Once you’ve gotten enough pedals to start putting a board together, once of the first questions any player will have is:
What is the best way to order my Guitar Pedals.
It won’t take long until you hear the answer, “whatever sounds best to you”. While this answer is true, it isn’t very helpful. Guitar pedals can be divided into three main categories: Dynamic Effects, Modulation Effects, and Time Based Effects. In this post we will look at the kind of pedals out there, and the general guidelines of where they belong in your signal chain.
1. Your Guitar
This may seem obvious, but it’s always good to remember that your tone can only be as good as your source signal. No pedal in the world can make up for sloppy playing or bad electronics. Make sure to take care of your guitar and put the time into practicing your technique.
2. Filter/Wah or EQ
These pedals do better at the beginning of your signal chain as they tend to dominate your entire signal. A way for example is a pretty dramatic effect and will set the tone for everything else that follows.
Because I don’t have any eq pedal or was pedal I run my compressor first in my signal chain. This just give some nice clarity to my playing and really helps thicken up my clean tone. I have also noticed it helps add some presence to my delay trails. I am using a Walrus Audio Deep Six and it has become an “always on” pedal on my board. If you have more questions check out our feature on how to use a compressor pedal
The drive section is the cornerstone of any pedalboard. It is where you can sculpt and modify your sound from gritty chaos to smooth leads. I generally move from lowest gain to highest gain. I like to stack my pedals as I increase gain and so I have each pedal set to modify the one before it. The best practice here is to experiment with each drive pedal you have and see which ones you prefer for low gain or high gain. Also experiment with how they interact with each other and see what unique tones you can find by combining pedals.
This is one of those tricky pedals that can live in different places. Some players have it very first in their rig. I am choosing to run my after my drives. The reason for this is that when I do swells I want to keep the gain from my drives the same. If you have your volume pedal first you swell into you drives and can create a sort of fade. Again there are no wrong choices here; it is just a matter of preference.
6. Pitch shifters
Vibrato, Flanger, Chorus, Phaser, Octaver
When you have pedals that modify pitch generally this is where they will live. Another rule of thumb to follow here is to order them from simplest to most dramatic. Again there is some flexibility here on where you can place these. For example, on my board I have my POG (polyphonic octave generator) before my drives. This is because I like the sound of all three octave being overdriven, rather than adding octaves to my driven sound. Then I fall back into traditional practice of having my vibrato pedal after the drive section. Again this is because I didn’t want the vibrato sound to be distorted, but would rather have vibrato added to the overdriven sound.
Time Based Effects
Delay is a very obvious effect and can easily muddy up your tone. This is why most players save it for close to the end of their signal chain. The goal is to add repeats to everything you have created so far. Placing your delay last helps to add a nice echo that will add texture and depth to your tone.
This is the nice icing on top. Reverb helps to hold everything together and create a nice space where your tone can live. Almost always you will want to place your reverb pedals at the very end of you chain. Reverb pedals simulate the sound of different rooms. A good way to think about it is that you want to put your guitar tone into a room, not a room into your Guitar tone.
Last but not least don’t forget your amp. If your guitar is the most important thing this is the second most important. You can spend all the time in the world creating the perfect pedal layout with the best setting, but if your amp sounds bad none of that will matter. Make sure to spend time learning how your amp works, figure out the pedals that go well with it, and if you are running through a system good mic placement!
This are good tips to keep in mind as you set up your pedal board, but they are not rules. Try different pedals in new places, see what happens if you put reverb first, and don’t be afraid to get creative. You may find a great texture that is perfect for the intro of your new song.