The Pedal Chain-How To Set Up Your Pedal Board


I am frequently asked by guitar players both experienced and novice, how to set up their pedal board. While a lot of how you set your pedal chain up is personal preference, there are certain ways to run certain pedals that will consistently yield better results. For example, I like to run modulation pedals through the loop of my Soldano Decatone. I just like the tone better. But, I know other players that run them in line along with their other pedals and get awesome results too.

“So, rather than rewrite another article about pedal chains, I took the opportunity to print one by our friends at Strymon that I think sums up various configurations rather well. Read on….

With all the different types of effects and devices available for musicians, there can be confusion with how to set up your signal chain with your effects.  We offer a variety of pedals that can be placed in many different ways in your audio signal chain.

There is no wrong way to connect your effects in your signal chain as each method can provide you with different sonic results. Though what works for one person or rig may not work for another.

Common Placement

Here are some common effect placement suggestions for pedalboard setups in general.

  • Dynamics (compressors), filters (wah), pitch shifters, and Volume pedals typically go at the beginning of the signal chain.
  • Gain based effects such as and overdrive/distortion pedals come next.
  • Modulation effects such as chorus, flangers, phasers typically come next in the chain.
  • Time based effects such as delays and reverbs work best at the end of the signal chain.
  • Volume pedals can go at the beginning or end of your signal chain to provide slightly different functionality in different locations in your chain.

Here are some example effect setups that many musicians use following the above suggestions.

Setup 1

Effects Pedal signal chain

Guitar => compressor => volume pedal => wah pedal => overdrive => chorus => tremolo => delay => reverb => amplifier

  • In this particular setup, the volume pedal is placed near the beginning of the signal chain to control the volume level going to the other effects and the amplifier.  This can be useful to clean up your signal by rocking back the volume a bit if you have the overdrive engaged.

Setup 2

Effects Pedal signal chain

Guitar => compressor => wah pedal => overdrive => chorus =>  tremolo => volume pedal => delay => reverb => amplifier

  • This setup is the same as the first one above, however, the volume pedal has been placed near the end of the chain right before the delay and reverb effects.  This allows you to have full control of the volume of your signal right before the delay and reverb effects. This is useful for fading in a fully overdriven signal without cleaning up the signal at the lower range of the sweep.

Effects Loops

Another way to set up your pedals is by placing them within the effects loop of your amplifier.  An effects loop is an audio input and output loop that is placed after the preamp and before the power amp section of your amplifier, using the Effects Send and Effects Return jacks. On some amplifiers, these can be labels Preamp Out (Effects Send) and Power Amp In (Effects Return).  Not all amplifiers have effects loops, but those that do allow for you to place some of your effects within the loop.

Typically, players tend to place their delay and reverb effects within the effects loops of their amplifiers.  This placement is especially helpful if you get your overdrive and distortion from your amplifier instead of pedals. Otherwise you would be feeding your delay repeats and reverb ambiance into the overdrive and distortion of your amplifier, which can sound muddy and washed out.  You can also place your modulation pedals within the effects loop of your amplifier as well for a different sound.

There are 2 types of effects loops: series and parallel.

With series effects loops, the entire signal from the amplifier’s preamp section is sent through Effects Send OUTPUT to pass through the effects and return through the power amp section from the Effects Return INPUT.

With parallel effects loops, half the the signal from the amplifier’s preset section is sent through the Effects Sent OUTPUT to pass through effects, while the other half passes directly on to the amplifier’s power amp section to always be heard unaffected.  With this type of effects loop, there is typically an effect level control that allows you to dial in the amount of the effect you want heard along with your unaffected signal.  We recommend setting the MIX control on any of your effects to 100% when placed within a parallel effects loop.  Our TimeLine and BigSky pedals have a Kill Dry feature (DRYSIG parameter in the GLOBLS menu) that mutes your dry signal for use in parallel effects loops—however we do not recommend using this setting when using more than one pedal within the effects loop.

Here are some setups that include placing some of your effects within the effects loop of your amplifier:

Effect Loop Setup 1

Setting up your Effects Signal Chain - Amplifier Effects Loops

Guitar => compressor => volume pedal => wah pedal => overdrive => chorus => tremolo => amplifier INPUT; amplifier effects send => delay => reverb => amplifier effects return

  • With this setup, only the delay and reverb effects are placed within the effects loop of the amplifier.  This setup allows the sound from your amplifier’s preamp section to feed into these effects.  Overdriven and distorted sounds generated by your amplifiers preamp section sound much clearer with delays and reverbs placed within the loop.

Effect Loop Setup 2

Setting up your Effects Signal Chain - Amplifier Effects Loops

Guitar => compressor => wah pedal => overdrive => amplifier input; amplifier effects send => chorus =>  tremolo => volume pedal => delay => reverb => amplifier effects return

  • With this setup, we have moved the volume pedal and modulation effects to the effects loop along with the delay and reverb effects.  Much like setup 1, you get a different sound from your modulation effects when placed after the amplifier’s preamp section.

Credit to Hugo at Strymon customer support for the great article.

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