Thursday, April 3, 2008

How to Choose the Correct Signal Chain Order for Your Effects Pedals

You’ve gone to your local guitar store and bought some pedals and the next question is “what order do I put them in? Try this common order first:

  1. Dynamic Range – Compression
  2. EQ – Wah Pedal, Equalizer
  3. Drive – Overdrive, Distortion, Fuzz
  4. Modulation – Phaser, Flanger, Chorus
  5. Time-Based – Reverb, Delay
Here's why:

Each pedal imparts its own coloring to the audio signal. This order goes from least alteration of the signal to the most and minimizes the chance that the effects introduced at each point in the signal path cancel the previous ones out.

Dynamic Range
If you have a compression pedal this should be first in your default signal chain order. Compression automatically “rides the gain” by pumping up volume when levels are low and cutting it when levels peak too high. The behavior of the rest of your effects chain becomes much more predictable by receiving this more uniform and consistent audio signal.

If you have an EQ type effect it is most likely a Wah pedal, which creates its distinctive effect by sweeping a narrow frequency range up and down as you move the pedal. Placing the wah pedal next in this suggested default order enables it to benefit from the consistent audio signal coming from the compressor and it yields a more open vintage sound. In addition its output is more predictably colored by other effects down stream in the signal path such as gain and modulation.

Drive pedals emulate the saturated gain sound of a tube amp turned up to 11 by clipping the audio signal. Since this effect adds lots of gain to your signal it works best in this next position as we’re still dealing with a clean signal from the compressor and wah pedal; thus you avoid boosting unwanted noise.

Modulation type pedals operate by splitting off a portion of the signal and applying slight delays and or altering the pitch of the incoming signal before mixing it back together with the unprocessed portion. This signal treatment increases the likelihood of cancellation effects if modulation is placed earlier in the signal path.

Time-based effects are last in this suggested default order because they repeat the original signal without alteration. This treatment earlier in the signal path will conflict with other effects that alter the waveform if they were later in the signal chain giving you unpredictable results.

Now that I’ve laid out the “rules” I can move to the inevitable exceptions.
  • If you have a Fuzz Face pedal you will need to plug your guitar into it directly. I learned this the hard way. It goes nuts if you have anything other than the guitar in front of it.
  • Try the wah pedal just after drive pedals for a thicker sound.
  • While modulation effects generally go after drive try placing phaser effects in front of your overdrive and distortion pedals.
Be sure to balance the volume across the signal chain (ensure the same volume when an effect is on or bypassed). Lastly, don't forget the most important effects; your guitar volume, pickup selector, and the type of guitar pick you use. Since these are the very beginning of the signal chain they have the largest impact on your tone.


Scott said...

All of it sounds generally correct to me. Glad you mentioned trying the phaser before overdrive, that was one of my exceptions and it gets used both before and after equally. Others:

- Auto-filters or envelope filters/followers (all really the same thing as an exaggerated automatic wah) are often placed before compressor to tame harshness. Matter of fact, my Ibanez UE-303B is hard-wired auto-filter -> compressor -> chorus/flanger.

- Modulation can come after delay for a different sort of tone. Some delays have a separate loop output for the delayed signal so that you can modulate only the delays. That's a really cool sound, kind of like a warped tape echo accompanying the clean direct signal.

In some cases, you might run your flanger before distortion. That's entirely to taste, and it's more to my liking with output stage distortion than with preamp or pedal distortion. (Output stage distortion just means cranking up your amp's master volume to get your distortion rather than using pedals or any pre-gain controls on your amp. It's a whole different beast, and probably another topic for you at some point.)

Mark said...

Just a quick note to say thanks for running this blog! I stumbled onto it when my Google Blogsearch picked up this posting about pedals.
Ended up reading through your entire blog in one sitting and I'm now more determined than ever to really dig into the guitar.

VintageP said...


Dig in and rock out! Great site you have btw. Thanks for reading!

Mick said...

great info... thanks for the post!

Greg said...

good rules to follow here man. Another thing that's major is volume pedal placement. I personally use it behind my overdrives and infront of my modulations, just for swells. I think it sounds much better that way, swelling an overdriven signal as opposed to swelling into an overdriven line of effects. never tried the flanger before drive though, that sounds pretty sweet

Anonymous said...

great tips. where would I put my tuner. I have a korg pitchblack stomp style. I usually put it 1st but I recenly got a volume pedal & dont know if it should still be 1st.


VintageP said...

I consulted my resident expert and his advice is that the tuner usually comes first so you can tune on the raw signal. Before overdrive is the rule of thumb for the Volume Pedal and lets you roll back to a clean signal. If you do after overdrive that lets you fade in a fully overdriven signal, which introduces a different effect. At least put volume before delay so you can fade but leave the repeats going. As in all things signal chain, experiment.

