How to Build a Great Sounding Pedalboard


Having gret guitar effects is just the first part of the story, putting it together in a great sounding chain is another.  If you're wondering, Yes, the order is important.



            Now that we know what a certain type of effects does, we can see how we can use them. There are no specific rules of the order of effects, basically you can order them as it suits you the best. But there are some ways of how to chain the effects, so you can get the most out of them (at least for what they were meant to do). But once again, there is no rules!

First of all, we can put the effects in front of an amplifier, i.e. between the guitar and preamp, or in amplifiers effects loop, that's between the preamp and poweramp section of an amplifier(a splitted half of signal). Usually we put distortion, dynamic and filter effect in front of an amplifier, and modulation and time based effects in a effects loop. Of course, not every guitar amplifier has an effect loop, but that doesn't mean that we can't use modulation and time based effects on them. We just have to be careful in what order we'll chain the effects, so we don't face unwanted results. For example, we normally don't want to put a delay pedal in front of a distortion effect, because we want to delay the distorted signal and not to distort the delayed one. With knowledge of what a certain type of an effect does, we can predict the result and therefore avoid problems. But usually we first put effects that change the sound (after tuner and wah-wah), then filter, modulation, delay, reverb... 

Usual chain without effecs loop would be like:

Wah-wah=> Compressor=> Distortion effect=> Filter effect=> Modulation effect=> Time based effect (delay=> reverb)=> Ampifier

Usual chain with effects loop would be like:   

Wah-wah=> Compressor=> Distortion effect=> Filter effect(EQ)=> Amp=> (Loop send)=> Modulation effect=> Time based effect=> (Loop return)


The effect loop can usually be controlled by Fx mix knob on an amplifier. This knob controls how much of the signal modified by the effects in the loop you want to blend with the signal that doesn't run through the loop. That enables you to really make a balance that suits you the best. Also, if you put a compressor into the loop, you can preserve the original dynamics of your playing, while being sure that the minumal volume of your playing doesn't drop below the desired level.



            Many times we face signal loss or weaker signal. Usually that increases with every cable, effect in line, basically with every element between the guitar and amp. Even longer cable can be an issue, but not always for worse. Warren Haynes of Gov't Mule uses a very long cable, so the signal loses its hi-end and mellows the tone. When we can restore the "weaker" signal in no time by adjusting the "level" knobs on effects or having a boos effect, there are more troubles in preserving a clean guitar sound with effects in a chain.

We can avoid signal loss with buffers. Many effects have buffers in them, so even when the effect is off, the buffer is still on. But be aware! Low quality buffer acts way different than a good buffer in more expensive effects. So, what does a buffer actually do? It restores the tone back to what a signal of a guitar plugged straight into the effect sounded like, and send this signal further down the chain. Of course, this signal is now artificially restored, and is almost never the same as it was before it entered the effect. But that's not necesarilly bad!

So, where to use the buffer? It's good to use buffer before wah-wah pedal, before a long cable or before a bit bigger number of (true bypass)effects in a row.

What also really matters about your tone are cables. Guitar cables are basically long conductors, which are wound with non-conducting material, so that forms a capacitance (usually 60-100pF per 1 meter). So, as longer is the cable, the capacitance is higher. The capacitor also adds impedance, which causes the problem that, the higher the frequency is, the lower is the impedance of the cable, therefore bigger loss of high frequencies.

So, the two main reasons for signal loss are capacitance of you guitar cables and non ideal input impedance of the effects in chain. With a buffer in the right place, it's much easier to preserve the frequency range that guitar produces in the first place. The difference between chains with and without buffers in the right places is, that the sound out of chain with buffer sounds more sparkly and bright. So, if using buffer is one thing, the other is to use high quality cables everywhere in chain and to (if possible) avoid long cables. That is, of course, if you don't want the loss of high frequences and more "mello" tone.

If you're wondering about your pedalboard and how to put it together. A profesional guitar teacher can be of great use. Don't hesitate to ask and he will definitely help you with your board.


Article written by Nejc Vidmar, who is a master guitar teacher from Slovenia.