If you’re just breaking out into the pedalboard format, you’ve probably got a few questions about what goes where.

The order of pedals can completely change how each individual effect interacts with the others, giving you entirely unique and fresh sounds.

By far the most important thing to know before diving into this topic is… you can do whatever you want.

These are NOT hard and fast rules, these are just guidelines to get you started. Things change based on whether or not you want a special effect, which pedals are buffered or true bypass (we’ll get to that in a future article), and so on.

We’re going to talk about the “standard” order of pedals, but many individuals have found incredibly cool and unique tones by not following the standard rules. In the end, if changing the order gets you the tone you want, that’s all that matters!

Basic Pedal Order

The most common setup is to group your effects in this order:

Dynamics/filters/EQ/pitch shifters
Gain (Overdrive, distortion, and fuzz)
Modulation (Chorus, flanger, phaser etc.)
Time (Delay, reverb, tremolo)

We arrange them in this fashion if we are wanting each effect to operate as close to its originally intended use as possible. Some pedals will perform better when placed in specific areas of your chain, and this is your best bet in having them all perform optimally.

We can’t cover every single type of effect out there, but to give you a specific layout to start with for the most common effects we would recommend something like this:

Tuner > Compressor > Pitch Shifter > Wah/Filter/EQ > Fuzz > Overdrive > Distortion > Chorus > Flanger > Phaser > Tremolo > Delay > Reverb

Some will have differing opinions about exact placement, but for the most part, the differences are minor and this is a great starting point.

Effects Loops

If you are running all of your pedals in front of a clean amplifier, the above diagram is the ideal starting point. However, many amps have effects loops specifically for placing pedals in.

In order to maintain the order outlined earlier, we treat an amp’s preamp section as a gain pedal, because it adds distortion to our guitar tone.

With this in mind, we would place our modulation and time-based effects in the effects loop of our amplifier.

You would then place these effects before your amp:

Tuner > Compressor > Pitch Shifter > Wah/Filter/EQ > Fuzz > Overdrive > Distortion

And these effects in the effects loop:

Chorus > Flanger > Phaser > Tremolo > Delay > Reverb

Even if you have an effects loop in your amp, you don’t have to use it at all if you plan on only using the amp’s clean channel.

Front Of Chain” Effects

This system covers most pedals, and a lot of effects can be interchanged without much issue (like modulation effects) but there are some worth mentioning that need to be early on in your chain for optimal performance.

Pedals like tuners, synthesizers, fuzzes, pitch shifting, compressors, ring modulators, all of these effects rely on hearing the raw guitar signal as cleanly as possible, without the extra harmonics, noise etc. added from other pedals.

If you have a lot of these effects it can be tough to decide which ones should go first, and we’ve found the best results in this scenario come from treating it on a case-by-case basis. Move the order around and see what works.

In most cases, your synths and pitch shifters will take precedence over anything else because they have to track and modify the actual pitch of the guitar. This is a very difficult thing to do, and therefore we need the cleanest signal for these to operate optimally.

Tuners don’t quite require the same standard to perform well, but they can perform marginally better when at the front of the chain.

Compressors will act differently based on where you place them, but the biggest reason for this recommendation comes down to noise. The earlier it is in your chain, the less noise it will be amplifying, generally speaking.

Fuzz and wah pedals have a weird relationship, but the simplest explanation is that you should have your wah before your fuzz in order to avoid odd oscillation noises. If for some reason it doesn’t sound right, put a buffered (non-true-bypass) pedal between the wah and the fuzz. If that STILL doesn’t fix it, try a different buffered pedal or a higher quality standalone buffer.

Noise gates are a whole different conversation, and these depend entirely on your goals for your tone, your setup, and which parts of your chain are contributing to gain and noise levels. We recommend starting by putting them first in your chain or after your overdrive pedal. Alternatively, if you have a Horizon Devices Precision Drive, you’ve already got a high-quality noise gate built into your overdrive! If neither of those placements are working for you, try the amp’s effects loop.

As we said, gates are a whole complex topic on their own which we will be covering in great detail in an upcoming article!

Shake It Up

Like we mentioned earlier these are just guidelines and are NOT hard and fast rules – here are just a few other common placements that we recommend trying out:

Tuner at the end of the chain: This mutes everything in your signal, so if you play a note with a long delay on it and then turn on your tuner, the tuner will also cut off the delay, not just the dry sound.

Volume pedal at end of chain: When your volume pedal is at the front of the chain, it acts like your guitar’s volume knob. As you turn it up, your gain and distortion increases, rolling it back cleans up the tone. Putting your volume pedal at the end of the chain doesn’t change your tone, just your overall volume. You can also put it before your reverb and delay so you can mute the guitar without cutting off the natural decay. Great for managing your volume at a gig!

Delay pedal before gain pedals: This one gets you some really messy, chaotic sounds – let’s just say that you should try this one yourself!

Compressor after gain pedals: This is going to create quite a bit more background noise, but by putting the compressor after your gain pedals it will keep the dynamics of those pedals in check, whereas putting the compressor up front will give you more even distortion through the pedals, but less control over the dynamics of those distortion pedals.

EQ before gain pedals: If you put an EQ pedal after your gain pedals, it will act very much like an EQ plugin in a DAW. However, if you put it earlier, you are changing what part of your signal gets distorted. Try removing all the low end from your signal before it hits your gain stage, then add it back in afterward. The result is a cleaner low end while your mids and highs stay distorted and crunchy.

Get Creative With It

This is just your starting point, and once you’ve built your board according to these guidelines your next step is to decide if that tone is right for you.

If you’re happy, great! If you’re not, start moving things around and see what kind of otherworldly sounds you can create.

Who knows, you might just get lost in a sea of shoegazey tones… just be sure to come up for air now and then.

This article was written by Connor Gilkinson, our editor located in Canada.


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