Anonymous said...

I like to put the Compression pedal just after the overdrive and turn it's volume up higher than the rest of the pedals are working to boost my leads. I keep the Comp. effect low tho.. I play through an AC-30.
Just my thang.. ROCK AN' ROLL!

jerseyrawkgtrst said...

I have a Pedalboard and my chain looks like this: Signal from wireless into my wah. Out of my wah into a Rotovibe then I had the signal traveling into my Boss FV500L which I have hooked up as an expression pedal to control the Whammy effect in my TC Electronics Nova System which is placed in my effects loop of my Marshall head and the output of the Boss FV500L feeds directly into the Marshall head.

Is that correct? Or do I go from the wireless into the FV500L FIRST and run the expression out? Please help. I am mind boggled.

VintageP said...

Thanks for the note. I'll check with the resident gearheads and get some answers for you.

VintageP said...

Here is the local gearhead take on your question...

Sounds like a fun rig to play through. :)
A few comments:

1. If it sounds good as he's currently running it, then it's fine. That being said, read on...

2. He has the low impedance version of the FV pedal, which is what the "L" stands for. The high impedance version (FV-500H) is the one more intended for use with guitar than the L version, due to guitar pickups being high impedance. The manual says to run another effects pedal in front of the FV-L (which he is doing - and he's well buffered due to the wireless), so that the impedance will match better than connecting guitar straight to the FV-L. He would have more placement options with the FV-500H, especially if he ditched the wireless or wanted to run the volume pedal first in the audio chain after the guitar. Again, if it sounds good then fine.

3. He's using the FV as both volume and expression simultaneously (unless there's an undocumented mode selector I don't know about), which would adjust the volume every time he used the pedal to control a parameter on the TC unit. (That seems to defeat the point, doesn't it?) Seems like he should only be using it as one or the oother (volume or expression) and if he needs boh then he should have two separate pedals. Does he really need a volume pedal? If not, then just go straight from guitar > wah > rotovibe > Marshall and just use the FV as an expression pedal and NOT in the audio chain. That's how I would probably run it.

4. As for the TC in the FX loop, that should be fine though I have no experience running FX in that manner. Just make sure that the volume matches when you switch the loop in and out and that you're not overloading the input of the TC.

5. I'm a minimalist, in spite of my love for effects. I would take an approach something like this to be sure you maximize tone... Unplug everything. (Including the TC - take it out of the FX loop.) Plug the guitar straight into the Marshall and set it where it sounds good switching between channels at stage volume. 90% of the time that's how you'll be playing anyway. Then add one piece at a time into the FX chain, and make sure that every time you add something it has the same output level and sounds just as good as when you had the guitar plugged straight into the amp. If at any point the sound isn't as loud or doesn't sound as good, then either pull that piece of gear or reconfigure until it sounds good. Effects are never worth a loss of tone is the bottom line.

Massisteria said...

Problem - After 10 Yrs. switching from digital proccessor to analog pedals and pulling my hair out - MXR Dyna Comp, Roger Mayer Octavia, Fulltone OCD, EH Small Clone, Boss Harmonist, MXR Carbon Copy Delay, EH Holy Grail Reverb, ISP Decimator G string noise reduction, and into a Marshall Super Lead 100JH(old style no OD channel or master Vol.) - so the OCD is important for the OD sound of 80's Hard Rock, etc. - when I run out of the OCD and straight into the amp, OCD works fine(OCD vol at 10:00, but as soon as I connect the other pedals(mod, delay, & reverb and click on the OCD, the volume drop to almost nothing, even cranking the OCD only just increases the noise - anybody know whats up with this??? - HELP

Massisteria said...

Problem - switching from digital proccessor to analog pedals and pulling my hair out - MXR Dyna Comp, Roger Mayer Octavia, Fulltone OCD, EH Small Clone, Boss Harmonist, MXR Carbon Copy Delay, EH Holy Grail Reverb, ISP Decimator G string noise reduction, and into a Marshall Super Lead 100JH(old style no OD channel or vol) - so the OCD is important for the OD sound of 80's Hard Rock, etc. - when I run out of the OCD and into the amp, OCD works fine(vol at 10:00, but as soon as I connect the other pedals(mod, delay, & reverb and click on the OCD, the volume drop to almost nothing, even cranking the OCD only just increases the noise - anybody know whats up with this??? - HELP

VintageP said...

I'll see what I can find out.

VintageP said...

