Years of gigging taught me that a complex pedal board is dead weight if some minuscule part should malfunction during a show, but it also taught me something else that some of you out there may not know yet. The order that you connect your pedals has a huge impact on their ability to function correctly. In certain cases, getting this order wrong may have almost no influence on your tone. In other cases, putting pedals together in the wrong order can create unwanted noise, or it can cause pedals to function poorly and your tone to suffer.
Today I'd like to go over the best order for you to wire up your effects pedals so that you will maximize the functionality of each circuit, and also so that your tone will ultimately be able to benefit from your pedals as much as possible.
GuitarYour guitar is the beginning of your signal chain. All of the controls on your guitar come before anything else in your signal chain, including pedals. This means that the volume and tone controls on your guitar will affect the way your pedals sound. As an example, reducing the volume on your guitar with the volume knob will reduce how much overdrive a drive pedal produces.
This is the first group of pedals that you should put at the very beginning of your signal chain. The effects in this group can be organized differently from what I have laid out here, but it's a good idea to keep the pedals in this group ahead of any of the pedals in groups 2, 3 or 4.
*Digitech Drop Pedal
This is a very specific recommendation, but for anybody who uses this pedal I highly suggest putting it at the very beginning of your signal chain. This pedal will detune your guitar for you to flat tunings. I use it all the time, and it works incredibly well. In order to allow this pedal to function at its best, I always put it at the start of my signal chain.
It is very important that a tuner pedal gets as direct a signal as possible from your guitar to give the most accurate as possible reading of your pitch. For this reason, almost every guitarist puts their tuner pedal at the beginning of their signal chain. The only time I will ever run any pedal ahead of my tuner is when I need to use my Digitech Drop pedal, other wise I will always put my tuner first.
By placing the wah pedal as close to the beginning of your signal chain as possible, you will give your wah the widest possible range that it can give. Putting the wah pedal after pedals that affect the tone such as overdrives or even compressors can cause the effect of the wah pedal to be greatly reduced.
Compressor pedals should be placed after your tuner and after your wah pedal, however its a bad idea to put compressors after drive effects. This is because compressors tend to add a high level of unwanted noise if they are put after overdrive effects.
Group 2This group of pedals consists of overdrive and distortion sounds, as well as clean boosts and fuzz pedals. The pedals in this group can be reordered in whatever way suits your playing the best. For myself, I prefer to put cleaner boosts and tube screamers ahead of things like distortion or fuzz. I have met other guitarists that like to do things differently, so its a good idea to experiment and find what works for you.
This category includes things like the Spark by TC Electronics or the EP Boost by Xotic Effects. These pedals increase your volume without adding much overdrive.
I have always really liked tube screamers and I find that putting them as close to the front of this group of pedals as possible maximizes their dynamic range and their responsiveness to your guitar's controls and to your attack on the strings.
I tend to require less dynamic range from pedals that colour the tone more. This is subjective, but for that reason I put more overdriven pedals near the end of this group.
Fuzz effects can be very noisy if they are placed in the wrong spot in your signal chain. The best place for them is at the end of all of your overdrive sounds.
Group 3This group consists of modulation effects. There are so many different categories of modulation effects, but I will go through a short list of popular ones here. The effects in this group can be reorganized to suit your playing much like the other groups. Additionally, if your amplifier has an effects loop (you will see a "send" and "return" input and output on the back of your amp) the pedals in this group can be put in that effects loop. This will place them after the tone stack of your amp in your signal chain. That isn't necessary, but some people prefer to run them this way, and some effects will perform better in the effects loop than in front of the amp.
Although tremolo is really just self oscillating volume, it is included in this group with other modulation effects. Running a tremolo pedal in the effects loop will make it function more like amp tremolo.
I could go on forever listing different modulation effects, but these are three very popular kinds. As long as you keep your modulation effects in this group, you can order them how you like, depending on what works best for you and your playing.
Group 4This final group consists of delay and reverb effects. It is important to put these two effects at the very end of your signal chain, even after other modulation effects so that they sound natural and musical. These effects can also be put in the effects loop, and if you are running your modulation effects into the effects loop then I suggest doing so with your delays and reverb as well, and making sure they are placed after your modulation effects in the effects loop.
I always put delay ahead of reverb because I do not want my delay pedal putting delay trails on my reverb trail. To me that sounds kind of strange.
One of the things that I really love about amp reverb is that it comes after everything, even after the tone stack of the amp. This is why when I'm using a reverb pedal I still try to put it at the absolute end of the signal chain. In the past I have even used reverb pedals as my only pedal in the effects loop of the amp. This is because unless I'm doing something crazy with the reverb pedal, I intend to keep it on always. This means I don't even need it on my pedal board, and I can just sit it on top of my amp and wire it into the effects loop and turn it on and leave it there.
Volume PedalsAs an addendum, I would like to make special mention of the role that volume pedals can play on your pedal board. The truth is, you can place a volume pedal anywhere on your pedal board and it will profoundly change the effect that it has. For example, if you place a volume pedal before your overdrive pedals the volume pedal will impact the gain of your signal. Placing the volume pedal after your overdrives will allow you to reduce the volume without affecting the gain. Placing a volume pedal before your delay means that the volume pedal will not cut off your delay trail. Placing it after the delay will cut the trail off. To learn more about how volume pedals can impact your pedal board, check out this article here.
Thank you so much for checking out my thoughts on the order of pedals on your pedal board! Please feel free to reach out to me with any questions, concerns or comments, and as always I'd like to say thank you for allowing me to be a super small part of your journey with the guitar. It really is something that I don't take for granted.