How To Chain Your Guitar Effects Pedals – Part 1
Rule Number 1 — There are No Rules
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So you decided to play electric guitar. Once you get a guitar and an amp, the next step is to explore effects. Effects pedals can be separated into groups based on their functions. Understanding the different pedal groups is the key to getting the best sound when chaining them together. The largest pedal group is probably overdrives and distortions, and BOSS currently makes 16 different pedals in this category. For our example pedal board, we’ll pick the ST-2 Power Stack. Another category with many choices is modulation.These are effects like flanger, phaser, chorus, tremolo, and others. Let’s use the most versatile of these—the BF-3 Flanger. Another group is ambience effects, such as delays and reverbs. We’ll use one of each: a DD-7 Digital Delay and the FRV-1 ’63 Fender Reverb. There are some pedal effects that can add notes or alter the pitch of what you’re playing. For want of a more esoteric name, we’ll call these “pitch-altering” pedals. From this category, let’s throw in a BOSS OC-3 Octave. BOSS also has a few pedals that make your instrument sound like some other instrument. The AC-3 Acoustic Simulator will do the job. Some effects change your sound with filtering. This effect type can be used in different places in the signal path, so we’ll use the GE-7 Graphic EQ. A few BOSS effects defy categorization, but are nevertheless very useful in any signal path. The most common of these is the CS-3 Compression/Sustainer. Loopers fall into this category also, so let’s add an RC-3 Loop Station to the mix. And you might want the NS-2 Noise Suppressor to kill the noise in your rig, so let’s add that in, too. What about a tuner? The TU-3 is the most popular pedal tuner in the world.
So, where does each pedal go in the signal path? Here are some tips to keep in mind before you start plugging pedals together:
How to Chain Your Guitar Effects Pedals – Part 2
Rule 1—There are no rules. The sound you’re after might not be made by what we could call the appropriate or logical signal path, but that’s not always the issue. The issue is this: what does it sound like? If it makes the sound you’re after, then it’s right…although, you may have to do something about the noise. Traditional pedal board arrangements were designed for certain reasons, and keeping the noise down is one biggie. Following the principles of how sound is made in physical space is another (see Rule 4 coming up). But the final choice is yours. As a very wise man said: if it works, don’t fix it.
Rule 2—Some pedal types work better in certain parts of the signal path than in others. Octave pedals or tuners, for example, don’t work as well with a distorted signal as with an undistorted signal, so they should be placed before the distortion.
Rule 3—Noise can be a problem, particularly with high-gain distortion sounds. Pedals that can add volume—such as compressors, wahs, EQs, and overdrive/distortions—will also amplify any noise created by the effects placed before them.
Rule 4—Taking sound-making devices like stompbox pedals out of the equation, there’s an order to the way sounds naturally occur in physical space. For example, guitar amp distortion is made in physical space by turning an amp up enough to cause its circuits to overload, and any echo you might hear happens after the distorted sound hits walls or ceilings and bounces back to your ears. Therefore, logic says that your reverb and/or delay pedals should be last in the signal path, since that is how the sounds they produce actually occur in three-dimensional space.
In keeping with these rules—okay, they aren’t really rules, so let’s compromise and call them “guidelines”—here are some essential concepts for lining your pedals up:
- Pedals that amplify or add noise should go near the beginning of the signal path. This includes overdrive/distortion effects, compressors, and wah pedals. If they’re later in the signal path, they will amplify the noise of everything before them, which can be difficult to control.
- Pedals that produce tone go before things that modify tone. This is logical, because you want to create your basic sound first, then tweak it with some kind of modifying effect. For example, this means that overdrives go before chorus effects.
- Pedals that create ambience go last. This goes back to the “how does sound actually occur in physical space” idea. So, delay and reverb should go after all other effects.
We will continue this conversation soon. In the meantime, click on the image below to experience BOSS effects connected to each other.
October 2, 2013 @ 11:13 am
My signal chain is very classic and simple. Tuner, volume, wah, OD’s distortion, chorus, phase, delays. Powered by a One Spot daisy chain. Very simple.