Where is your OCD in the signal chain, (first last or middle somewhere). I assume you've tried different combinations. Some tests:
Plug each pedal individually into the amp and verify you get the tone and volume you want with each.
Try OCD in combination with one of your other pedals first and last in the chain, any difference in behavior?
If your volume drops off on any combination with the OCD on each of your pedals in both orders (try OCD with each other pedal individually first and last) you may need to look at the OCD itself. What version is it? Version 4? You can get upgrades for older pedals, new PCB.

Anonymous said...

Please help, my chain looks like this:
Boss FH50 vol.pedal-vox wah ped.-mesa boogie ped-boss dig.delay ped-boss chorus ped.-tone phaser. I'm using a Fender strat and a Vox AC30. I'm trying to achieve a smooth distortion and a warm Santana ish overdrive. Currently also using Boss ME70, but would like to go analogue. Wayne

Anonymous said...

If I have an MXR Blue Box, where does that go? It distorts the signal and sends it 2 octaves down.

Alex said...

Where should a EHX Micro POG and a Boss Super Shifter go?

Octavio said...

i am builing a pedalboard and was thinking of doing this: morley power wah volume, tc tuner, fulltone drive/distortion, fat sandwich distortion, compressor, tc delay, and reverb.
would that work??

Robert said...

Hey i got a signal chain that i've been tryin to dial in but have been havin trouble, my chain is from my hot rod deluxe the first thing is my MXR dyna comp, then DOD distortion pedal, CE5 chorus ensemble, MD2 mega distortion, GE7 equalizer and then my delay, every once in a while i throw a my wah pedal back up in my chain right before the DOD distortion or sometimes after the eq, i play mostly a stonerrock (i.e. kyuss, sleep, sabbathy stuff) mixed with fastere motorhead type punk, i like havin a lil bit of feedback but my chain sometimes seems uncontrollable and hard to dial in any input? btw i jus replaced the power amp tubes of my hot rod with another set of 6l6s and biased it a lil cold so that its a bit cleaner since i basically control all my tone w my feet, any suggestions?

VintageP said...

What do you mean by "i like havin a lil bit of feedback but my chain sometimes seems uncontrollable and hard to dial in any input". This seems to be the root of the problem, and suspect it relates to the fact that you are using all your FX in the FX loop of the amp. Since you set your amp clean, you're better off using your pedals before going into the amp at all. The only reason to use FX loops is if you're using your amp (or its preamp section really) to generate your overdrive. If you have OD/dist pedals for that then just put everything before the amp. Also, try to avoid using both overdrive pedals at once as that will make the feedback hard to control.

Anonymous said...

i have a digitech whammy pedal. i put that first thing from the guitar. also i have EHX POG2 and i put that after wah and before distortion. heres my setup

Guitar-> Digitech Whammy-> Crybaby Standard-> EHX POG2-> Vox Satchurator-> Amplifier-> (FX Loop) Boss DD-3 Delay->amplifier

i get awesome, clear tone out of this. so for those of you reading, consider yourselves learned. the point is, you should put octave type pedals before any distortion/overdrive pedals.

Anonymous said...

i'm using clean boost to power up my lead tone,where am i going to put my clean boost,before od/dist.or after?if i put infront of my drive only the gain will increase but the level is still same,i tried after my drive it boost the level but there is something happining with the quality of my drive sound,im using EH power linear booster,pls.give me some idea,thanks,

Anonymous said...

Here's how I used to do it before the recession caused me to sell my gear- Jackson Dinky to Boss tuner to Dunlop Crybaby Wah to Boss Octo to Mesa Dual Recto w/ Boss DD7 Delay and Super Chorus on the effects loop (always on, just kicked the effects switch on the Mesa footswitch to engage 'em). I love my amps distortion so no need for fuzz, od, or distortion pedal.
Heres how I am going to do it in a few minutes (Santa was very good to me this year). Gibson Anniversary Flood LP to TC Electronic Polyphonic tuner to VOX Classic Wah to Mesa Dual Recto w/ Boss Super Chorus and DD3 delay in the effects loop; all on a Gator Pedal Tote, powered pedal board. I'm gonna try to put the wah first in the effects loop this time to keep my beautiful tone pure on its path from the Gibby pups to the Recto. I only use chorus and delay for my clean sound and chorus, delay and wah for leads so being able to kick the effectrs loops on the Recto's footswitch and have all 3 effects engaged would be very sweet. The tuner stays out front with true bypass. Here I go; out to the studio to play with my new toys. I'll let you know what my results were.

Discipline Theory said...

My current chain is: Korg Pitch Black tuner, an Ibanez Weeping Demon Wah, a Boss Metal Zone, Boss Flanger, Boss Chorus Ensemble, and finally a Digitech Digiverb.

