10 Guitarists That Don’t Use Pedals

10 Guitarists That Don't Use Pedals

We love pedals here at Stringjoy, and we’ve written extensively about guitar pedal history, multi-effect pedals, guitar pedal order, and on, and on.

Playing around with pedals can be one of the most fun things you can do with a guitar. Pedals can help you bring out your inner Picasso and get weird, and they can help you dial in that perfect tone you’ve been chasing for years—without having to spend thousands of dollars on amps. 

However, there’s fatigue that can come with a pedal obsession; sometimes you get tired of twiddling knobs, setting up pedalboards, and constantly tinkering to get the right sound. Plus, managing a pedalboard while playing live can be cumbersome. 

Sometimes you just want to plug straight into the amp and not have to worry about pedal parameters and footswitches. We’ve gathered 10 guitarists that don’t use pedals (or use them sparingly). So let’s take a look at these “less is more” players and see what’s possible without pedals. 

1. Duane Allman and Derek Trucks

First up are two of the greatest southern rock and slide players of all time—Duane Allman and Derek Trucks. We’re grouping these two together because Derek’s playing style and gear selection is largely influenced by Duane.

Duane only used pedals a few times throughout his career. He used a Fuzz Face early in his career as a session player, but he ran straight into the amp for the Allman Brothers Band. A cranked amp (either a Fender or Marshall) and a Gibson with humbuckers was all he needed to create his now-iconic tone. 

Derek as a guitar player is impossible to separate from Duane. He’s the nephew of Butch Trucks, drummer for the Allman Brothers Band, and his playing is also clearly influenced by Duane. And that inspiration carries over into his rig, which is remarkably similar to Duane’s. 

One key difference is that Derek does use an Echoplex unit on occasion, though he only uses it for certain moments of certain songs. Still, Derek is largely a pedal-less player just like Duane. These two prove that you don’t need pedals to make iconic, classic music. 

2. Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd

It’d be easy to make this list with only blues and classic rock players, but they aren’t the only ones who forgo pedals. Tom Verlaine and Richard Lloyd made Television’s influential classic Marquee Moon with no pedals. They did utilize double tracking for some chorus-like effects, but no pedals were used in the making of this post-punk classic. 

What’s particularly interesting is that this album was incredibly innovative at the time and ended up serving as a keystone for post-punk, alternative rock, and new wave—all genres that often feature very heavy pedal usage. It’s ironic that a couple of Fenders plugged straight into Vox and Fender amps ended up being a huge inspiration for pedal-heavy players in pedal-heavy genres.

3. Keith Richards

When talking about guitarists that don’t use pedals, Keith Richards is one of the first that comes to mind. Though he did help popularize pedals with use of the Maestro Fuzztone on Satisfaction, most of Keith’s playing is done by running straight into the amp. For a man that looks like Tom Wait’s stunt double for the Ballad of Buster Scruggs, it’s a fitting rig. 

Keith has talked about this subject a lot, and says that he just prefers the sound of his amp. In his own words, “I’m not fancy. I need my feet to stand.” No matter how you feel about pedals, it’s hard to deny that not using them has worked out pretty well for Keith.

4. Ian MacKaye

Now, another artist you might not have expected to see on our 10 Guitarists That Don’t Use Pedals list—Ian MacKaye of Fugazi. Punk music isn’t necessarily a genre known for pedal use like shoegaze. In fact, a lot of punk musicians are somewhat gear averse and prefer using whatever cheap stuff they have/can get due to the DIY nature of the scene. 

That said, punk and pedals are not strangers. Most punk guitarists at least use an OD, distortion, or fuzz. It makes sense given that a lot of them play cheaper solid state amps which you can’t crank up for distortion. 

Ian MacKaye however uses absolutely no pedals. His rig with Fugazi was just an SG and a cranked Marshall, which is all he needed to make some of the best punk and post-hardcore music ever. 

5. Tony Rice

Okay, this one is cheating a bit. Many/most acoustic guitarists don’t use pedals. But still, Tony Rice did not use pedals either. As a bluegrass player, that’s standard. In fact, using anything other than a spruce top dreadnought mic’d (not run through an amp via a pickup) is considered a big no in the traditional bluegrass scene. There are exceptions though, like Billy Strings and the jamgrass scene.

We put Tony Rice on this list for one simple reason—to show what’s possible without pedals. Tony Rice was an incredibly progressive and forward-thinking player who blended bluegrass with jazz, and his technical prowess on an acoustic was unmatched. 

