Guitar pedalboards are set up to achieve a wide range of effects and sounds in the studio or onstage. Each setup is suited to the individual guitarists taste, and depending on their sound, some use more pedals than others.
If you’ve been playing for a while, chances are you have a couple stompboxes already, and know of a couple more you would love to get.
That said, there are some things you want to avoid doing, or be sure to pay attention to when determining the best order chain for guitar pedals on pedalboard arrangements and order to get the best possible sound.
The best order is really going to depend on your complete set up of pedals but here are some guidelines.
The Do’s and Don’ts
There’s no right way to set things up, but it’s a good idea to work from big, more often used effects in the signal chain to smaller ones. This starts with the effects that are dependent on your style of playing.
These are effects like a wah-wah pedal, envelope follower or a pitch shifter. These effects would have reduced performance by putting other effects pedals in front of them. If you are using a pitch shifter with an envelope filter, consider placing the pitch shifter in front of it to allow clean signal processing.
A distortion pedal can also go in the front of the signal chain, and is frequently put in front of a wah pedal for added distortion. The same applies for overdrive distortion combo pedals.
Next in the pedal hierarchy would be pedals for altering output levels. Fuzz pedals, vintage and treble boosting pedals all fall into this category.
Overall, your goal is to develop the tone you want to hear, or are known for playing, while minimizing feedback and noise.
So compressors go after harmonizer pedals, envelope followers and wah-wah pedals. However, a compressor pedal takes the whole signal and well, compresses it. So avoid putting it after pedals that are designed to generate noise, like an Octavia pedal.
Another tip is to keep distortion and overdrive pedals towards the front of the signal chain from low to high gain. This comes down to personal preference though.
If you’re using overdrive pedals and a compressor, it’s common practice to put your modulator effects after these. So any tremolo, vibrato, phase shifters, rotary or flanger pedals would fit into this category. Delay and reverb pedals also fit here.
Using flangers or phase shifters in front of distortion can create that jet-engine sound Eddie Van Halen is known for.
One more important “do” for modulator effects is to be sure they are plugged into the loop effects on the amp. All others can be plugged into the amp’s input.
In position 5 you want to place your volume pedal (keep out of the volume pedal in effects loop option) to keep the guitar signal consistent and allow you to play at full volume.
After this you can drop in reverb and delay pedal effects to allow those sounds to continue after the volume cuts out. Delay can come before reverb to avoid getting an unintended boost in the level of ambient effect when the gain is increased.
Examples from Famous Guitarists
As noted earlier, the best order for guitar pedals on pedalboard setups is highly dependent on the individual player. Here is how a couple of the best do it.
John Petrucci of Dream Theater has a lot of firepower in his amps, but his board has an often changing overdrive pedal, an Axe-FX II, a wah-wah pedal, volume pedal and Boss tuner pedal. This is just the abbreviated version as it would take several pages to talk about everything his pedal board setup can do.
James Valentine of Maroon 5 has a signal chain that goes from looper (check out our best looper pedal article here) to Octafuzz, wah pedal to overdrive, noise suppressor to buffer/splitter, Dunlop Rotovibe to Boss volume pedal. In total, he has three favorite overdrives, and loves to try new effects in every show.
Lead guitarist from Primus, Ler Lalonde has had a pretty consistent setup for years that helped create the bands unique sound. His signal chain doesn’t contain as many effects as some boards, but he adds some effects pedals for certain songs. In his signal chain there’s a Rotary Phaser, Vibrato pedal, analog delay, Ultimate Octave by Fulltone, and a custom Wah pedal.
For certain songs he also uses a chorus pedal, delay and OctaBass by EBS.
Bottom line, follow the basic setup rules above for your pedal order but don’t take it as gospel either. And add or subtract effects to as you develop your playing style.