- Sustain, glitch, sustain, choke... repeat ad infinitum.
- pitch shifter
- See octave.
- See octave.
- envelope follower
- Like a wah, but even less tasteful.
- ring mod
- Pitch, pitch, who's got the pitch?
- talk box
- Wanna make your guitar sing? Shut your mouth and practice!
- See talk box.
* The Uni-Vibe's circuit is a phaser, but the the frequencies of the stages are spread out, whereas those on a conventional phaser are aligned.