There is a major ongoing debate between guitarists on what order pedals should go in. Should overdrive go before a phaser? Or should a wah pedal be placed before distortion? While certain pedal placements can generally be up to the musician, there are some universal rules on what order your different effects pedals should go in for the best results and maintain a clear and consistent sound.
There is no exact science, and guitarists can and should experiment with this order to find different tones, but this is my breakdown of what order your effects pedals should go in.
Basic rules for effect pedal placement
- Volume pedals should be placed at either the beginning of the sequence to control the input volume or at the end to control the affected output volume.
- Filter pedals such as wah should go early in the sequence.
- Delay, reverb, and echo should be placed near the end of the signal path.
- Chorus, phasers, and other modulation pedals should be placed in the middle of the sequence.
- Tuner pedals should always be placed first in the pedal chain.
What order should your pedals go in?
There is no rulebook that says you HAVE to place your pedals this way. However, I find that following this format tends to yield good results and keeps your effects and guitar sounding as clear as possible.
Your tuner pedal should always go first in the pedal sequence. Otherwise, the tone will not be as clear, and you may not get the most accurate reading from the tuner. So, ensure that your guitar is plugged directly into the tuner.
Volume pedals can either be placed at the end or the beginning of the pedal sequence. You can choose whether you want to control the volume of the fully affected sound or the volume of the clean sound before it passes through the effects pedals.
I recommend placing your compression pedal early on in the chain, so if you have a tuner pedal, it should be the next one in line. Compression pedals are designed to compress the clean tone of the guitar and not the affected tone from other effects. So, it makes the most sense to place compression early on.
Wah Wah pedals are a type of filter pedal that changes the EQ balance as you push the pedal up and down. Wah Wah pedals should go near the beginning of your pedalboard sequence, but they can be placed after compression and volume.
Overdrive, distortion and fuzz are different types of pedals that have essentially the same effect with different intensities. These pedals are often referred to as “gain pedals”, because they add gain and sustain to your sound. Gain pedals should be placed somewhere in the middle of your pedalboard chain. Before modulation and time-based effects like reverb, but after compression, volume, and filter effects.
A noise gate pedal is an effect that cancels out unwanted humming or feedback in your rig. They are most commonly used by guitarists with single coil pickups because, unlike humbuckers, these pickups produce a lot of unwanted noise. These pedals can theoretically be placed anywhere on your signal chain but should ideally be placed where the unwanted noise is the most prevalent. However, ensure that the noise gate is put before time-based effects such as reverb and delay, as it will sometimes perceive these effects as unwanted sounds.
Phaser, flanger, chorus, and vibrato/tremolo pedals are all modulation effects. It is generally best to place these pedals near the end of your pedalboard so that most effects in the chain are modulated.
Delay and reverb are time-based effects that play back a copy of your guitar notes after you play. Most guitarists place their reverb and delay pedals at the end of the pedal chain, especially after distortion. Placing a delay or reverb pedal before the distortion pedal would result in a muddy sound since the echo would get distorted after playing back rather than the distorted sound being echoed.
Loop pedals are a slightly different kind of pedal that doesn’t actually change the sound of your guitar but instead record segments of your playing and allow you to replay the recorded sound back. If you plan to use a loop pedal on your pedal chain, it should always be placed at the very end of the sequence so that every effect can pass through the loop pedal.
They are a bit more complicated to use than other pedals, so read my guide on how to use a loop pedal for an in-depth walkthrough.
Why does pedal order matter?
When you have multiple pedals in your pedal sequence, the sound is processed again each time it passes through a new pedal. Therefore, if you place certain pedals in the wrong order, your sound will not sound clear, and the effects will not have the result you may hope for. This is why it is important to understand pedal order and where each effect should sit in your effects chain.
Once you understand the right order for pedals to go in, you can start experimenting with the order and mix it up to find new unique sounds.
Unorthodox pedal placement
Just because there are some agreed-upon rules on how guitarist should arrange their effects pedals doesn’t mean that you can’t experiment! Many musicians, myself included, play around with the order of the effects to get a different sound.
One of the most popular unorthodox pedal arrangement examples is placing your wah pedal after a distortion or fuzz pedal. You’ll get a much fatter, wavy sound than when the way pedal is placed before the distortion.
Another example is distortion after the reverb. While typically, reverb is placed at the end of the pedal chain, some guitarists will place the reverb pedal before the distortion pedal to get a grittier-sounding reverb.
The order your pedals go in is important to ensure that you get the best and clearest sound from your guitar and effects. By placing your effect pedals in the above order, you will get the most out of them without muddying up the sound.
If you have any questions about effect pedals or anything else related to your musical career, feel free to reach out, I am always happy to help!
Want to learn more about the different effects pedals and how to use them? Check out my ultimate guide to effects pedals that covers everything you’ll need to know.