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Advanced Pedalboard Theory
Advanced Pedalboard Theory
Shalon Palmer avatar
Written by Shalon Palmer
Updated over a week ago

The most common piece of advice that I give other guitarists when they ask me about my gear is simply this:

Use what inspires you

There is no right and wrong. My board looks very different than a lot of my friend's pedalboards - no volume pedal, several modulation pedals, 2 compressors, a wah pedal, pitch shifter after drives, etc. - because that’s what helps me express myself and gets me excited to play guitar. Pedals are just tools to help you express the sounds and creativity that's inside of you.

With that said, here are a few tips for changing things up:

1) Volume pedal after your drives can help you keep the same amount of drive but make yourself quieter. This is helpful for those moments when someone is speaking during a service but you still want a bit of grit. Placing it before drives or rolling the volume off on your guitar will clean your overdrives up. Some guitarists leave overdrive pedals on all the time and control how clean/dirty their tone is through volume control.

2) Boost pedals after your drives, or at the end of the signal chain, can raise your overall volume without adding more drive. Placing them before drives can overdrive the input of your overdrive pedal and make things dirtier in a good way. I like to let the FOH engineer control my level rather than using boost pedals.

3) Modulation effects are some of my favorite things in the world, but can get crazy/cheesy pretty easily if not used right. Take the time to learn the settings and find what is tasteful or applicable to the song and then use them wisely.

4) Overdrives are probably the most common pedals, but there are really only a few circuits that exist. Most are Tube Screamer circuits that are just sculpted a little differently. Just play a bunch and see what speaks to you. To me, it’s mainly how well you can shape the EQ. I like a tubescreamer type for a more midrange-y tone and a more neutral “transparent” drive for cleaner settings. If you like to stack overdrives play around with the order of them. I find that stacking can make things a little hairy and personally lean towards having an overdrive setup for higher gain settings then having another with less gain. 

5) Tuners are great at the beginning of a chain as they will get a very clean signal from your guitar and tune accurately. I place mine after my compressors and drives to be able to quickly mute my signal if things get noisey. Some guitarists will place them at the end of the chain to quickly mute things if pedals cause problems (it happens). Others will place them in their volume pedal output, but this can cause tone loss if you do not have a buffer before or in the volume pedal. Pro tip: use the neck pickup and roll the tone off of your guitar for more accurate tuning.

6) Tremolo can sound different when placed before or after delays and reverbs. If you want a really choppy sound try it at the end of your chain. Experiment and see what you like.

7) Buffers are extremely helpful as they preserve the quality of your signal or "tone.” They essentially prevent treble loss over long cable runs. Many pedals such as Boss tuners have them built in. Others, such as some compressors or boost pedals act as one when kept always on. I recommend doing some research and find what works best for your personal setup.

8) Compressors can be used in a variety of ways. They can be used for sustain, evening out playing dynamics, fattening up tone or squashing the signal for a very audible effect. I use two compressors so I can have flexibility for my personal style of playing. Different models can vary a lot, but shoot for something simple until you understand how studio compressors work. They are best at the beginning of the chain because they can raise the noise of other pedals, such as overdrives, when placed after.

9) Pitchshifters usually track your signal best when placed in the beginning of your chain. However, I like the way it sounds when placed after drives because it has more "vibe" for me. I want it to sound a little weird.

10) Reverb and Delay are pretty much always the last pedals in effects chains with Reverb being at the end. It just sounds the most natural to take any processed guitar signal and then "put it in a space" with wet effects. They are also usually the only pedals with stereo outs, which need to be at the end if you run a stereo rig. A lot of experimental or shoegaze artists have been known to put a reverb or pedal at the beginning of their chain for unique effects, but I wouldn’t recommend that as a standard application.

A helpful and logical way to look at effect order is to ask yourself questions like, "Do I want to modulate my overdriven signal or overdrive my modulated signal?" "Do I want to compress my delays or delay my compressed signal?” Thinking about effect order this way may help things make sense a little more. Again, have fun and find what works best for you!

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