Finding The Best Order For Guitar Effects

Today guitar pedals offer a world of possibilities. Their impact as a shaping force for tone, sound manipulation and creativity is greater than ever. However, just as important as finding the right effects is finding the best order for your guitar effects chain.

Even with the greatest group of pedals at your disposal, an ill-advised chain will ultimately produce a lousy tone. So while there’s no perfect order that exists – many a guitarist has been known to break the rules with great success – harnessing the potential of your pedals can be made easy by following a few simple guidelines.

It’s important to start your pedal chain the right way. Pedals that are going to add noise to your signal – distortion, overdrive, fuzz, boost, compressors, wah – should be placed near the beginning of the path. If introduced later in the chain they will amplify the noise of each effect that comes before it, decreasing your level of control and potentially muddying each effect.

In line with this approach we recommend using an auto wah first for maximum dynamic range, then a compressor and after that, a distortion or overdrive. You want to be distorting or boosting a pure, unadulterated guitar tone.

The placement of modulation – that’s flanger, phaser, chorus and tremolo – in your chain is of great importance – pedals that produce tone need to go before pedals that modify tone. Generally these pedals should be activated around the middle of your chain. The desire is to first construct your tone with the basic building blocks – wah, compressor etc. – and to then shift this solid foundation with modifying effects. All modulators therefore come after your chosen overdrive. Both of these groups of pedals also benefit from the fact that modulators are enriched by the harmonics generated from distortion.

At the end of the pedal chain comes any kind of ambience effect. This is essential with the use of delay and reverb. Placing them before a distortion pedal, for instance, will mean each effect is altered with the introduction of extra gain. For the greatest level of control they should come last and, thus, have the ability to encase the rest of the chain with ambience.

There are, of course, other recommendations for numerous pedals. An EQ, for example, works well when situated directly after distortion and used to change specific frequencies for a solo.

It’s important to navigate the use of different pedals with a basic understanding of how they interact. Consider minimising noise, establishing a strong organic tone, and maximising tonal control. But this is merely a place to start, and mastering the order of your pedal chain can only truly be achieved with personal experience and experimentation.

Source: Mixdown #267 – July 2016 – written by Chris Scott