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Pedal order - a guide

Discussion in 'Effects [BG]' started by BillMason, Aug 10, 2018.

  1. BillMason

    BillMason Supporting Member

    Mar 6, 2007
    This question comes up reasonably often enough, here on TB as well as in my own thoughts, so as far as my research has led me to understand, it boils down to understanding gain stages, and which pedals represent a gain stage. Bear in mind I’ve been playing for a long time but am a novice when it comes to effects.

    Do I have this right? The way I understand it is that the order in which things appear in an amplifier. First, there’s the whole pre-amp section, which includes Gain (overdrive), bass/mids/treble, maybe a contour knob of some kind or a vintage EQ knob, then an effects loop for modulation effects, maybe a tuner loop, maybe a built in reverb for guitar amps, then the power amp stage (Master volume).

    Except for modulation effects like chorus, reverb, delay, etc, most other effects are based on boosting or cutting parts of the signal. Boosting or cutting the signal is controlling gain, so these pedals are gain stages. The order in which you place them is *typically* similar to the order in which those same gain stages would appear in your amp, so overdrive, EQ/compression, modulation. But it really depends on what gain stage you want to send into overdrive and with what frequency ranges.

    So your pedals may consist of a 7-band EQ, a fuzz, an auto wah or envelope filter, an OD, an octaver, and a preamp-style pedal an Ampeg Classic or a VT Bass, a compressor, and a chorus. The *typical* order *I think* would be auto wah, octaver, fuzz, OD, EQ, compressor, preamp, your amp’s preamp, then the chorus. In this order, the wah and octaver are just getting the clean signal so they’re not messed up, then the fuzz drives the OD gain stage, the OD signal is cleaned up by the EQ, the whole thing is managed by the compressor, then into your amp. Your amp then introduces its own gain/OD (depending on how hard you’ve now boosted your signal going into it) and it’s own EQ and whatever voicing it naturally has.

    However, understanding that several of these are gain stages and therefore boost or cut signal at different frequencies helps you understand where a tone problem resides, how to fix it, and how to mix up the order of your pedals to get gain at different stages. So you could use your EQ pedal to drive a more bottom heavy signal into your overdrive pedal, or place your fuzz last so it is being overdriven by the gain stages before it, and you can also skip your amp’s entire gain/EQ stage by plugging into your amp’s effects return input.

    Just want to validate my understand with the experts here, and if I have it correct, maybe this explanation will help future searchers.
    4StringAxe likes this.
  2. Beheroth


    Aug 26, 2016
    only if you set the fuzz as a boost, using it "conservatively" aka at unity volume will not drive the od harder.
    BillMason likes this.
  3. Alien8


    Jan 29, 2014
    There are no rules, no definative way to define this. A starting place is:

    pitch detection -> fuzz / dirt -> filter / phase -> dirt /fuzz -> chorus / flange / delay / verb

    From there you decide which order sounds the best for your use, and where to put a compressor. There is no forced correct way, and because each effect does some frequency boosting / cutting you should always experiment to find the fantastic combinations. Multiple effects are a support team, they work together.

    Units like the Boss ES-5 and 8 have opened the doors to letting you ignore pedal order for a good reason!
  4. BillMason

    BillMason Supporting Member

    Mar 6, 2007
    Yep, that's why I was stressing the word "typical" - I was really wondering if I understand the application of pedals as gain stages correctly, and it sounds like I do. Thanks!
  5. BillMason

    BillMason Supporting Member

    Mar 6, 2007
    That's a really good point that I skipped over. At unity gain, you're really just changing the shape of the wave form, not the amplitude, so there's no gain in the signal as it goes into the next stage.
  6. Lammchop93

    Lammchop93 Supporting Member

    Feb 4, 2007
    Louisville, KY
    That's a good general rule, but sometimes pedals just work together best in a certain way. I have my board running like:

    Tuner, octave, fuzz, OD, compressor, OD/EQ, wah, chorus, noise gate, delay/reverb.

    The octave sounds much better at the front. Rather than the fuzz trying to distort all of the sounds it generates .
    Al Krow and Aqualung60 like this.
  7. 4StringAxe


    Jul 27, 2009
    I would think after everything except delay and reverb.
  8. _sky_


    Jan 8, 2012
    I´m bulding a pedalboard. The order I am thinking in placing the pedals is:

    Tunner->Digitech Synth Bass Wah->Fuzz->Joyo American Sound->Mooer Tender Octaver->Chorus->Delay

    Do I have it covered? Any sugestions would be great. Cheers
  9. 4StringAxe


    Jul 27, 2009
    Is the octaver digital or analog?
    Either way, I would put it right after the tuner.
    The rest seems AoK to me.
    Al Krow, xnewyorka and _sky_ like this.
  10. _sky_


    Jan 8, 2012
    Digital. Ok, I will put right after the tuner. Tks for the advice
    4StringAxe likes this.
  11. 4StringAxe


    Jul 27, 2009
    I know analog, like the OC2, should be early as possible in the chain.
    Not sure about polyphonic. But early can't hurt. If I'm wrong, someone will surely point it out . haha.
    Jam on, brother.
  12. Clark Dark

    Clark Dark

    Mar 3, 2005
    At 16:07 Doug displays his board. It may help someone trying to start their own PB project

    4StringAxe likes this.
  13. The short version is that each effect does something to the signal before it. The real key is understanding what that thing is. An envelope filter is basically an eq curve that responds to how heavy your signal is. An octave pedal detects frequencies and halves them. An overdrive or fuzz clips the signal in a certain fashion. A chorus is essentially a signal doubler with a slight delay.

