This topic has been addressed an amazing amount of times but there’s obviously still a lot of confusion about it and I think it opens up a lot of interesting ways of approaching pedals in general. Key thing here is that there is really no right and wrong in any of this. Pedals make interesting sounds in a bunch of different orders. In this article I’ll cover off some of those interesting “wrong” ways as well as showing audio examples of what some of the differences sound like.

Is Jimi Hendrix wrong?

There are a few instances where pedal location actually does make a big difference as far as getting the “normal” sound from the pedal. An age old question revolves around fuzz and wah pedals – this mainly comes from Jimi Hendrix using them “wrong” as often as he used them “right” which somehow still confuses people. Let’s cover this a little bit. Everyone who for some reason isn’t interested in Jimi Hendrix should skip ahead a bit.

Hendrix played few effects by today’s standards but it’s pretty safe to assume if he were still around he’d have a massive pedalboard because at the time his 4 effects were almost literally everything available. The one thing that he did which has caused a lot of discussion was that he placed his Vox Wah pedal before his fuzz face, which is “wrong” in almost every sense of guitar pedals.

The biggest issue with this setup is that technically this causes an impedance mismatch which creates a crazy terrible noise and greatly limits the range of the wah pedal. This is all technically true, however:

Hendrix using a Wah / Octavia / Fuzz Face / Univibe at the Fillmore East. NYE 1969.

I hope this would be enough to showcase that there is no right and wrong when it comes to pedals. Hendrix’s pedals are not in the correct order and he’s dealing with some impedance mismatch but nobody in the audience cares. It sounds incredible and this performance is absolutely iconic for a reason. I don’t want to get too far into the technical stuff here but I think it safe to say that this all sounds just fine. (Better, less edited pure audio version of Woodstock performance here)

Typical Setup

Moving into a more practical look. This is the pedal order that is generally agreed upon for getting the “normal” sounds out of your guitar pedals. If we break down pedals into the following categories, they would generally flow in this same order.

Filters (Ex. Wah, filter, EQs)
Compression (Can you guess?)
Boost / Gain (Boost, Distortion pedals, Fuzz pedals)
Modulation (Phaser, Tremolo, Chorus etc)
Delay / Reverb (Time based modulation effects)

This covers 99% of applications of guitar pedals and a signal flow. However, most guitar pedal folks tend to be the type of people who are very interested in the small details and their outcomes. There’s a few points within this standard flow where breaking the standard can create a whole new sound – or a genre in a couple cases.

Distortion before or after delay / reverb?

A pretty common variant on the standard signal path is the shoegaze trick of running your reverb before a fuzz pedal, which creates giant fuzzed out walls of sound. There’s a few pedals made specifically to emulate this sound – popularized on Loveless by My Bloody Valentine – the most overt being the Loomer by Mr. Robert Keeley. This is an interesting sound that honestly doesn’t do much for me but has been used to great effect by a lot of players.  I attempted to record an example of this but it sounded awful so I will not be posting it here.

Do I need an FX Loop?

Using an FX loop or not using one is another common question and from personal experience this comes 100% down to if you are using your amps built in distortion or not. I personally run my amp clean and use pedals to create the distortion / fuzz sounds. This let’s me run my delays and reverbs after my dirt pedals and have them function basically the same as an FX loop.

Running your delay pedal in front of a high gain amplifier is the same as running your delay before your dirt pedals – this makes an interesting sound sometimes, but generally it’s going to provide unwanted results. The FX loop allows you to insert time based (or any) effects after the distortion created by the amplifier itself. This way you’re not going to be distorting your delayed repeats, you’ll be delaying your distortion. Confused yet?

The main idea with FX loops is that unless you are using your amps distortion at very high gain use (think Dream Theater style Mesa Boogie distortion) you’re probably just fine using the pedals in front of the amp.

Overall Thoughts

Guitar pedal order is really something that comes down to personal preference or what you’re looking to do, if you’re after the sounds you’ve heard on a lot of records using pretty standard pedals (ex. not ring modulators or other such interesting but odd pedals) you’ll probably be happy with the standard order.

Guitar pedal order is not wrong or right, it's simply a choice. Learn the basic best-practices and then break them as you see fit.

So much of this comes down to when you want to break the rules and how you want to do it. I generally run everything in 100% the “standard” order but every once in a while the urge to mix it up comes around and being comfortable with the basics helps you apply other creative applications.

Frequently Asked Questions

These come up a lot – got a question about pedal order? Contact us.

A lot of germanium fuzz circuit designs are expecting a specific input impedance which means that when they see something different (for example after a buffer) they will react less desirably - the easy solve for this is generally to follow the rule that germanium fuzz needs to come first in your chain.

Buffers vs. true bypass is another big topic among the gear nerd community. Which one is better? Neither. Which one is better for your specific application? There’s probably a clear answer. Buffers are useful for ensuring the fidelity of the signal coming from your guitar to your amp. As the signal travels through a cable it loses some level of fidelity and degrades, a buffer will “boost” that back up. This can be good but also can be bad depending on the situation. I generally try to avoid worrying about true bypass vs. buffers until a problem arises and in most case the solution is “add a buffer”.

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