Special Guitar Effects Part 1: Pitch Shifters and Harmonizers

Effects are a great way to make the most of an electric guitar, which is why a lot of guitarists kit themselves out with a pedalboard and furnish it with can’t-go-wrong effects like overdrive/distortion, modulation and reverb/delay. However, there’s a host of stompboxes that you won’t find on most pedalboards that are no less inspiring than the aforementioned fan-favourites. Pitch-shifters and harmonizers are a great example and will be the focus of this first article in a series on special guitar effects. Also, if you don’t have a pedalboard yet and you’re not sure where to start, it’s probably a good idea to look at our Pedalboard Buyer’s Guide first!

Pitch Shifter Pedals In Short

When it comes to pitch-shifter effect pedals, the name basically says it all. A pitch shifter pedal takes the dry signal of your instrument and raises or lowers the pitch by a certain interval, which is the distance between two notes. Here, a distinction is made between harmonic intervals and melodic intervals, where the first refers to simultaneous notes and the latter refers to sequential notes. A basic pitch shifter can shift the pitch of a note by one or more octaves, while a more refined pitch shifter will also give you the option to dial in smaller intervals. A harmonizer is a kind of pitch shifter that’s able to blend the dry signal with the effect signal, resulting in a harmonic interval with one or more layers stacked on top of the original sound. This makes it sound like there are two or even three guitarists playing at the same time.

A Bit of Background Info

The origin story of the pitch shifter pedal begins in the 1960s – a time when studios were always looking for new ways to record music. It wasn’t long before someone discovered that increasing or decreasing the playback speed of tape raised or lowered the pitch, which could be used to create a psychedelic effect or allowed for a second recording to be layered on top of the original tape. The downside to this technique is that it altered the tempo of the music, which meant that it couldn’t be used during live performances. The first pitch shifter pedal was specifically designed to solve this problem.


These days pitch-shifting technology has reached a point where the effect pedals can be outfitted with far-reaching functions that sometimes overlap with other effects such as chorus. Since this can be confusing for first-time-users, here’s a quick rundown of common terms related to pitch shifters:


A pitch shifter equipped with a blend control enables you to mix the dry signal with the effect signal. In other words, you’re free to determine how much of the effect is added to the original sound. The more you mix in, the fuller the sound gets and the more it sounds like there are two or more instruments at play.


As mentioned, pitch shifters are interval-based. While the most common interval is the octave, which spans the eight steps between the same two notes (e.g. a low C to a high C), many pitch shifters can work with smaller intervals. Adding a lower octave to your dry signal gives you a fatter sound that’s perfect for extra-powerful solos and more mix-cutting potential, while adding a higher octave can give you the rich, lilting notes you’d normally get from a 12-string guitar.


Imagine turning a single vocalist into a duet or a choir. Similarly, a Harmoniser adds one or more ‘voices’ to your guitar by copying the dry signal and adding the selected interval to the copy so that playing a note sounds like two, three or even four notes, depending on the pitch shifter. Since each copied note has a different pitch, you can actually use a Harmoniser to play melodies that are normally played by two guitarists — think ‘Hallowed Be Thy Name’ by Iron Maiden and the guitar part in the middle of Metallica’s ‘Master of Puppets’.


Pressing down a guitar string and pushing it up increases the tension and the pitch along with it, which is what you can use to create vibratos. That being said, guitar strings have a limit and will eventually break if the tension gets too high. A Bend function not only raises the pitch without the need to move any string at all, but does away with the tension limit, enabling you to raise the pitch of a note by one, two or even several octaves. As such, a pitch shifter with the option to bend basically opens up a spectrum of sounds that are otherwise unattainable.

Famed Guitarists That Use Pitch Shifters

One of the most well known fans of pitch shifters is Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, Bruce Springsteen). While most guitarists have a blues, rock or metal background, Morello was always interested in how DJs and hip-hop artists shaped their sound, which is why he approaches guitar effects with a different mindset than most. The way he used his pitch shifter for the solo in ‘Killing in the Name’ is nothing short of legendary. Have a listen from 03:50:

Another illustrious guitarist who used his pitch shifter all the time was Dimebag Darrell (Pantera, Dmanageplan), who liked to make it look like he was playing extremely high notes with the help of a tremolo bridge. In reality, it was his pitch-shifter that pushed the high notes over the edge. The effect can also be used the other way around, as demonstrated by Jack White (White Stripes) who recorded the intro for ‘Seven Nation Army’ with his pitch shifter dialled in to make his guitar sound an octave lower than standard.

