Playing guitar is really rewarding, both in terms of music and just the feeling of accomplishment. You are creating a sound using an instrument, that’s a feeling that every musician understands.
However, electric guitars are pretty much limited in their natural form. Without an amp they sound dry and just too mild. Once you add an amp, you are already entering a whole different ball game.
Now you can experience the full sonic properties of your guitar and pickups, all while experimenting with different sounds and harmonics. At this stage you are exploring cleans and overdrives that come with the amp.
The next step in this evolution is to introduce effects pedals. If you were impressed with how your guitar sounds just plugged in to an amp, you will experience a full sensory overload once you insert effects pedals into the equation. They serve all kinds of purposes, and when you combine a certain number into an effects chain order, you are effectively creating a tone multiplier that is hard to beat.
What purpose do different pedals serve?
Guitar effects pedals are generally divided into several large categories. You have overdrives/distortions, modulation pedals, and temporal pedals, and more. Overdrives mimic the effect which you get when you push the gain on a tube amp very high, and come in all kinds of flavors.
Distortion pedals are designed to give you a lot more gain and saturation compared to overdrives. These pedals are mostly used in metal music as they have great properties for that heavier sound.
Modulation pedals are used to shape the signal of the guitar and achieve different effects. For example a chorus pedal will multiply the signal a slow down the iterations slightly compared to one another. The effect you get is that of multiple guitars playing the same section in unison. Other modulation pedals include flangers, phasers and similar.
Temporal effects come in form of reverbs and delays. Effects that add echo, or affect the timing of the signal fall within this category. Other than these three large groups, you also have compressors, wah pedals, tuners, and many more.
How many effect pedals you will have in your chain depends mostly on what you need to achieve in terms of sound. Do you require a lot of signal shaping, or is a distortion pedal and a compressor all it takes to achieve your intended results? There is definitely no single answer to this question.
With hundreds of different pedals out there, each with its own character, it’s impossible to make a single universal blueprint for a guitar effects chain order.
With that said, there are some recommendations that you should follow when creating your effects chain. Overdrives and distortions are generally placed as close to the signal origin as possible.
The reason for this is that they amplify the signal that goes into them. If you place them somewhere near the end of the chain, they will amplify the effect of every pedal that comes before them. This leads to a lot of noise being generated and amplified. Other pedals that should be treated the same way are compressors, wahs and equalizers.
If you have a tuner, you want the signal going into that pedal to be as clean as possible. This means that tuners generally go first in the chain. They need an unaltered signal in order to show you exact tuning of the guitar. Modulation pedals generally go after the distortion or overdrive. These pedals change the signal significantly, and you want them to change the whole tone that you’ve created, not just the original signal coming from the guitar.
Temporal effects are commonly placed at the end of a chain as they duplicate the signal. The best results are achieved when you have a completely shaped tone being fed into temporal modulation pedals, allowing them to multiply the end product.
Figuring out a good effects chain order takes a lot of experimentation. It’s something you have to solve on your own as only you know what kind of sound works best for your intended purpose. The guidelines we showed you in this article are not absolutes. You can change things around if that fits your goals. However they are a good place to start.