And he did all that with just an acoustic guitar. He didn’t need pedals to reshape a genre. He took bluegrass and guitar forward with nothing other than his playing in its most stripped-down form. That’s not to say that pedals are lesser or that you’re lesser if you use them, but it is impressive what Tony accomplished with an acoustic guitar and nothing else. 

6. Neil Young

If you’ve seen Neil Young play electric live, you might be thinking, “Neil’s not one of those dreaded guitarists that don’t use pedals, he’s got that giant red pedalboard on the floor!” But Neil very scarcely uses pedals, and that giant red box on the floor isn’t really a pedalboard either…

Neil has used some effects throughout his career. He occasionally uses a phaser for chaotic solos, like in live performances of Like a Hurricane. He famously used an octave divider for Hey Hey, My My. And his soundtrack for the Jarmusch film Dead Man very heavily features delay. 

Despite all that though, most of his playing is done by running straight into the amp. And that big red box on the floor known as the whizzer, while it does enable him to use his effects, is mainly for changing his amp settings. There’s a corresponding box that sits on top of his amp, and the switches on the whizzer allow him to change to pre-set amp settings. 

Though his rig may be somewhat complex due to the whizzer, he’s largely just running straight into the amp changing amp settings. As with the others on the list, Neil shows that you can make great music without a dozen pedals.

7. Chuck Schuldiner

Modern metal guitarists tend to utilize a lot of effects. They may not necessarily have pedal boards due to how popular amp sims and profilers have become, but they’re still using effects. Delay, distortion, overdrive, chorus, phaser, wah, and EQ are all relatively common in metal. 

Chuck Schuldiner of Death however went the minimalist route. He used a DS-1 early in Death’s career, but he stopped once he found an amp that could provide the tone he wanted (a Valvestate Marshall). For the rest of his career, he ran straight into the amp. 

While metal may feature a lot of effects these days, Chuck’s music shows that you can make crushing and powerful metal music with a simple rig. It’s a breath of fresh air given the gear-focused nature of metal today and a reminder that simple can be just as good. 

8. B.B. King

Nobody embodies “the tone is in the fingers” more than B.B. King, so it’s no shock that he didn’t use pedals. His instantly identifiable sound was just a clean Fender amp he’d occasionally push into break-up territory and his iconic Lucille. And that simplicity was perfect for the honest and soulful blues he played. 

Can you imagine B.B with a big pedal board? Me either. The simplicity of his rig is a core part of his sound and playing, and who knows what his music would’ve sounded like if he had used pedals. But one thing is for sure—simpler was better for B.B.

9. Michael Gira

The last surprise entry on this list is Michael Gira of Swans. One would assume that a band known for artsy, experimental, intense, noisy rock and long, hypnotic soundscapes would use pedals, but Michael Gira runs straight into the amp. 

Despite their numerous sonic changes over the years, Gira still keeps things simple and doesn’t use pedals. His straightforward tone provides some grounding in the whirling and intense storm that is Swans’ music. Other members of the band use effects, but his bare guitar tone stands out in the mix and provides a nice counterpoint to the sonic intensity of their music.

10. Malcolm and Angus Young

Last but not least are Malcolm and Angus Young of AC/DC—perhaps the most notorious duo of all the guitarists that don’t use pedals. Both Malcolm and Angus use simple but effective rigs—classic guitars and cranked Marshalls. This setup isn’t complicated or groundbreaking. However, it was perfect for a band like AC/DC. 

Though many criticize AC/DC for being simple and repetitive, they are one of the most well-known and popular rock bands of all time. They inspired generations upon generations of guitarists, and their music is built into the DNA of rock music. And a big part of that all is their tone, which is completely pedal-free.

No Pedals, No Problem

Pedals are amazing; they are an endlessly fun pursuit that can lead you to some incredible and unique sounds. But they can be expensive, and the constant pursuit of gear can sometimes get in the way of actually playing. 

It’s good to keep in mind that you don’t need pedals. Some of the greatest music ever has been made by guitarists that don’t use pedals, and this list shows that you don’t need them to be a top-notch guitar player. 

So if you find yourself getting worn out by pedal settings and gear, try going back to square one—a guitar and an amp. You might be surprised by what the simplicity brings out in your playing. And as they say, limitations foster creativity.