    When you figure out how that all works it then makes sense that a high gain fuzz or OD can kill a lot of effects if it's placed after them. It makes sense that a chorus placed before an octave pedal wont create as strong of n ambient effect as if it's put after.

    That's my recommendation, really LEARN what the effect does, learn what that sounds like, then your experiments should start yeilding more predictable results.
    Wasnex, Adienn7 and 4StringAxe like this.
  14. Adienn7


    Jan 26, 2007
    If it help.. when done.. My order is whammy. oc-2. Power Wah, g lab bass wowwee wah, seemoon clone, mutron clone, dod fx25, Digitech synth wah, Ibanez bass synthesizer . mxr phase95. Fealabs optfet comp. Growler. Proton fuzz 2. Bluebeard, bassweet, funeral fuzz, thin man overdrive, Bedlam odIII., mdb-1, Taurus, veechor, bf2, gigfx midi chop, tube trem, boss lm-2, isp gate, whirlwind eq, bass space charger pre, boss dd-3, Yamaha Ne-1. just for home play.. but gives you some ideas.. gain structure is weird, but I do a gain boost at different points.. to deal with sound loss.. the trick is I'm using a true bypass strip.. for part of my board. to cut out some of the length of cable.
    4StringAxe likes this.
  15. BryanB

    BryanB Moderator Staff Member Supporting Member

    I think this thread is a great idea. I believe that there is no rules about effect order, but having somewhere to start for the complete novice is a good thing. Here are my thoughts:

    Before starting into effects, here are a few things I recommend you have sorted out:
    1. Be generally happy with your tone with no effects.
    2. Learn how to gain stage properly. This means using the pre-amp gain level set to get the best sound out of your amp. There have been so many times were my bass sounded dull and lifeless because I did not have the gain set properly. Be prepare to adjust your gain staging to accomadate your effects.
    3. Get comfortable with your eq. I find that I have to make eq adjustments when using effects. Often times this means less bass and more mids to add clarity and definition to the effected sound.
    The effects chain:
    1. Tuner -- I like this first because it works better with a clean signal. I don't have to disengage effects that may interfere with tuning.
    2. Buffer -- I find a really good clean buffer with high headroom essential for passive instruments. Most modern effects, including fuzz, octavers, etc., work fine with a buffer before them. Really vintage stuff may not work so well after the buffer. If you always play active basses, you can skip this.
    3. Octaver, synth, other signal source generators -- I think of these a signal sources like my bass.
    4. Distortion (o/d, fuzz) -- If you have more than one dirt pedal, take the time to try different orders. You would be surprised how much difference order can make.
    5. Filter effects -- this can be really tricky. Filter effects can benefit from the added harmonics from a little dirty boost from your o/d. Putting a fuzz in front can create awesome synth bass sounds. On the other hand, distortion kills dynamics, which is an essential part of the sound of some filter pedals, like the envelope follower filter. Here, experimenting with the order of filters and dirt really pays off.
    6. Compression -- guitar players tend to put these before distortion. I think it sounds better after the dynamic effects with bass. Compression generally improves the signal going into modulation and spatial effects. So put it before those.
    7. Modulation (chorus, flanger, phaser) -- I really prefer putting these after dirt. Some guitar players like phaser before dirt. I think it works great on guitar, but not so well with the bass. In general, bass needs a more effect-y sounding modulation in the mix than guitar. It's just how modulation works with lower frequencies. Watch out for perceived volume drops with these effects. These effects also benefit a lot from a little dirt before them. Dirt emphasizes the upper harmonics, (makes the bass sound brighter). That brings out the modulation sound more.
    8. Spacial effects (delay, reverb) -- Less common on bass, but many have found great uses for them in certain circumstances, including me.
  16. BillMason

    BillMason Supporting Member

    Mar 6, 2007
    This is really helpful, thank you!
  17. How I operate my "basic rig" at the pedal-board-

    Compressor(s) with A/B switching
    Distortion (fuzz, overdrive, etc.)

    All that feeds-

    Note that the "preamp/amp" come in last place on the pedal-board.

    I try to keep my tone kind of old school (akin to using a big old tube amp head rather than separates with an effects loop).

    So logically, the preamp ends up at, well, the end...
  18. TNCreature

    TNCreature Jinkies!

    Jan 25, 2010
    Philadelphia Burbs
    In this scenario, where would you place a SansAmp? (I am not married to this lineup, but would appreciate your input)
    Currently my setup is: Tuner -> Boss DS-1 Distortion -> SansAmp Programmable -> MXR Octave -> Tech 21 Boost Chorus.
  19. higain617


    Sep 12, 2013
    This is how I would arrange a guitar board without using the effects loop. I would arrange the same for bass. Always stick the modulation pedals towards the end unless you're deliberately trying to create an effect.

    wah > tuner > OD > fuzz/distortion > phaser > chorus > delay > reverb
  20. 4StringAxe


    Jul 27, 2009
    Preamp / DI at the end for me.
    That way all effects go through that like they would an amp head/ combo.
    I don't use the effects loop in the amp.
    Not for pedals anyway.
    But some do and it works just fine (for some folks).
    knumbskull and TNCreature like this.

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