As a guitarist, one of the most satisfying journeys you can embark upon is the endless possibilities of sounds you can create using just a guitar and some effects pedals. The only problem associated with this journey is the steep learning curve.
Do not worry though. Today, we will break everything down so that you can have a clear picture of the path that you need to follow. This is not just a how-to guide but is a collection of pointers you can follow to master the art of chaining guitar pedals.
There is no hard and fast rule
Music is all about expression. So, you should not limit yourself by setting any boundaries. The most important thing to understand is how sound is generated and modified in a guitar and effects pedal setup and how you can play around with the setup to use it to your advantage.
Remember that before Jimi Hendrix came along, feedback was a big no-no when it came to musicians and sound engineers. However, Jimi Hendrix turned this so-called flaw of sound processing to his advantage and the fact that he is held in high regard even today is a testament to how good his sound was.
The point we are trying to make here is that you have to be the judge of which sounds you can use to your advantage and which ones you need to avoid. Some of the basics of guitar effects pedals:
Noise and level of control
For the purpose of this point, we will divide the effects pedals into two major groups. The first group includes effects pedals that amplify the sound. Examples of this would be a gain pedal or an overdrive pedal. Such pedals should generally be used towards the beginning of your setup. There are a couple of very good reasons behind this.
The first is noise. Noise is any unwanted sound and in case of our chain of the effects pedals, this noise is usually in the form of a hiss or buzz. It doesn’t matter how high-end the pedals are, they will all generate some amount of noise.
Most modern effects pedals are however designed to generate a very low amount of noise that can only be heard if you really focus on them. This noise, however, can become very audible if it is amplified. So, if you put a lot of pedals before pedals like high gain pedals, distortion pedals, wahs, EQ pedals, and compressors. Whatever noise is generated will get amplified and that will lead to a sound that is not very pleasing to listen to.
So, if there is an ungodly amount of noise in your setup, simply putting the pedals we mentioned before the other pedals will help a lot with the noise.
The second is control. As you mature as a guitarist, you will find the need to have great control over your sound. Again if pedals that amplify the sound are placed later in the chain, any small adjustment you do on a pedal in the beginning of the chain will produce a massive change in the sound that is finally being produced.
You will be robbed of the option to make fine adjustments to the sound. The general guideline you can follow here is again to place the pedals that amplify the sound at the start and move on to the other pedals in a way that the ones that you want to have the greatest control over is connected as late as possible in the chain.
For example, if you are want to make fine adjustments to the amount of reverb, it is best to put it towards the end of the chain.
Pedals that produce amplification and must come towards the beginning are: Gain, distortion, compressor, EQ, Wahs
Pedals that can be put towards the end: Sound modulators, ambience pedals
This is another important facet of your sound. To make it simple, think about the basic difference between a typical David Gilmour soundtrack and an Eddie Van Halen soundtrack. The difference is in the tone and the pedals that generate the specific tone of your sound should be connected towards the beginning.
A general idea on how to chain your guitar effects pedals
Since there are many different types of pedals and brands out there, it will be impossible to give a guideline that would cover them all. It would also defeat the point we made earlier about not restricting your creativity.
However, what we can do is give you a general idea on how you can go about connecting the pedals while giving you plenty of room to experiment with the sound. This plan for chaining the guitar effects pedal starts from your guitar and goes on to the final output going into the mixer or amplifier.
1.) Begin with the tuner pedal
The tuner requires the cleanest sound you can provide and hence if you are using one it should be the first pedal connected to the guitar.
2.) Move on to your tone generators
These are the pedals that will govern the basic sound of your guitar. These pedals include Wah pedals, simulators, octave pedals, and other similar pedals that control the tone that is generated.
3.) Then comes the distortion pedals
These could be overdrive or compression pedals. They modify the tone that you generated from the tone generating pedals. This will give you a greater flexibility and control over the different aspects of the tone that is generated.
4.) Equalizers are next
Any type of equalizer or pedal that helps you control the bass, mids, and highs of your sound should come next. This will help you to add more punch or take out some of the shrillness depending on the type of sound you are going for.
5.) Noise reduction pedals should come in next
All the major noise producing pedals have been connected by this point and this is the perfect point to connect noise suppressing pedals to remove any unwanted hiss or buzz that is present. Even though the remaining pedals will introduce noise to a certain degree, it will be barely noticeable.
6.) Follow these up with the tone modulators
Pedals such as Flangers come under this category and they should follow the noise suppressors.
7.) Finally, connect the ambiance pedals
This is where pedals such as reverb and delay come in. Ensure that the delay goes before the other ambiance effects.
Any looper or recorders should come after all these pedals as they do not modify the sound in any way. So, there you have it. If you can get comfortable with understanding which category a particular pedal falls under, it will become a lot easier to figure out where it will go in the chain.
The blueprint that you need to follow is Guitar – Tuner – Tone Generators – Equalizers – Noise suppressors – Modulators – Ambience Pedals – Loopers – Final Output
Following this blueprint will allow you to have the greatest control over the sound you produce while keeping the noise to a minimum. Hope this has been of help to you. We wish you a great time in the mesmerizing world of guitar effects pedals.