So you’ve been playing electric guitar for a while, learnt a few chords and licks and are now making your way through the guitar parts of some of your favourite songs. You’ve mastered the classic clean verse to overdriven chorus song structure using your amp’s in built distortion, but what other sounds can you get out of your guitar? Whether you’re getting the ball rolling with an all inclusive multi effects unit like our fantastic value Spur Gembox, or you’re looking at tailoring your guitar tone to your needs with our great selection of stompboxes, welcome to the rabbit hole that is the world of guitar effects pedals!
Once you’ve begun getting your first few guitar effects, whilst there are no absolute rules it can quickly become clear that there is a certain order these should generally go in. Although you should feel free to experiment with which ever combination of pedals sounds best to you, we’ve looked at some of the common best practices which guitarists use when building their pedal. In this video with help of some of our Boss effects pedals, John from our Liverpool store runs through some of these best practices for ordering your pedal board, the reasons behind these, as well as covering using an amplifier with a built in effects loop:
So What Goes First?
You wouldn’t play without tuning up first would you? Putting your guitar tuning pedal first on your board is always a safe bet, as it allows the cleanest signal possible to go into the pedal. If you were to put certain modulation effects in front of the tuner, you might be tuning to the wrong pitch. You will however want to put any pitch modulation effects such as an octave early on in the signal chain, as these are usually designed to work best with a clean guitar signal going into them. The same can also be said for filter type effects such as wah pedals or auto wahs which respond to the dynamics of your attack.
The pedals listed so far can become a bit unruly in terms of volume, with the ever ominous pedal board noise beginning to creep into the guitar’s signal. Because of this it’s usually best to put any compressors or clean boost pedals next, and although these are often the most subtle of effects on your board, they do wonders to help to tidy up any stray frequencies and uneven volume spikes that may arise.
When Are We Getting To Distortion?
Now the fun really starts as we get to our distortion pedals. Depending on the style of music you play or sound you’re trying to achieve, this could be a distortion, overdrive or fuzz pedal, or even a combination of these. Because we’ve put any compressors, sustainers or wah pedals before our dirt, the sustain of the guitar should be greatly improved which is ideal for those big notes in a solo, or even for simply holding down a powerchord for a few bars.
Things can get a bit lairy from here, particularly if you’re using fuzzes or high gained distortion tones. As such you may wish to use a graphic EQ pedal to boost or cut particular frequencies in your guitars signal, followed by a noise gate or suppressor to stop any unwanted feedback from occurring.
What About Modulation & Time Effects?
The next group of pedals to be added are modulation effects such as chorus, phaser, flanger and tremolo, as they interact nicely with both clean or distorted guitar tones. All of these essentially work on the same principle of doubling up your guitar’s signal with the second signal being altered with a very short delay time. The leads us onto our next and final group of pedals, which are time based effects such as delay and reverb. These usually go at the end to sound more subtle and realistic. As John demonstrates, while not common on every gigging board if you’re using a looper pedal, this goes at the very end to allow you to sample your fully effect signal.
What If I like My Amp’s Distortion?
For many players, no distortion pedal can truly match the sound of real valve amplifier, even the mighty Ibanez Tubescreamer isn’t quite the same as your favourite collection of glass! This brings with it a new complication of incorporating your amp’s distortion into the signal chain, but if your amp has an effects loop then you’re in luck! As John explains in the video, it’s best to look at your amplifier as two sections; your preamp and your power amp. Whilst you would normally plug your guitar into your series of pedals and then into the amplifier’s input, an effects loop allows you to go between the preamp and poweramp. Whether your whole pedal board or part of it goes into this effects loop depends on your set up. The amplifier’s preamp is the section of the amp which creates the overdrive, so it’s best to treat this in the same way you would a distortion pedal. If your distortion would normally be at the very start of your effects chain (excluding tuners), then feel free to plug your guitar directly into your amp and place your whole board into your effects loop. If you have wah’s, octave or compressors before your distortion however, you will want to split your board in two, with before & after preamp sections. Be wary however as depending on how you power your pedals you may experience ground loop hum, but we’ll explain that another day.
Ultimately there are no hard and fast rules for effects pedals, and even the most common place once are there to be broken. By breaking these rules in the truest of rock n’ roll spirit, many players find that they can unlock new and quirky sounds to make them stand out from the crowd. For instance, Slash from Guns N’ Roses famously put his delay pedal straight into the input of his amplifier rather than the effects loop to create the iconic intro to Welcome To The Jungle. And what sonic architects like Matt Bellemy of Muse and Mike Kerr of Royal Blood do with their multitude of effects is simply anyone’s guess! It’s also worth bearing in mind that different amps react differently to different pedal combinations, so what works for a Fender Pro Junior might not suite a Blackstar HT-5RS or Peavey 6505. The key thing is to experiment and find sounds and guitar tones that you enjoy hearing when you play, and hopefully others will too!