Everything you know about pedal order is wrong

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Clickbait headline aside, there have been certain “rules” about the order in which effect pedals are chained. Still, as we shall see, they beg to be broken. Often, the first question newbies to the world of stompboxes ask is, “What is the best order for a pedal signal chain?” — or, words to that, um, effect. There is a good place to start: Germanium fuzz first, as it needs to see an unfiltered guitar signal in order to respond properly to changes in the guitar volume knob. Next, any evelope filters, as they too respond best to the dynamics of a pure guitar signal (The fuzz would still come first but you probably wouldn’t use them together). A wah pedal would follow, as some germainum effects oscillate when a wah is sent into the input. From there, the typical order would be compressor (so as not to add noise after overdrives), boost, overdrive and/or distortion, modulation (chorus, flange, tremolo), volume pedal, delay, and finally reverb.

When it comes to putting the pedal to the metal, why not put the metal to the pedal?

When it comes to putting the pedal to the metal, why not put the metal to the pedal?

However, anyone truly familiar with pedal use will then add the caveat that there are really no rules when it comes to pedal order. It comes down to what sounds good to you. Consider, for example, placing delay and reverb at the end of the chain in that order. I followed this “rule” for years and it has its charms. Placed there, the amount of perceived ambience remains constant, whether I am sending a clean or pedal-distorted signal through them. It is only recently that I realized that one key to Daniel Lanois’ evocative ambience is that he sends his Korg digital delay into an overdriven amp. Moreover, he uses the preamp of the delay to help drive said amp. Steven Wilson (Porcupine Tree) has also gone on record as prefering his delays before the drive of his amplifier. As I like the sound of both signal chain orders, I set up my pedalboard with the choice of a slap or long delay going from my Eventide H9 into my Jetter Jetdrive, and the same two delay options after the dirt, courtesy of my Source Audio Nemesis Delay. For even further My Bloody Valentine-style murk, try putting the reverb before the distortion. Just be aware that when you back off your guitar volume to clean up the sound, the amount of delay or reverb you hear will decrease.

Wah pedals will create two different effects when placed before or after dirt pedals. Before, the changing frequencies will drive the overdrive or distortion differently as you rock the pedal, whereas post dirt, the wah acts more like a synth filter. More adventurous guitarists might even find that they like the oscillation created when running the wah into a germanium fuzz.

I ran my tremolo pedal into my delays and reverbs, until I started playing through two amps with great sounding tremolo built in: a Supro Comet and a 1966 Fender Bandmaster. Hearing the tremolo post ambience was a revelation. While the wavering amplitude of the pedal might get lost in a long delay or large hall setting on the reverb, having it post modified the entire signal path, ambience included, creating a much more prominent tremolo effect. By keeping my tremolo pedal on my board before the delay and reverb and also having the on/off switch for the amp tremolo at my feet, I retain the option of two different modulation effects available.

You should be getting the picture by now; there is no “best” pedal order. Placing a clean boost before an overdrive pedal will increase the drive without raising the volume much, whereas placing it after the drive will raise the volume without increasing the distortion. Feel free to start with the “standard” order, but don’t be afraid to ignore me and run that fuzz into an envelope filter and see what happens.