So you’re building a pedal board but don’t know where to put your pedals. The order of your effects is crucial, as it can change your tone depending on where you place pedals. There are no wrong answers when it comes to signal chain, but there are tips and tricks that can to help you get the sound you want. Lets talk about the most common signal chain for your pedals, and some fun orders to try.
Compressors are an effect that basically squishes your signal to even out the level, as well as add sustain. Because you are compressing the guitar signal, this is most commonly placed first on in your signal chain. Put it any later and it will compress whatever you have before it, making those pedals work differently than intended. However, placing them later in the chain will act as limiters to keep particularly crazy pedals in check.
Gain pedals usually are effects that like an un-modulated signal. Gains can add harmonic richness and texture to your sound, as well as add distortion and sustain to modulation effects later in your signal chain. There are a few different ways to look at setting up your gain section. You can either go from your cleanest drive to dirtiest, or dirtiest to cleanest. Each way is correct, but will yield different results. If you put clean first, when you stack pedals, it will make the one last in the section become more saturated and fatter. If you set your drives the opposite way, your later drives will act more as boosts in volume to the dirtier pedals before it. We are currently running ours from light to heavy, but play around with it and see what you like.
Now this one is very much up to the guitar player, however most would suggest that you place these effects after your drive section, and before your delay and reverb pedals. Placing them before your drives can give you a lusher sound, while after gives you the sustained and modulated goodness most people are looking for. Pedals that are considered modulation are flangers, chorus, tremolo, vibrato, or phasers. There is an argument to placing a tremolo last in the chain if you want it to be a hard chop even with reverb, but that’s not how we personally use ours.
Delay / Reverb
Delay and reverb pedals are time based effects that modify the original signal of the pedal, and usually may have trails after the initial note. Typically we like to put these pedals at the end of our signal chain. The main reason for this is because these effects distinctively change the signal of your guitar Naturally, you would want what changes the signal the most at the end. These effects also have “trails” which means that when you hit a note on the guitar, even after the note dies out, there is still signal left over. Think guitar swells, when your volume is off but there is still leftover sound, that’s a trail. The most common way to order these effects is delays then reverbs. While this is the most normal order, if you are into a darker more lush sound with less distinctive delay sounds, putting reverb before the delay is a ton of fun, and might be the way for you.
Volume and Loopers
Volume pedals are great for any player that wants to use volume differently than just the knob on your guitar. Again, there is no wrong place for a volume pedal, but there are some common rules to follow. If you put your volume pedal first in your signal chain, it will act just like your guitar volume knob. It will clean up your sound as it gets quieter, and push the amp harder as it’s louder. Pretty basic stuff. Placing one in the middle of your signal chain is actually a very common place as well, which is where we like to put ours. Putting it after your drives but before your delay and reverbs will keep your gain sounding the same at every volume, but allows trails for your wet signal. If you are a guitar player that loves to play ambient post rock style music, or swells for praise and worship stuff, the middle position will give you these lush sounds after your volume pedal is turned down. The last spot to put it is at the end of your signal chain. This allows it to essentially be a mute switch. Maybe you need to make a quick cut, or you hit a wrong note and want to stop all the sound and avoid embarrassment, this is the place to do it. Loopers are always best to go at the end of the chain so that you get all of your effects in the loop. If you place it any other location, it will only loop the effects that were being used before it. For example, if you have a reverb or delay pedal on while recording the loop, but they are after the loop pedal itself, when you go to play the loop it won’t contain those effects on the signal.
Signal chain is critically important when you are chasing your sound, but don’t be bound by the limits of these tips. These were just tips to get you a great starting point to your journey of tone. Try a bunch of different set ups and find what you like best. Sometimes playing around with new concepts and ideas will not only inspire you, but finally allow you to find that sound you have been looking for.