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What is the perfect guitar pedal order?
How do I make sure that my pedal signal chain is at its most optimal?
Is there really a hard and fast rule as to how one sets up his guitar pedal signal chain order?
These are the questions many guitarists obsess over. And while there is no such thing as a perfect guitar pedal order, we do have a suggested sequence that can make a dramatic difference to your sound. In this article we are going to layout our recommended order of guitar pedals to maximize the sonic and tonal characteristics of each one.
If you’re a beginner trying to figure out how to string up your gadgets, an intermediate player who’s looking for a map to remember how to set up your guitar pedal signal chain, or a pro who just needs a spark of inspiration, this one’s for you!
A Quality Guitar
Before Anything Else, Make Sure You Have a Good Guitar
Although not a pedal, the guitar is the instrument you use to interact with everything else on your pedalboard before it hits the amp.
In 1946 Rowe Industries created the first commercially available stand-alone guitar effects device, called the DeArmond Tremolo Control. Prior to this guitar players didn’t have pedals, or need them to make great music. Occasionally someone would use a blown tube for distortion or experiment with other amp hacks, but most of the time a guitar straight through the amp was more than enough to produce the hit songs we know and love today.
You can have all of the best gadgets and doodads on the market today but your guitar will ultimately dictate what type of sound will come out in the end. So before you invest in pedals, make sure you have a good guitar!
Looking for a quality guitar that doesn’t break the bank? Check out these:
If There’s One Pedal You Should Get, It’s Gotta Be a Tuner
One of the most underrated and yet most important pedals that no one really gets until they’ve at least gotten an overdrive pedal, chorus, and delay, is the tuner. For those just starting out on their musical journey as a guitarist, a tuning pedal is the most essential guitar gadget to get.
Because no matter how many guitar pedals you have on your pedal board, if your guitar is not in tune, you will sound horrible.
Place the tuner pedal as the first in the chain so that the purest signal from the guitar is the one that hits it.
Looking for a good tuner? Try these:
Express Yourself with a Wah Pedal
he next one on the chain is one of the most popular expression pedals out there, the wah pedal.
Placing it right after your tuner ensures that the signal is still very pure from the instrument to the gadget. This lends well to the sound produced.
Looking for a good wah? Try these:
Keep Your Signal Strength up with Buffers
You need at least two of these in your pedalboard. One to act as the input buffer the other as the output buffer. The input buffer should be placed as close as possible to the guitar. In this case, right after the wah pedal.
The output buffer is placed at the end of the signal chain order.
These buffers act as amplifiers and help maintain the signal strength transmitted from the guitar through the tuner and wah, through the rest of the pedals in the signal chain order before hitting the amp.
Looking for a buffer pedal? Well, here’s some good news: most guitar pedals today come with a buffer feature. Here are a few that serve a dual purpose:
TC Electronic PolyTune 3 – That’s a tuner and a buffer at the same time. This means you can place it before or after the wah at the beginning of your guitar pedal signal chain or as the last pedal in your signal chain. Just remember, the accuracy of your tuning is going to be affected by the tuner’s placement.
Boss DD-8 Digital Delay Pedal – perfect as a multi-use effects pedal placed at the end of the signal chain order effect.
TrueTone Pure tone buffer – a pure buffer effect that you can place at the start and end of your signal chain order.
Keep Things Consistent with a Proper Compressor
This is another oft-overlooked pedal that everyone should have. Compressors even out your sound and make loud sounds softer and soft sounds louder.
Compressors basically take your signal, creating a space where it can comfortably sit and fill out.
There’s nothing much that can be said about this pedal except it works wonders with your sound. Just step on it and keep it on the entire time.
Ideally, filters and octave pedals can also come after the compressor but those pedals are for more complicated pedalboards.
Looking for a good compressor? Here’s some:
Overdrive and Distortion
Make Things Exciting With Distortion and Overdrive Pedals
This is where things finally get exciting. Most guitarists start out with buying a distortion or overdrive pedal as their first purchase after getting a guitar and an amp.
What most newbie guitarists don’t know is that you can actually do away with this guitar gadget and just use the amp’s settings directly. That’s how players like Eddie Van Halen, Jimmy Page, and Jimi Hendrix used to do in the past.
But you do need a distortion or overdrive pedal if (a) you don’t have a dirt setting on your amp or (b) you need to actively switch between clean and dirty settings without using your hands (usually applicable if you’re the guitarist and the singer in the band).
You Can’t Go Wrong With An Overdrive Pedal
One mainstay on almost every guitarist’s pedalboard is the overdrive. In fact, one of the earliest pedals one gets is usually an overdrive. Overdrives have low gain settings which is a result of the soft clipping of the signal as it is processed through the device.
This makes it a perfect pedal for giving your guitar sound just a little bit of “oomph” during your performance.
Looking for a good overdrive pedal? It’s hard to choose because there’s a lot in the market today but these should get you started in the right direction:
JHS, Mooer, MXR and a slew of other effects pedal companies offer their own take on the classic overdrive pedal too!
Blow The Roof Off With A Distortion Pedal
If you’re familiar with gain staging, you’ll know that a distortion pedal through an overdrive pedal is going to blow the roof off the place.
The distortion pedal alone is a versatile pedal that can give you just enough dirt to simulate what an overdrive does or fully saturated for that metal sound. You can dial the gain as much as you can to fit the type of music you’re playing.
Distortion pedals have a hard clipping signal which gives it a somewhat harsher sound than an overdrive. Therefore, placing it before an overdrive in the signal chain modifies your sound before it hits the overdrive. This results in a very appealing hard rock or heavy metal sound.
