One of the questions frequently asked here at
Humbucker Music concerns the arrangement and order of effects pedals.
This is a very valid question, especially when there are a
lot of pedals in use. Many people, even several pros we've
dealt with, are surprised by the importance of proper pedal board
signal flow. Improper arrangement of pedals can make even the
most impressive pedalboard
your worst enemy. Naturally, pedals react quite
differently according to what input is being fed into them.
Pedal arrangement can be a fun process and can
inspire new sounds when tired of the same setup. It is a
pretty large topic to address, and although there are a few
basics that can get someone headed in the right direction, we want to
attempt to cover a lot of ground in a short amount of time and
concentrate on some more common situations and set ups.
Please keep in mind that pedal order can be a subjective thing
and largely based on opinion, especially since tastes can
differ and change. There are a few rules to pedal
order, but we still encourage anybody that reads this to
experiment with your own sounds and arrangement and not to be
worried about a "wrong" order. There are a lot
of different and interesting sounds to be had by
changing the order of pedals. We hope this provides
a guideline and describes what we have noticed about
Let's start with what an effects pedal does. It doesn't
just affect the tone of your guitar. It affects your
guitar tone *and* every pedal before it in the chain.
Take for instance the following simple scenario:
You have a reverb pedal and a distortion pedal.
Ideally you would want to add reverb to the already distorted
sound, and not distort the guitar *and* the reverb.
It's likely you'll end up with a more jarbled or
muddied sound if you distort the reverberated signal.
Another example: Plug your guitar into an
overdrive pedal then into a boost pedal. Some people would
want the boost pedal to be placed before the overdrive pedal, in order
to boost the overdrive signal and everything after it. Now in
this setup, the boost pedal will also be driving” the OD pedal harder,
which can be ideal for some players. However, some players
may prefer to place the boost pedal after the OD, in order to just add
some sustain and volume to the overdrive signal. In this
setup, the overdrive would be pushing the original signal in order to
add the “breakup” sound, and the boost pedal would be boosting this
effect, instead of boosting the original signal first.
Neither setup is necessarily right or wrong, but they accomplish
When organizing your pedals, you should first
determine the purpose of each pedal. To help, here is a basic
categorization of pedal types and their purposes:
conditioners - Pedals
that only alter the general sound by
increasing gain and optionally changing the
EQ. Includes preamp, overdrive,
effects - Pedals that adjust the
frequency response by enhancing, notching out, or shaping the
frequencies in certain ranges. Includes wah,
filter, and EQ pedals.
effects - Pedals that cause changes in the
overall signal by increasing or decreasing level,
or controlling certain peaks.
gate pedals. A compressor could be
considered in this category because of its volume control and ability
to smooth peaks and valleys in a signal.
effects - Pedals that modulate the original sound
by introducing several signals to interact with the others in order to
produce frequencies otherwise not present. Includes chorus,
shifting, and rotary simulating pedals. Vibrato could
also be considered in this category.
related effects - Pedals that alter the pitch of
the signal by adding octaves or bending the pitch. Includes octave and pitch
shifting pedals such as a whammy. Vibrato could also be
considered in this category.
and time-based effects - Pedals that simulate the
original introduction of the sound by copying and repeating the
sound or through an echo effect. Includes delay,
and echo pedals.
Now that the pedals are categorized, we’ll go over
a very basic pedal layout, an arrangement that we have found to
typically work best, guitar being the start of the signal path and the
amp being the end.
Guitar --> Signal
conditioners --> Filter effects -->
effects --> Modulation
effects --> Volume/Level
time-based effects --> Amp
These types of effects seem to work together the best in this
arrangement, each pedal performing naturally and achieving a smooth and
When any overdrives or distortion are
first in the chain, the overdriven sounds will be more natural and
unaffected than if they were elsewhere. This also helps to
prevent other effects being driven too hard, like unnecessarily
dirtying a delay signal by having the overdrive later in the
chain. Filter effects are more lively and resonate more
clearly in this position. Pitch based effects seem to do well
here because overdrive pedals already create more pitches when engaged
(think of all the harmonics or overtones they can add) so
having the pitch related effects afterward help things to stay more
controlled. Having a volume pedal in
this position works well when doing swells with delay or
reverb pedals or even with overdriven sounds. The volume
pedal allows the swells to sound more organic and actually swell,
instead of sudden, "nothing-to-all" volume changes. When
playing with delay or reverb, putting the volume pedal in
the heel position would not kill the echoes (this would be
like turning the amp off while playing) as it would
in another position, but instead the sounds would naturally
decay. Having modulation effects in this order
helps the sound to be a "chorused overdrive" or "phased distortion" or
a lead part with a hint of flange, instead of distorting the modulated
sounds. Having reverb and delay effects last in a
chain helps to emulate the sound of playing in a larger room,
typically a desired affect when using delay or reverb, and the delay
and echoes sound much cleaner and articulate when in this
When arranging pedals in this order, it can be a good idea to spend a
lot of time with the specific arrangement of pedals within a
category. Many people have different overdrives, different
modulation effects, different volume effects and different
delays. Arranging within a category can prove to be tedious
but well worth time spent. Here are some examples of what we
at Humbucker Music have learned from this.
Some of us at the shop have found that the
stronger gain pedals, like distortions or fuzz pedals sound
better first. Some people have a particular drive or boost
pedal that they prefer to always leave on, and this setup seems to work
well when stacking the higher gain pedals with the more moderate gain
pedals. Others here feel that their best sound comes when the
higher gain pedals are later in the chain. This is most
noticeable when the drive pedals are not stacked.
When using a compressor, we have noticed a
large difference in sound when varying its
placement. First consider the type of sound you are aiming
for before settling on a home for a
compressor in a chain of pedals. For a more dynamic,
rock and roll sound, we have found the compressor works best at the
start of the chain. This helps the overall sound to breathe a
bit more with the introduction of other pedals in the signal
path. The compressor is working less hard, allowing slight
changes in level and the sound is very lively. The compressor
serves to even things out, the overdrives are very focused and
detailed, single notes sustain well and delays and
reverbs ring out more. To change things up, we have
added the compressor after pitch related effects and before level and
volume effects. This adds more sustain to the overall
sound and the compressor is doing more compressing.
Fewer changes in volume occur when introducing new effects and less
dynamics. Having the compressor at the end of the chain helps
to achieve a great country sound. Everything is very tight
and "squashed" in a good way. Notes are very even and there
is a lot of sustain.
Some of us like wah best after overdrive, (first in a group of filter
effects because it works closer to the overdriven sounds) for a certain
aggressive-sounding tone. However, having a wah before overdrive or
distortion can make some pretty interesting frequency
responses and may be more desired than this setup. A classic
example is Jimi Hendrix. He ran the wah first and, even if it's
just us, he had some really killer wah tones.
We commonly place volume last in its category,
right before delay and reverb; it seems most natural when
fading out sounds or doing swells. Reverb pedals are placed
after echoes or delays, it seems like this brings out the most ambience
and the fullest sound.
When running an EQ pedal, we believe it works best
if it is placed directly after the effect that is being EQ'd.
If it is working on the overall sound, it seems to work best after
modulation effects or right after volume effects. The
same can be true for noise gates. They seem
to be the friendliest right before or even after time based effects,
but they can also work well right before a really noisy pedal, like
fuzz or wah.
Remember, that these are all suggestions and what
brought us to these conclusions was experimentation and
patience. For the best results, set aside some time
for adjusting the order and enjoy the time
spent. An arrangement other than what has been described can
prove to be very satisfying, even if it isn't conventional.