To be fair, we could spend hours, days, weeks, even months setting up our signal chains for maximum performance. And things get really complicated when we're finding ways to fit different genres. One setup, including the order of pedals, as well as the parameter presets, can work well for one particular musical genre or a repertoire. But the moment you decide you want to play a different style of music, you're supposed to start all over and do the tweaking again. While the process is somewhat tiresome, we still enjoy it! After all, we're still more prone to using pedals than multi-effects processors or modeling amps with easy to switch presets. It's not that we have anything against them, we just like it our way.
But there's one discussion that's as old as guitar pedals – what's the right way to stack your pedals? You might often ask this question, especially if you're new to the world of electric guitars and effects. And you're definitely not alone in this, as even the more experienced guitar players find themselves scratching their heads, looking for that perfect combo with the pedals they have. This is why we decided to look more into the topic and help clear things up.
So, how are you supposed to arrange your pedals?
First of all, you'll need to know that there's no such thing as the "right" order of pedals. You're free to arrange them the way you want to and that suits your needs. No law or authority will stop you from doing so. But with this being said, there are certain standards you should follow if you want to keep things running smoothly without any weird noises or impractical solutions.
After all, the signal runs linearly, going from one effect to another. This means that one peal doesn't alter the clean signal but the signal that was already processed in the pedal before it. For this purpose, there is one order we would recommend, that might differ slightly depending on personal preferences and practical uses. Starting with a guitar and ending with an amp, it goes like this: tuner pedals, filters, and wah-wahs, EQ pedals, compressors, boosters, pitch altering pedals (ie. Whammy, octavers, and harmonizers), distortions, modulation (chorus, phaser, flanger), delays, reverbs, volume pedals.
Some higher priority placements include distortions before modulation effects, delays, and reverbs. After all, you don't want to have delayed repeats of choruses, echoes, and reverbs fed into the distortion pedal. With such a setup, you'll have less dynamic control over what you're playing. Besides, this way, choruses, and flangers might sound quite muddy. The same goes for wah and other filter pedal placement, as you want to distort the filtered signal and not the other way around. Compressors should also come before distortion.
Now, what you can play around with is the clean boost placement. Depending on the type of effect you want to achieve and the type of distortion you have, you can place it before or after distortion. Feeding a stronger signal into a tube-driven distortion can also create a different result by pushing the tube device over its limits. EQ pedals can also come after distortion and shape the tone of the already distorted signal.
Volume pedal placement depends on a few things. For instance, if it's at the beginning of the signal chain, before distortion, it will act like the volume pot on your guitar. If it's near the end or after the distortion, it will act as the master volume of your amp or the volume knob on a mixing board. But bear in mind that you should use low impedance volume pedals for the end of the signal chain and high impedance one at the beginning of the signal chain.
Another thing about volume pedals is whether you want them before or after atmospheric effects like delay and reverb. If you put them after, the volume pedal will also control the slowly fading repeats of delays and reverbs. If you put the volume pedal before, the repeated tones will continue according to the signal that's being fed into these pedals.
Guitar players also differ from their EQ pedal placements. In some cases, EQs work better before distortion in the signal chain, while some guitarists get desired results after the distortion in the chain.
What if I like using both delay and reverb?
In case you have both echo and reverb in your signal chain, and you want to have them both on at the same time, there should be some experimenting involved. For instance, we would prefer to have a reverb effect after a delay. This way, reverb will add its shimmering to every repeated tone. If you do it the other way around, then delay might add a bit mess to the equation.