Anonymous said...

Hi i read the whole blog but still stuck. i have a boss Ns-2, Hardire Tl-2, Ibanez Ts-9, Ibanez WD7 using a line 6 spider4 75 watt. what order should i put this in can anyone help?

Anonymous said...

Thanks for the helpful article, and special thanks to the person who commented about where to place a tuner pedal.

My current board is: Boss TU-3 -> Boss SD-1 -> EHX Polychorus -> EHX Small Clone, played through an Orange AD30TC combo amp. Simple and great sounding!

Anonymous said...

Tube Screamer in a Line 6 Spider? Ugh. Shoot that amp.

Anonymous said...

Here is my chain - Gibson LP studio -> MXR Super Comp -> Boss OS-2 -> Dunlop CFH -> MXR Carbon Copy -> Boss TR-2 -> Boss FV 50H -> 96 reissue Ampeg R212 Reverberocket.
Unbelievable swells with the Super Comp on the front of the chain and the Passive Boss on the end.
Of course I kill everything when not in use... Great distortion running the Compressor in front of the distortion. Cheers!

Colton said...

I have a Gibson SG and my effects chain goes like this, GUITAR>>DUNLOP VOLUME PEDAL>>MXR DYNA COMP>>KEELELY MODIFIED TUBE SCREAMER>>AMP. And effects loop MXR CARBON COPY>>HOLY GRAIL. I am having trouble with major feedback from the ts and the comp on at the same time. I also need a way to set up my chain to where when I decrease volume, it dosent decrease the distortion. Just volume. Can you help? Thanks!

Anonymous said...

Colton - move the Volume to the last position before the amp... your guitar going into the vol pedal first may be throwing feedback into the loop.

CarnaD said...

Im a bass player in need of some help. I have The BOSS ODB-3, A Crybaby Bass wah, A Micro-Qtron from Electro-Harmonix, The BOSS RC-2 loop station, the ME-50B, an Ibanez SB-7 and an EQ pedal with a name i can't remember.
My question is, what would a good signal chain order be in this case? And is it maybe better to leave out the multi pedal?

DroneRanger01 said...

Ok my question is two, first what does the BBE Sonic maximizer really do, and two where should i put it in my chain, does my set up seem right, oh and third--> wouldn't an mxr 10 band be better than a BBE son max? isn't it just an eq essentially?

(I'm thinking it is anyway)
GTR====>BIG MUFF--->wampler comp.--->TS-09----->Fulltone PlimSoul===>Crybaby WAH------->small clone chorus-->[BBE Son Max]??----->TimeLine.dly=>Reverb Small grail plus---->Amp Orange Tiny Terror

just one thing i DONT use the overdrive/dist pedals together ever, i don't see any need, i use them seperatley to get different tones, the fuzz, the rhythm bluesy mellow TS09, and then for the lead my Fulltone.

DR 01

Unknown said...

Wonderful blog, thank u!
I have a few questions if you don't mind.
I play a 1964 Super Reverb (which is amazing), but I'm having a problem getting my Big Muff to have the same volume it did thru my last 70's Super Reverb amp.
My pedal chain in order from guitar to amp;
Korg tuner --> MXR micro amp --> Big Muff --> Small Clone Chorus --> Super Reverb.

I am having volume issues with the Big Muff, it isn't loud enough and sounds thin and weak thru the 64 amp.
Should I place the Big Muff right after the tuner?
Side question. Would placing the tuner at the end of the chain help the guitar signal to hit the effects more directly?
Is 'more directly' proper english? haha.

Biswadeep Chakravarty said...

Great Blog!
Couple of questions though!
1. My effect chain is
ESP M-50 -> Berhinger EQ700 -> BOSS DS-2 -> Flanger (Local made cheap ass :D) -> Johnson Amp (I Don't use the Amp dist/OD)
Is this effect chain corerct? If so, could you direct me as to which effect pedal should i go in for?

Secondly, is there any point in getting a better sounding amp like a Laney (Marshalls in India suck..thats where I'm from btw.. :D)

Thirdly, same question for the guitar, the M-50 is an entry level guitar as I'm well aware, gave me great results, gigged the hell out of it! Have been playing for close to 7+ yrs now.

Any help in this regard would be great!


Anonymous said...

VOLUME PEDALS. Where are these best at in the pedal board signal chain? Most every rig I have seen be it a player or sales add, show the volume pedal first on the right side. And, I'm considering a Ernie Ball Jr. volume pedal, they have 25K for active electronics and 250k for passive electronics instruments. I have no active electronics on my electrics, but I do have a battery boosted preamp on my acoustic-electric.

Post a Comment