So, you’ve accumulated a bunch of pedals and now’s the time to set them all up and unleash Sonic mayhem… but in what order do they go?
Well, the truth is that there are no hard and fast rules, and for everyone that tells you to run things a certain way, there’ll be another person taking a perverse pleasure in doing it exactly opposite, and getting some creative results.
However, there is some common wisdom available, and we can take a look at this, until such time as you feel you want to ignore it.
What comes first?
As a general rule, anything that can be described as ‘Dynamic’ or in some way affecting the clean signal, should be 1st in the line. So for example a Volume/Wah Wah pedal or a Pitch Shifter has a very dramatic effect on the sound of the guitar, and while a compressor or a filter has a more subtle effect on the sound, they still alter the original signal dynamically.
2nd in line come the Gain monsters, Overdrive, Fuzz, Distortion. These are all representative of the sound coming from the amp, and therefore come before any traditional effects. (You may want to think
3rd up is Modulation. Chorus, Phasers, Flangers and then finally in
4Th Place, Finally come the time based units. Everything from Analogue and Digital delays through to Reverb pedals. Anything that creates a ‘wash’ is best living at the end of your chain.
Tuners can usually be connected to a dedicated tuner output on a volume pedal, as you really want it out of the way, yet always available.
Now I said earlier there are no hard and fast rules, and this is true. Depending on how you play , or what sound you want to achieve, it’s perfectly acceptable to shift things around.
Let’s look at some options.
Volume pedals at the start of your chain, work very well as a larger version of your guitars volume pot, i.e. when the pedal is back the volume is dropped to nothing, so as you bring the pedal forward the volume increases. This is great for Violin type swell effects, but if it precedes an overdrive type pedal, then it reduces the amount of Gain going to the pedal, hence altering the sound. If, for example you wanted to keep the sound at the required level of dirt and just use the volume pedal to mix your overall volume to the rest of the band, you need to run the Volume pedal after the Overdrive/Distortion section of your board. This means you won’t affect the input to your gain pedals, but you will be able to volume swell into delays or reverbs.
Finally you could have it as the very last pedal in the chain, and this would work as an overall Master volume control, taking control back from the sound man !
A similar set of controversies can be had with other pedals that follow certain ‘rules’.
Delay before distortion? For example, no one in their right mind would put a delay, BEFORE the distortion surely?
However, with a little bit of judicious tweaking, you can emulate the sound of those early Eddie Van Halen records, where the ambient guitars were all created using this combination.
Reverb before Delay? Not for me, but if you’re looking for some 60’s guitar vibes, try this out.
Reverb before Distortion? Aaaggh! But actually a decent room reverb added to a smattering of overdrive and you’ll be taken back in time to the ‘50’s and those early rock recordings.
Wah after Fuzz/Distortion? Keeps the travel of your Wah sound intact and makes it a much more distinct ‘Wah’ sound.
Compressor as a Limiter at the end of your chain? This sounds suicidal, and indeed it is possible to really mess up your sound this way, but, if you keep the compression down, it can act as a limiter/noise gate, and keep any of your wilder pedals in check. Just don’t add too much compression or, you’ll suck the life out of signal path.
Finally a note about buffers:
The signal to your amp can have its impedance changed by all the pedal circuits and cords the signal has to pass through or indeed how long your guitar lead is. As the impedance changes, you lose high end clarity, the bass gets flappy and the mids become foggy and undefined, as well as your overall level getting lower. The more pedals you add, the more this can happen. This is where you require a buffer.
Without going ultra technical, a buffer is an active circuit that preserves the strength and therefore the tone of your guitar signal. Some pedals have a buffer built-in, but you can buy dedicated standalone buffer pedals.
Some pedals feature ‘true bypass’, which means that your signal ‘bypasses’ the pedal circuit entirely when the pedal is switched off, effectively sending the signal from Input straight to Output. However, it has to be said that even if you use true bypass pedals, if you also use low quality, long length cables, you’re just as likely to suffer some form of loss of tone, and a buffer is what you will need.
As a general rule, if you, like me have a large pedal board, you might want to look at putting a buffer at the front AND the back end of your chain.
After all, no-one wants their tone sucked away….