Herman Li, the guitarist for power metal band DragonForce, is also known for using a pitch shifter. Due to their high-speed music, DragonForce has been falsely accused of artificially speeding up their guitar solos on numerous occasions, which is quite ironic since these accusations bring us back to the 1960s when music studios would actually do this. It’s also the evidence that pitch shifters have shaped up to do everything they were originally designed for. Li uses his pedal to make his playing sound even faster than it already is and incorporates the effect on stage without any hiccups. You can clearly hear how he puts it to use for the solo of ‘Through The Fire And Flames’ (from 03:31).

A Small Round-Up of Pitch Shifters and Harmonizers


Almost every guitar pedal manufacturer offers up one or more pitch shifters and harmonizers these days, all of which come with their own pros and cons. Pedal A might be more focussed on pitch-shifting, while pedal B is designed with harmonising in mind. To give you an idea of what’s available and what kind of pedal might be best for you in terms of functionality and price range, I’m going to highlight a small batch of pitch shifters below.


The Digitech Whammy is an absolute classic when it comes to extreme pitch bending. This fifth-generation pedal has evolved into a fully developed pedal that can instantly radicalise your sound by raising or lowering it by two full octaves. It’s even equipped with a large expression pedal that not only makes it intuitive to operate, but paves the way for subtle vibrato effects, which is a big plus if you’re playing a guitar that doesn’t have a tremolo-style bridge. The Whammy sets you up with nine interval settings – including the option to add harmonic lows – and is compatible with both guitars and bass guitars.


BOSS is known for serving up rock-solid and affordable effect pedals. The PS-6 Harmonist is the renowned Japanese brand’s take on the pitch shifter and comes loaded with a 3-voice harmony setting, which adds two additional layers to your sound, each of which with a different interval to create a full-fat sound that brings to mind Boston and Brian May (Queen). The pedal also allows you to add a single voice, but does require some knowledge of scales, since it needs to be correctly set to a minor or major key to keep unwanted dissonants out of the sound. As well as a Detune Mode for spacey chorus-style sounds, the PS-6 Harmonist has been outfitted with a Super Bend function for creating extreme pitch shifts and up to four-octave shifts. Lastly, you get the option to plug in an external exp pedal for extra control over the sound.

Pitch Fork

Electro Harmonix is another top dog as far as special guitar effects are concerned. The EHX Pitch Fork is a polyphonic pitch shifter and harmoniser that pushes things to the limit and boasts extremely accurate tracking as well as the option to select a fixed pitch or vary the pitch with an external expression pedal. The fitted Dual switch toggles between adding a single voice or two voices, either up or down in pitch, which makes it possible to shape a super-wide sound that spans up to three octaves. The Shift switch, meanwhile, gives you eleven interval settings to choose from, where the Blend pot determines the dry-to-wet-signal ratio. Combined with an overdrive or distortion pedal, the Pitch Fork offers near-infinite potential. From 18-string guitars to synths and whammy pedals, this powerful pedal recreates it all.

Pitch Box

Not all pitch shifters hog a ton of space on your pedalboard. Part of Mooer’s extensive Micro Series, the Pitch Box is super-compact but gives plenty of options nonetheless, including Harmony, Pitch Shift and Detune modes. Crammed into a durable, all-metal mini-housing, this polyphonic effect pedal spans a two-octave range (up or down) with sixteen intervals in between. It even features a true bypass circuit which means it won’t affect your guitar signal when it’s turned off. The Mooer Pitch Box is a great choice when you want to keep your rig small and your options open.


No line-up of pitch shifters is complete without the Eventide PitchFactor. Endorsed by big names like Jimmy Page (Led Zeppelin), Frank Zappa, Eddie Van Halen, Steve Vai and John Petrucci (Dream Theater), Eventide is a true pioneer when it comes to digital FX processors. The PitchFactor Harmonizer has been loaded with ten cream-of-the-crop pitch-shifting effects and an extensive control lay-out that’s home to eleven knobs, nine inputs/outputs, MIDI and no less than three exp pedal inputs. Despite the small army of controls and ports, the PitchFactor is amazingly user-friendly, even for the less experienced guitarist. This high-end bit of kit can stack as many as four voices on top of your original sound and, besides all of the standard-issue functions, features a built-in tuner, a memory bank for storing custom presets, a USB port, synth sounds, delay effects, and the list goes on. Its six-octave range is truly impressive and, as you might expect, even an hour-long tutorial doesn’t even begin to do justice to everything this little super-computer is capable of.

Hopefully, you now have a better understanding of what a pitch shifter can do for you. If you have any questions, feel free to leave a comment below!

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