Looking for a good distortion pedal? Here’s some:
EQ and Boost Pedals
Remove “Tone Suck” with an EQ Pedal, Boost Pedal or Amp in a Box
After your distortion and overdrive, the logical pedals to put in place are: an EQ pedal, a boost, or an amp in the box type of pedal.
The EQ pedal helps you shape your tone before it hits your amp. An amp in a box pedal also does the same thing. A boost pedal on the other hand helps raise the output of the preceding pedals to remove the risk of “tone suck”.
Tone suck happens when your signal strength dips because you either lack enough power or your signal degrades from going through so many pedals. The three mentioned above, alone or altogether will ensure that doesn’t happen.
In the market for an EQ pedal? Try these:
How about a boost pedal?
Master Your Overall Sound with a Volume Pedal
Now some would say “why get a volume pedal when you can control your output from the guitar itself?” probably not verbatim, but in some way in that manner of questioning. I agree. You can do without a volume pedal in your rig. But, if you were to get one, placing it after your EQ, boost or amp in a box pedal is the most logical position for it.
The reason for this is: in that placement, your volume pedal acts as a master volume for the overall sound rather than to simulate what your guitar’s volume pot already does.
If you’ve noticed, dialing back on your guitar’s volume knob cleans up the sound before lowering the volume. Your guitar already does that, so why get a volume pedal that does the same thing, right?
PS: Make sure you can route a secondary, isolated line to your tuner so that you can turn everything off and still have the ability to tune your guitar.
There’s A Ton Of Them Out There!
This is where the fun pedals fall into. That means choruses, tremolos, vibratos, phasers and flangers belong here.
The unique thing about modulation pedals is that you can change their position depending on your taste. Well, to be frank, you can position your pedals however you want to. There’s really no strict rule as to how you’re supposed to do it.
Now with modulation pedals, you can place some before and/or after your dirt pedals. For example: your tremolo and chorus can sit well after your dirt channel and anywhere before the delay pedal. I suggest you place it right before the EQ pedal.
The vibrato, phaser and flanger on the other hand can be placed before the dirt pedals. This makes sure that the unique tonal qualities produced by your guitar through these pedals are properly overdriven or distorted by your dirt pedal before coming out of your amp.
Try these chorus pedals:
Give your sound that delightful wavering with these tremolo pedals:
Get all warbly with these vibrato pedals:
Set your phaser to stun the crowd with these:
Make your guitar sound like a jet taking off with these flangers:
Delays and Reverbs
Last but Not Least, Time Based Effects
The last pedals to complete the basic signal chain order are delays and reverbs or time-based effects pedals.
Use Delay Pedals In A Tasteful Manner
Delay pedals take your guitar pedal’s signal, doubles it and plays it back depending on the frequency and rate you set up.
Placing the delay before the reverb produces a cleaner, clearer sound with all the sonic artifacts derived from the preceding pedals in the set up. It also reduces the risk of muddying up the sound caused by having a reverb before it.
The beauty about delay pedals is you can manipulate it in a way that layers your sound tastefully. Additionally, you can have two delay pedals in sequence to really give your sound that X factor with the intricate time signatures and tempos you set it up with.
Stop wasting time and try these delays on for size:
Own The Room With A Reverb
The reverb is the penultimate effects pedal in our guitar pedal signal chain order. Normally, some amps have a built-in reverb which gives you a very different sound than one going through an effects pedal.
Built-in reverb can be simulated by using the send in send out method through the FX loop at the back of most high end amplifiers. But for those who can’t afford those types of amps, a good reverb pedal is the best alternative.
The reverb gives your sound more air or room to move around as you see fit. This in effect results in a “bigger” sound.
Just In Case You Forget, The Output Buffer Goes Here
We’ve come to the end of your guitar pedal signal chain. What’s left now is to place the output buffer before hooking the entire setup to the amplifier.
The output buffer ensures your signal strength remains at uniform strength from start to finish. This also helps to reduce the risk of “tone suck”.
A Quality Amplifier
Most people forget that the amplifier is just as important in the signal chain as all of the other items listed above. In fact, a good amplifier can help you remove two or more pedals from this list.
An example of a good amplifier is the Katana from Boss. It has onboard effects that basically negates the need to get effects pedals.
Good amplifiers have clean and dirty channels that give you enough reason not to buy overdrives or distortions. Most have onboard reverb and an EQ that helps with tone shaping efficiently.
If you’re worried about how to switch from channel A to B, most professional level amplifiers can be paired with a footswitch.
The lesser pedals between your guitar and the amp, the better. The signal is purer. Not much energy is needed to turn the gadgets on and drive the sound forward. It’s also more cost-efficient in the end.
But the most important reason why you need a good amp is this: when you have it properly set up, you reduce the adjustment period needed for you to set up your gear properly. As your amplifier is part of your setup, all you need to do is wheel it onto the stage, hook it up to the board and have a consistent sound from your bedroom to the barroom.
One Size Doesn’t Fit All
As we’ve already mentioned above: One size doesn’t fit all. Although it states that this is the perfect guitar pedal order, there are still exceptions to the rule.
What works for one guitar player, doesn’t usually translate well to the next. We’re all here to make music. This guitar pedal signal chain order is just a suggestion.
Change things around. Add more pedals. Remove pedals. Try boutique ones. You might be pleasantly surprised with the results you get.
Did you like this article? Would you like to discuss the individual guitar effects pedal in detail? Comment below so we can make a more in-depth article in the future.
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It agree, it is an amusing piece
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I think most guitarists still prefer pedal chain, but they're really uneccesary with modern amps. Actually you can get a better sound out of many of them, without the hassle risk of so many pedals.
Solid read. Finally cleared up some confusion I had with my pedal order.
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This is great help! Please put more like it.
Everything should be sandwiched between modulation and volume pedals, with mod first and vol last. Or at least that's always how I've done it.