There are a myriad of effects available to the guitarist; over-drive, wah, phaser, delay, reverb and dozens more. Unfortunately each time you add another effect to your setup you complicate things as you can connect the pedals in a different order and certain effects will sound or work differently depending on where they are placed in the chain.
In a chain of effects there is a specific order of effects which will usually work best, listed below. However, this order is not set in stone and it often pays to experiment with the order of your pedals. One very important thing to bear in mind is that there are very few things that are ‘wrong’. So swap them around and find out what works for you.
The more you learn about the sounds they create and how they react with each other, the easier it will be to create your own sounds.
The Different Effect Categories
Effects fall into a number of categories depending on how they achieve the sound they create. And these categories help identify where an effect can be used in a chain:
These effects can be placed almost anywhere in the signal chain to tailor the tonal response of the sound, but usually after compression. You will find that an equaliser may give a very different sound placed before another effect to the same equaliser placed after it.
Usually a compressor or limiter is the first effect used. This helps to boost the signal level, which helps reduce the amount of noise generated by subsequent effects. However, they are sometimes used after effects which reduce or boost the volume level significantly, like modulation effects and wah-wahs.
Distortion is usually placed after a compressor in the signal chain, this makes for a more sustained overdrive sound. However, it will usually be before time-based effects like delays and reverb. Distortion thickens up a sound, adding in lots of harmonics. Because of this, their position in the chain can make a large difference to the resulting sound.
Modulation effects are usually placed after distortion and before time-based effects. They can also be placed before distortion, which gives a much more subtle effect.
Pitch based effects are usually placed after distortion effects and before time-based effects.
Volume pedals are usually placed after distortion pedals and before any time-based effects, where they control the level of the signal. However, if you place them before a distortion, they will work to control the amount of distortion.
Time-based effects such as delay and reverb usually come last in the signal chain. There is one exception – when you are using a delay to split a signal for parallel processing.
Noise gates are in their simplest form, merely a switch which gets rid of the noise you hear during quieter parts of a signal by muting the sound. Noise gates usually come after any effects which generate noise, such as distortion or modulation effects. They should always come before time based effects, as when they shut off the signal to block the noise, the delay or reverb will continue – making for a more natural sound. Better noise gates will feature a trigger input and output (if it is designed specifically for guitar, it will label these ‘guitar in’ and ‘guitar out’). When a signal is applied to the trigger input, the gate opens (lets the signal through). This is particularly useful as you can use the pure, unaffected guitar sound to control the gate. This helps the gate too.
Guitar > Compressor > Wah > Overdrive > Chorus > Volume Pedal > Pitch Shifter > Delay > Reverb
Remember, this is just an example and you should try swapping around the pedals to experiment until you hear the sounds that you like.
Written By : Alan Ratcliffe