Pedal and effects now have a frenzy of custom builders and garage crafters. New pedals are literally being introduced daily. This is quite fantastic because it adds a lot of options to sound scapes; however, if you are just starting to get a few pedals and are in the early phase of effects exploration, the choices can be overwhelming.
We are going to cover pedal order and layout in a general way as a starting place for your effects foundation and to cover the basics. Other sources will tell you, and I agree, that there is no ‘right way’ to order your pedals and set them up. In fact, visit a few other sites, such as The Pedalboard Planner Blog and the layout might be a little different than I am recommending, but the basic core effects will be covered. At the end of this article, I have also included a very informative pedal layout video created by our good friend, The Tone King.
I recommend that you use the “Basic Pedal Board Layout” diagram as a starting point only. After you have set up your effects, play and listen. After that, re-arrange your board, and then listen again. For example if the Wah is placed in position 2 and the distortion is switched to position 3, the Wah is working from a clean signal and the distortion from a Wah affected signal. All pedals act differently to the order of signal that they are being fed and that is why experimenting produces the best results.
Basic Layout Explained
Your guitar is the starting point for your signal. After it travels down your carefully selected “main lead”, the signal will then travel throughout your board. Each pedal will affect the tone as it passes through to the next one. At the very end, another instrument cable will direct your signal to the Amp where you will then hear how this all went together.
Directing our attention to the board, most likely you already own a tuner and this is usually the first shoegazing moment. A chromatic tuner is the best one to give you as many custom tuning options as possible.
The Wah is commonly the first on the board. Jimi Hendrix, known for mastering his unique and very defined tone, is said to have set the Wah after the overdrive. But then again, this is debatable by many, so let’s remember that this is about what you hear and like.
Distortion and Overdrive is where the foundation of your tone starts. A distortion pedal allows you to scream, grind, fuzz and push the gain overboard. Overdrive will warmly push the sound you have and give you a gain control to drive it harder if you want. These signal conditioners also include compressors and tube pre-amp effects.
Pitch and Vibrato effects alter the pitch of the signal by adding octaves or bending the pitch. Place your pedals here before duplicating it into different notes.
Modulation effects such as flangers, chorus, phaser, and octave pedals tweak the core signal you have so far by some means such as a short delay that will combine back on itself to create or accentuate certain frequencies.
Level pedals control the volume or strength of your pedals like rapidly turn the volume control up, which is what the Tremolo does. When used with a reverb, you can hear that retro surf guitar sound. Other level pedals include volume pedal or compression pedal (which some like better up with the gain pedals).
Echo and Delay pedals would be last in our signal chain. A reverb effect also goes in this group. This is how we take all of this sound and localize it. The end of the chain would also be a good place for an EQ as well. You can tweak any of those odd tones or annoying sounds that you might want to get rid of. Again, like other pedal placements, this place for the EQ is debatable. Some musicians like to put the EQ before the Pitch claiming that it will sweeten up a sonic area.
The Tone King Explains the Basics of the Effects Chain