Where To Put Delay Pedals In The Signal Chain?

This is for sure one of the most common questions that can arise once you begin to play with three or four different effects; what’s the right order in my guitar signal chain? Where do I put delay pedals? Do I put them before gain pedals or do I put them after gain pedals? Should I first put my delay in front of my chorus pedal, or the other way around?

A lot of guitarists have different opinions on this subject. In part, that’s because there are no written rules about this; in the end it’s what sounds better for you, but I will try to lay down this question in a logical way. First, you have to understand the different types of pedals you can have. Here’s a basic list with a brief explanation:

Gain Pedals: Overdrives, distortions and fuzz fall into this category. These are the pedals that give you an extra volume with some “dirt” type of sound. It’s maybe the most common type of guitar effect out there.

Modulation: Chorus, flanger and phaser belongs to this category. I can already fell the swirl while writing this :); think about the guitar sound of Andy Summers from The Police and you will instantly know what I’m talking about.

Dynamics and Compressor: This group is made of pedals such as filters, pitch shifters, volume pedals and of course compressors. These are the type of effects that typically respond to the way you’re playing (your attack).

Time Effects: Delays and reverbs are found here. An early golden nugget: common wisdom says that you first place your delay and then you reverb pedal…

Tuner Pedals: I’m not sure if they should get to be into the dynamics and compressor category, but this often overlook pedal is very important! Trust me, you don’t want to sound out of tune; it’s annoying :/.

Before we keep going, I feel I have to mention this: you don’t need to have all this types of effects! What I mean is, you don’t necessarily have to get every effect listed above in order to know how this works or to understand the explanation. Just skip the order of the ones you don’t have and you’re good to go.

Let’s cut the chase, the most common guitar pedal configuration is as it follows:

  1. Tuner Pedal: Usually it’s the first pedal in the chain. The reason for this is that in order to work properly it’s best for the tuner to have the clearest signal available. Because it will bypass everything else while tuning, in this position, the tuner pedal can be used as an emergency signal killer.
  2. Filters: You can have for instance a wah pedal here. There are some exceptions to this rule, but for the purpose of this explanation, let’s keep the filter effects before anything else.
  3. Compressors: Compressors are good allocated on this place because they can shape your overall tone, so it’s better if they’re early in the pedal chain. This way they can still have as much clean input signal available as possible.
  4. Gain Pedals: Typically this is where you put your overdrive/distortion pedal. Some people put their overdrive first, others prefer to place the distortion before the overdrive, others prefer to have fuzz… You get the idea.
  5. Modulation Pedals: Modulation effects are usually placed after the gain pedals, because distortions and overdrives will produce or enhance the sound harmonics, and these units tend to benefit from that.
  6. Delay Pedals: Finally, we’ve got to this point :); this is why you clicked on the post, right? Delay pedals are likely to sound better after your gain section. This is kinda tricky to explain but the easiest way to do it’s like this: if you place your delay pedals before your distortion, what happens is that you end up distorting a delayed signal; this means the effect is putting distortion into the repetitions, causing your sound to be kind of muddy and “imperfect”. The conventional thus is to delay the distorted signal, that is, the effect is only repeating what’s already been played. The same applies to the modulation, its better if you’re not modulating the signal, but… yes, there are exceptions, and sometimes putting your modulation effects after the delays can lead to cool sounds.
  7. Reverb Pedals: The last step into the usual settings. People normally place the reverb pedal last in the signal chain to create that big spacious sound ambience sound. There’s actually a logical reason for doing this as well; you may have noticed that reverb is a natural sound effect that occurs in empty or big spaces, where the sounds have the tendency to bounce. Reverbs are conventionally put in the last of the chain signal because this emulates what would naturally happen to your sound if you were playing in a place that will allow for this to happen, like a room, a studio or a big stadium.

 

Signal Chain
A common guitar pedal effects chain. From your guitar it goes to: tuner, compressor, wah, overdrive, chorus, delay, reverb to your amp.

 

Where Do I Put My Volume Pedal In The Signal Chain?

Great question, it’s a topic I almost forgot. I’ll try to give the two most common straight forward answers.

  1. Your first choice is to put the volume pedal early in the chain, perhaps before your filter effects. This will allow you to have some sort of master volume in your pedal board. Remember that sometimes, rolling back the volume of what you’re playing can clean very quickly your guitar sound; this technique is useful if you are trying to build dome dynamics into what’s being played.
  2. Your second choice is to put the volume pedal after the drives, but before the delay pedals. By doing this, you can control the volume of your gain section, but will not affect the trails of your delay and reverb pedals once you roll down the volume.

The FX-Loop Alternative

To finish the whole post we still need to talk about the FX-Loop way of doing this. Remember that we mentioned that your delay pedals are better off after your gain section? Well, by following this logic, what happens if you want to use distortion or overdrive from your amp? If you follow the thread, that’s like putting your delays before your gain section; this is because the amp goes at the end of the signal chain, and if it’s distorted or overdriven, well, it’s like putting your gain section at the end of the effects chain.

Because of this issue, some amps have what it’s called and Effects Loop (FX-Loop) Section. This allows you to put your time based effects/modulation effects, “between” the amp; this simply means you’re not throwing or running your entire signal in front of it. Amps with this feature will have in the back panel and Effects Send jack and an Effects Return jack. What you basically have to do is this: out of the effects send, you put a cable and connect it on your delay, and from the output jack of your delay, you go back to the effects return jack of your amp. And that’s pretty much it. But let’s make it simpler, an image is worth a thousand words:

FX Loop Example
Some amps have the fx loop function. Just put a cable on the Return jack and then connect it the input of your pedal. Now, connect the ouptput of your pedal to the Send jacket of the amp and that’s it.

Some Final Thoughts

I just would like to remind that experimentation is encouraged for this topic. You can mess around with the position of pedals and come up with some very interesting results. It’s also worth noticing that there are many other types of pedals that weren’t mentioned during the post, for instance, buffer pedals and noise decimators. I you would like to find more info about the placement of those units just leave a comment below and I’ll do my best to provide a simple understandable answer. I guess that’s all for now. Take care and keep playing.

Until the next time,

M.M

 

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