Original post by Rusty:

I have a Boss tremelo, flanger, MT2 metal zone, DD3 Delay, super chorus, a vox wah and a volume booster(which I know goes at the end of the chain). Which is the best order for these? I heard the order does matter so I'm curious...

Serious_Poo:

This post is for Hans, Rusty, and anyone else who likes to geek out on this stuff as much as I do.

Here's a quick explaination as to what some effects do, and a logical order that they are typically placed in. There are at least a million different ways to do this and this is by no means the only way, but it does follow a certain logic, which is explained below.

I think it's really helpful to think about what effects you're going to use and how you plan to use them. That will really help you to decide the optimal order to put them in. Also, the effects you may choose to use will differ depending on the type of amp you have. Take clean boost pedals, for example. Tube preamp sections are much more forgiving when it comes to input signal strength than solid state amps. Tube amps will distort more when their preamp tubes are overloaded, while solid state amps may either (a) sound like a farting ostrich, (b) die on you, or (c) sound like a farting ostrich THEN die on you... Hence, a Clean Boost pedal really isn't the optimal way to go for most solid state amps. Um, unless you're really into large ugly birds with gastro-intestinal disorders.

OK, back to pedals. First off, if you don't already have a good understanding of what each type of effect does you might want to read up HERE.

Personally, I find it helpful to think of effects pedals as being in the following categories:

  • Preamp-type effects
  • Noise Gates
  • Volume-based effects (Slow)
  • Time-based effects
  • Volume-based effects (Fast)
  • Post-production effects

Preamp-type effects. These pedals establish your basic sound, and include Compressors, Clean Boosts (if you have a tube amp), Overdrives, Distortions, Fuzzes, and Preamp modeling pedals. They're usually placed in order of the amount of harmonic distortion they are introducing into your signal (e.g., Boost before Overdrive before Distortion before Fuzz). This is HIGHLY subjective, though, as some fuzzes sound better before distortion pedals and vice versa. Some people like to have an EQ pedal here as well. If you consider that a Wah pedal is merely an EQ filter pedal, you can see that they usually fall in this category as well. Whether you use it before or after your preamp pedals is really a matter of personal taste. IIRC, early non-master volume tube amps had their tone circuits before the amp's preamp section, while many newer master volume tube amps and nearly all solid state amps have post preamp EQ sections these days.

Noise Gates. These pedals act as noise filters to limit the amount of line noise, static, or hum you've created up to this point from getting to your amp. They're especially helpful when you're playing heavy metal with a Strat and a cheap cable under florescent lights. ;-)

Volume-based effects (Slow). Lots of people like to put volume pedals before their delays and other time based effects. This allows them to have cool fade-outs and smooth violin-like sounds when they play. Volume pedals tend to sound really good here. Some people like to put their volume pedals before anything else in the chain, but I find that hum, static and line noise brought about by the preamp pedals can still make it's way to the amplifier that way. Also, if volume changes occur too fast at this part of the signal chain, it can create a lot of sonic clutter - especially if you're using a lot of other effects down the audio chain. That's why Tremelos generally don't sound too good early on in the chain.

Time-based effects. These effects are typically added to add width, depth, and length to your basic sound. They typically sound more natural AFTER a distorted guitar signal, which is why a lot of players prefer to put these types of effects in the effects loops of their amps - after the preamp circuits. Also, it sound most natural to have shorter delay times followed by longer delay times followed by the most ambient effect of all - reverb. Typically, this means Flanger (1-10ms), Chorus (20-30ms), Phaser (>50ms sweeps), Delay (>50ms), and then Reverb last. That said, these are definately not hard & fast rules - just ask The Edge.

Volume-based effects (Fast). Tremelo is a great volume-based effect, but it often moves so fast it blurs your sound if it comes before your delays & reverbs. Many people find that using it after their time-based effects allows it to sound better.

Post-Production effects. If you still need to tweek your sound, an EQ pedal can help here a lot. A Parametric EQ can be used to remove 60 Cycle hum, for example, while a Graphic EQ can be used to add low end to your final tone. A clean boost can work here as well but will serve a completely different purpose than the one in the preamp section of your chain. Here a small volume boost can be used to make up for the signal loss associated with the large amount of cable you've probably used to route through all of your pedals.

Using the above logic, one way to arrange pedals might be like this:

Guitar > Compressor > Wah > EQ > Clean Boost > Overdrive > Distortion > Fuzz > Noise Gate > Volume Pedal > Flanger > Chorus > Phaser > Short Delay > Long Delay > Reverb > Tremelo > EQ (if still needed) > Clean Boost (on a very modest setting) > Amp.

Hope that helps!