A Quick Guide to Pedal Chaining

There's not official law, but these are best practices for pedal chaining

Written by
Josh Lister
Published on
July 21, 2023 at 10:46:51 AM PDT July 21, 2023 at 10:46:51 AM PDTst, July 21, 2023 at 10:46:51 AM PDT

By: Josh Lister

For some guitarists pedal chaining is an art form or an exact science that should be done correctly. And of course, some do not care what order their beloved pedals are in. It just makes noise, right?

Pedal Placement: Optimal Positions for Guitar Pedals

Positioning a pedal in a specific position on your pedal board can change the sound dynamic output. This is why most guitarists consider the purpose of each pedal and position them on the board based on what sound they want to be outputted.

There are no specific rules to pedal chaining. A lot can come from personal preference. The main thing to consider is what pedal will affect the proper distribution of a pedal in the chain. The more pedals that you have, the more you will need to think about the order. For example, it might not be the best thing to add a delay pedal before an overdrive pedal because the dynamics of your playing can affect it.

Pedal Chain Order: From Guitar to Amp 

Starting from right to left (guitar to amplifier); add pedals that have the most minor effect on the output. Ideally, you would want to add your tuner pedal first because a ‘dirty’ drive or fuzz pedal will only cause the tuner to be less accurate. So, keep the signal clean and keep the tuner first.

Next, you would want to have your gain-changing and tone-changing effects. Pedals such as the Big Muff should go next. This section is a bit controversial. Some say the compression should come straight after the tuner, whilst others suggest it should be between your fuzz and distortion and overdrive.

Ideally, your fuzz pedal should go high up the pedal-chain; before compression, distortion and overdrive because of the massive effect it has on the guitar tone.

How to Balance Pedal Chain Order

To even out the sound signal, add a compressor after the fuzz. I have added distortion after fuzz, and I have found that it gives the tone a ‘meatier’ sound. A good example of a distortion pedal is the Boss DS-2 or DS-1.

If you use an overdrive pedal, such as the Boss Blues Driver, add it before the distortion, to smoothen the tone caused by the fuzz pedal.

Modulation and timing pedals come next. These can help tame or mellow the harshness of the distortion and harmonic pedals. Due to their low level of sensitivity, they can be placed towards the end of the chain without affecting the overall volume. An example of a modulation pedal would be a chorus (Boss Super Chorus CH-1), phaser or flanger.

The volume pedals can go last, after the tuner or in the middle of the board. Typically though they are based at the end of the chain, but it is down to preference. I think they should go last because it allows you to change the volume after all of the harmonics and tones have been affected. The delay pedals are ideal for playing around with the sound output. Putting it before the fuzz and distortion could mess up the pitch and spoil the purpose of the delayed effect. Volume pedals such as delay and reverb can be adjusted using a single pedal, individual pedals or from the amplifier. I tend to use the amp’s reverb setting to give a fuller, richer sound.

Consider using a buffer. A buffer is best placed higher up the chain to preserve signal quality, preventing signal loss, improving the signal-to-noise ratio and improving the tone. 

Wah Pedal: Where Does it Go?

Also, not forgetting the wah pedal; whilst not all guitarists have one, it is common not to see one on a board, however, because it plays a big part in changing the tone of the guitar. It is generally agreed that it should be higher up the board.

Overdrive Pedal: A Quick Guide To Stacking

Another added benefit of well thought out pedal chaining is the ability to “stack” your overdrive pedals in a few different ways depending on your desired effect. Choosing a main drive to push you heavier tone selections and big choruses is essential. 

After that is done you can set a second overdrive with low to medium gain to stack on top and run in tandem with your main drive. This will give you a mid forward saturation that's perfect for solo boosting.

Another fun option is to ramp the gain up and only slightly boost the volume of the second pedal to create a warm blanket of sizzle to compress and fatten without as much volume boost. When done correctly this technique can give you lots of colors in your tone pallet to paint with.

There we have it; A simple guide to pedal chaining.

It essentially comes down to personal preference as there is no official law to pedal-chaining. But it is important to consider tonality and output when arranging your pedal chain.

Amp - Delay - Tremolo - Chorus - Distortion - Compression - Fuzz - Tuner + Loop - Guitar