Hung on the line like a poison spider

Hung on the line like a poison spider
If you’ve ever read any of the effects pedal related forums, you’ll no doubt have seen numerous threads along these lines…

I’m putting together a pedal board and don’t know in which order the pedals should go.

Please help!

While there is a general consensus which says that your effects should go in a certain order (see below), there are no set-in-stone rules to follow and you should feel free to experiment, using your ears to decide what sounds and works best. Placing effects in the ‘wrong’ order can often produce new, unexpected results which may well prove to be inspirational when it comes to making music.

Convention tells us that our effects pedals should go in this sort of order:
  1. Filters - e.g. wah
  2. Compression
  3. Gain - overdrive/distortion/fuzz
  4. EQ/Tone - e.g. graphic equaliser
  5. Modulation - e.g. chorus or tremolo
  6. Delay
  7. Reverb
That covers the most common and widely used effect groups, but others are not so easy to place… pitch shifters for example…

A hailstorm brought you back to me…

If it’s a straightforward octave up/down effect (e.g. Boss OC-2), then putting it near the start of your chain is often a good idea - this way it will usually track the guitar’s signal better, and produce a better effect. (Although, modern polyphonic octavers such as the Electro-Harmonix POG line of effects track so well, that they can go pretty much anywhere in your chain.)

If it’s a harmonising effect (e.g. Boss HR-2), then it will usually work best after your distortion pedals - a harmonised guitar line would ‘confuse’ the distortion pedal and probably come out sounding a real mess.

There can sometimes be doubts when it comes to classifying your effects… a phaser for example, is often regarded as a modulation effect (so would be near the end of your chain), but can also be considered as a filter effect (meaning it would go at the start of your chain). But… it really depends on the other effects you’re using… if I’m using a phaser with distortion, I like the phaser first; if I’m playing clean, I like the phaser to be after my delays.

Free-fall, motorcycle, hang-glider…

A departure from conventional pedal order, as I said earlier, can often produce new, unexpected sounds… the side effects of running different pedal combinations in different orders, can sometimes be more usable (in a musical context) than the effect itself. In other instances, running effects in the ‘wrong’ order may maintain clarity and just sound ‘better’.

Running modulation (particularly tremolo, chorus and phasing) after your delay pedals will more often that not sound more pleasing and clearer, rather than the jumbled mess that may occur from doing things the 'right’ way.

What about if you have a ‘touch sensitive’ low-gain overdrive pedal… and then put your compressor before it? You’ll lose a lot of the dynamic feel of the overdrive. Try it the other way around and you’ll get all the best parts from both; the dynamic responsiveness from the overdrive and the extra sustain and level control from the compressor.

There's so much that I can't do…

Another factor in deciding upon your effect order can be the actual pedals in question. Some fuzzes for example have to be the very first pedal after your guitar to work properly.

Many people will have multiple overdrives, distortions and fuzzes on their pedal board, which opens up a whole other area of confusion: which order should they go in? This is down to personal taste and will depend largely upon which combos of pedal you use… if you only ever use one of your gain pedals at a time, then it obviously doesn’t matter which order they go in. If you stack you drive pedals, then there are a few things to consider…

Some people like to run their drive pedals in order of lowest to highest gain - boosting the amount of drive from the higher-gain pedal.

Some people like to run their drive pedals in order of highest to lowest gain - the lower gain pedal acting more as a level boost and equaliser.

My own ‘logic’ is more concerned with frequencies; the pedal which allows the widest range of frequencies through (therefore colouring the tone the least) goes last, the one which allows the narrowest range of frequencies through goes first. This seems to sound the most natural to me when stacking pedals.


If you have a tubescreamer-type overdrive (which outputs a fairly narrow range of frequencies) running in to a Big Muff-type fuzz pedal (wide frequency), the Big Muff will get a gain and mid-frequency boost, but won’t sound that different.

If you run the Big Muff in to the tubescreamer, there will be a huge change in sound. It will likely sound ‘strangled’ and nasal.

I've come a long way since the whatever…

Hopefully this article will help you when arranging your pedals. At the very least I hope you will ignore conventional thought, experiment and try things out for yourself.

EXAMPLE 1: Here, I have placed the tremolo pedal (Boss PN-2) post-delay (Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man).

This arrangement is good where the delay is used to add ambience rather than for distinct, audible repeats, and especially where the tremolo is set to mimic 'amplifier-style tremolo'. This method also works extremely well with a reverb pedal feeding a tremolo too - some of the classic Fender amps placed their tremolo circuits post-reverb after all.

EXAMPLE 2: If you prefer a choppier, more prominent tremolo, then you may well want to place your delay or reverb after the modulation - as I have done in the example below, with a Boss DM-3 sandwiched between two PN-2s.

EXAMPLE 3: Drive-stacking.

I have the first three in order of low to high gain (Subdecay Liquid Sunshine, MI Audio Crunch Box and Skreddy Mayo), which coincidentally also follows what I mentioned about frequencies in the main article. Following them, I have a Paul Cochrane Timmy - the Timmy can be set tonally neutral which makes it good as a post-dirt volume boost, or it also works well in this position as a 'master EQ'.

Note also that the EHX Small Stone phaser is the first effect in the chain.