7 Tips For Ideal Guitar Pedal Order and Setup


Guitar pedal order is crucial if you want to have good tone; simply having 2 pedals the wrong way around can make all the difference between terrible and great guitar tone.

As you can guess, there are a number of "rules" regarding effects pedal order that most guitar players like to follow.

But it's important to bear in mind that there are no hard and fast rules regarding this subject. Some of the most influential players of all time got their sound by breaking away from tradition and using effects in unconventional ways.

So don't be afraid to experiment with the order of your pedals. You'll certainly discover that some conventions are in place for a reason, but you may also stumble across some interesting sounds that you could never achieve by following the rules.

However, here are some basic guidelines you should follow. Here are 7 tips for the ideal guitar pedal order and setup.


1. Tuner First

Despite the previous advice, there's really not much room for experimentation when it comes to tuner pedals. Your tuner pedal should be the first one in your effects chain, as this allows the tuner to "hear" a totally clean signal directly from your guitar.

If you run your tuner after your effects, it'll result in less accurate readings from your tuner, which may cause you to inadvertently tune your guitar incorrectly. While you might be tempted to use another tuning solution such as a clip-on tuner, you should never underestimate the importance of a good tuner pedal.

Unless you're in a grunge band, no one wants to hear your band tuning up through your amps. A tuner pedal will totally mute your guitar signal, allowing you to tune your instrument without irritating your audience.


2. Fuzz/Wah First

One of the big rules you'll often hear regarding effects order is that fuzz and wah should go first in your signal chain. Many players parrot this information without ever understanding why this is done.

In the past, fuzz and wah pedals usually had low impedance levels, meaning they wouldn't work properly with other pedals if you put them later in the chain. These days, you can often get these kinds of pedals with a more modern impedance level, which means you aren't necessarily restricted to putting them at the beginning of your signal chain.

With that said, effects like fuzz are usually going to sound better if you place them before your modulation and ambience effects.


3. Compressors Before Noisy Effects

For most players, an excessive amount of noise is highly undesirable, so you should order your effects in such a way that noise is minimized. Effects like distortion and overdrive can create noise. You should place dynamics pedals such as compressors or limiters before them.

A compressor will reduce the dynamic range between the loudest and the quietest sounds, so if there's any noise in the signal, a compressor is going to make it a lot more noticeable.


4. Modulation Effects After Distortion/Overdrive

Modulation effects such as chorus, flanger, and phaser should usually be placed after pedals that shape your tone, such as distortion, overdrive, or fuzz. When you order your pedals in this way, the modulation effect will complement your driven tone nicely.

On the other hand, if you do it in the opposite order, the modulation effects are likely to be overwhelmed by the distortion/overdrive, which produces a tone that's incredibly chaotic and difficult to fit into the mix.


5. Put Reverb and Delay in the Effects Loop

If your amp has an effects loop feature, you should consider running your delay and reverb pedals through it. Any effects in the effects loop won't be affected by the gain of your amplifier, resulting in a much more natural-sounding tone.

If you don't have an effects loop, you should run these effects at the very end of your signal chain. Bear in mind that running ambience effects in this way can result in a somewhat odd kind of tone.

Sometimes, this might be undesirable, but in other cases, it could be an integral part of your sound. For example, the signature sound of U2's "The Edge" comes from him running delay effects straight into his amplifier rather than utilizing an effects loop.

Shoegaze players love to run reverb pedals though cranked amplifiers, resulting in some unique tonal possibilities. Some players even run a reverb pedal before a distortion or fuzz, which gives you a seriously weird, washed-out sound.


6. Consider Rack Effects

If you're a player who likes to experiment with different effects configurations, you may want to consider moving to a rack-mounted effects system rather than relying on pedals

In a rack-mounted system, you can rearrange your effects by just swapping patch cables without the need to physically rearrange the effects and cabling on your pedalboard, making it much easier to try changes in your effects order.

Rack-mounted setups are well suited to players who want a more complex setup that's simple to use. With larger pedalboards, even just stomping the switches can require some tricky footwork.  But when you have a rack-mounted setup, you'll have the ability to customize footswitches in any order you want. This means you can arrange your footswitches in an order that makes sense to you rather than be restricted by the order of the effects and their location on your pedalboard.


7. Take Care With EQ

Don't underestimate the importance of placing your EQ pedal in the right place. Generally speaking, you want to put an EQ before the compressor or limiter pedals.

EQ pedals can introduce noise into your signal, so you want to place it in such a way that the noise is minimized. Usually, you want to put an EQ pedal after distortion or overdrive, as this will give you the most control over your tone. By using this placement method, you can achieve the classic mid-scoop sound.

On the other hand, placing an EQ before a distortion or overdrive can result in a totally different tone, so it's worth experimenting.


Experiment With Your Guitar Pedal Order

With these 7 tips on guitar pedal order, you should be able to get a basic setup going. But always remember that these are just guidelines, so feel free to experiment once you're comfortable with everything!

Interested in an rack effects solution priced comparably to pedals and pedalboard solutions?  Look here to see some of the ways a rack effects solution may provide benefits to you at a price you probably never thought possible.  Our Compares To page lists our many effects and will take you to full details about each one, including pricing.