David P. Makowski
August 31, 2013 @ 1:18 pm
I use an EBTECH HUM X. I plug my Fender ’62 Re-Issue Deluxe Reverb into the HUM X and then I plug the HUM X into the wall socket. It works great for me. For my pedals, I use a Visual Sound One Spot to power my large board with no issues and I have a Boss BCB-3 pedal board/case with OD-3, CH-1, DD-3, and a TU-2 next to the OD-3 on the floor since my BCB-3 is really old it came with a 4 pin daisy chain. I power that with a Boss PSA-120S AC Adapter also with no issues. I read about keeping your signal as clean as possible and cable lengths no longer than is necessary. I would try everything mentioned above and make sure you have good quality and proper length cables. BTW, if you research cables, you may find that more expensive doesn’t always mean better. Check out Pro-Co. They are also made in the USA. Good luck!
July 21, 2013 @ 2:05 pm
Hum in pedalboards is usually “ground loop hum.” You have two paths to ground, your audio ground and your power supply ground. You could use an expensive power supply with isolated grounds. But all you have to do is break one of the ground connections. You could disconnect the audio ground at one end of each of your patch cords. Or better, if you use one power supply, connect the hot and ground to only one of your pedals. Clip the ground wire on all the other pedal connections in your daisy chain. The power connections will then get their grounds through the audio grounds. No more hum
July 28, 2014 @ 7:26 am
Hello Steve…….my daisy chain cable is thin and all molded. How do find the ground to cut ? Are there actually 2 coated wires and are they color coded?
Help needed. I have a 1 spot and there is some noise but when I added a new effect the noise level jumped to unacceptable( actually created a tone ) . I had to put it on it’s own power source which of course defeated the purpose of the 1 spot. I hate using AC adapters almost as much as batteries. Help
July 30, 2014 @ 8:27 am
Cut all grounds on Power adapter patch cable except the first connector. No signal. Cut all grounds. NO signal. The ground cutting thing is not working on the power source patch cable end of things.
Don’t know about cutting the grounds from effect patch cords. Will not try that.
There is one effect causing my troubles. Yes, isolating the effect solves the problem but makes me carry around another AC adapter. Sucks
June 7, 2013 @ 9:10 pm
Follow this steps:
1. Check EACH and EVERY Power supply.(Compare with a battery if possible)
2. Try to use Powerboxes rather than Daisy Chain
3. Improve Your Patch Cables.
4. Check if any One of the pedal do this problem. (The Boss ML-2 and the EHX Metal Muff are world renowned noise creators.)
#If U find one…..try to use a battery on that.
5. If that does not help, Get a Noise Gate. (I use a MXR Noise Clamp: It’s quite good.)
How To Chain Your Guitar Effects Pedals – Part 2 | Music Industry Buzz
March 20, 2013 @ 8:00 pm
[…] discussed in Part 1, the first rule in connecting guitar effects: there are no rules. There are, however, some good […]
BOSS Showcases at SXSW | Music Industry Buzz
March 18, 2013 @ 7:39 pm
[…] How to Chain Your Guitar Effects Pedals […]
March 13, 2013 @ 1:18 pm
The noise out of my chain drives me nuts. I want it when I want it, not when all is shut off. I am running a Clapton Signature Strat with humless pickups into my Blues Deluxe. No effects and it is quiet as the dead of night. Plug in the effects (All Boss BTW) and it just starts humming. I have been playing with it and cant seem to isolate the culprit (s)… Frustrating.
July 20, 2013 @ 10:15 am
Get an NS-2 in the mix.
July 20, 2013 @ 11:24 am
Use a noise suppressor or a noise gate. It might help. Properly what’s happening is that boss pedals buffer. There not all true bypass pedals. I wish there was an option to shut off/on the buffer. Oh well. Hope this helps.
July 22, 2013 @ 11:08 am
The buffers are not likely the cause of the hum/noise. The buffers in Boss pedals are not inherently noisy, although residual noise can add up the more pedals there are in the chain. The problem with Boss pedals is that when several are chained together, the signal drops a bit and dulls somewhat.
The noise he complains about is likely ground loop hum, caused by multiple paths to ground, very common in pedalboards and I explained earlier. I do believe it’s better to get rid of noise rather than use a noise suppressor. Get rid of the noise, and you have a quieter signal path. I do use noise supressors but only to deal with noisy pedals while they are on, such as a compressor/distortion I love that can be a little noisy.
March 7, 2013 @ 6:14 pm
Very informative – can you do a similar blog post for us bass players!
OV Valle [Roland US]
March 11, 2013 @ 10:13 am
In the queue.