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How to Stack Your Overdrive and Distortion Pedals

Even after many decades of development in the world of electric guitars, the distortion still remains the most important effect. Although the main principles on how it is achieved remained the same, the nuances of creating different types of distortion have turned into real science.

In fact, many guitar players can't just go with one distortion device, but rather prefer to have two in their signal chain. The distortion pedal "stacking" has become a very common thing among players of many different genres, allowing for plenty of tone-shaping options.

But, of course, just like with a lot of things in the world of guitar, this is far from a simple task. In fact, the effect completely changes your signal (well, it distorts it, doesn't it?) so it gets pretty complicated to add two distortion pedals in a row and make it all work. This is why we decided to do this brief guide on how to stack your overdrive and distortion pedals.

What goes first and what goes second?

The first thing to figure out is what you'll want to go first and what goes second. What's important to know is that what goes second will have more impact on the overall tone.

When the signal is processed and passed through the first pedal in the chain, the second one will then use it as a "clean" signal and then further shape it through its circuitry, especially its clipping methods and the specific EQ curve. You will use this as your main rule in tone-shaping.

It's also important to know that the second pedal will determine the volume. Meanwhile, increasing the volume parameter of the first pedal in the chain will increase its output signal but not the volume of the final result. However, increasing the parameter level will do more clipping in the second pedal in the chain.

In the end, you'll want to test both options and see what works for you. Just remember that if you prefer the tone of one of these two pedals, it's advisable to put it as the last one in the distortion chain. It's also important to know that it's usually better to have more EQ controls on the second one since it will give you more options for tone shaping.

Setting up controls

When you first start setting things up on both of these pedals, put EQ controls of both pedals at a flat position. Meanwhile, the gain should be somewhere at around 9 or 10 o'clock or lower in case things sound too distorted and saturated. As far as volume controls go, they should be set that the final volume shouldn't change that much when you turn it on and off. Then try and notice how each of these pedals reacts to changing individual parameters.

One of the main problems you'll stumble upon is an overly distorted and saturated tone. In fact, hissing and other unwanted noises, both while playing and not playing, are pretty common. Although settling these things depends on the types of pedals, try to reduce the volume and gain of the first pedal. Additionally, you'll also want to balance things out between these two pedals using volume and gain controls.

Combining distortion pedals with an already distorted amp channel

Tube-driven amps are special since they can further "crack" their tone when pushed over the limits. Adding a distortion pedal to an already distorted tube amp will add a new twist to it. In fact, this is a pretty common method that plenty of guitar players have been using for years.

A distorted tube amp is then taken into new territories, both in terms of clipping and their overall tone. Turning on a distortion pedal that's plugged in directly into a distorted tube amp will do more changes to your tone compared to stacking two distortion pedals in a clean amp.

What about clean boosts?

Although not a distortion pedal, a simple clean boost can help you change your tone. If you put a clean boost before the distortion, it will impact how the signal is processed in the second pedal.

By increasing the input signal level, you'll increase the gain. This is one of the most common ways of adding more clipping with a simple step on a boost pedal. This is also a common method for taking clean tube amps into "organic" distortion or already distorted tube amps into new heavier territories.

In case you put a clean boost pedal after your distortion, then you'll experience the boost of volume. These pedals just increase the signal intensity without doing any clipping so your tone color will remain unchanged and only the output volume will increase.
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