This article is for beginners trying to learn how to set up guitar pedals. It could also be helpful for those who want to teach this topic or just get a refresher on some effects and amplification best practices. I'll cover all the basics relating to pedal setup, focusing primarily on effects order, connection, power, and a few other related bullet points. When you're finished, you'll know all the most important aspects of setting up your guitar pedals. Let's get started.
Read more: Best guitar pedals overall
How to set up Guitar Pedals Quickly
Place, connect, power, test
- Decide on an order and set the pedals on the floor, side by side.
- Connect them using instrument patch cables.
- Signal goes right to left, so plug guitar into the input of first pedal.
- Run an instrument cable from your last pedal's output to your amp's input.
- Power each pedal, either with a power supply or 9V battery.
- Test to make sure all of them are working, then you should be good to go.
First, what do we mean by "set up?"
I've already made brief mention of this, but let me be more specific about what I mean when I say we're going to "set up" our guitar pedals. Our primary goals are the following:
- Proper order
- Functional connection
- Optimal use
Setting up your pedals - and perhaps your pedalboard - should accomplish the above three things. To start, I'll answer a common question about guitar pedals. What order should you put them in?
Read the detailed guide: Guitar pedal order and setup
What order should your pedals be in?
If you're asking this question, you might know a little bit about how your signal chain works. To quickly review: A signal runs from your electric guitar, through your processors (pedals or rack effects), then into an amplifier.
Why does the order of guitar pedals matter?
How you order your guitar pedals matters because of how they process your signal. This process varies depending on which pedals and effects you're using. For example, if you have a distortion and chorus pedal, you would want your distortion first in order to handle volume before you handle waveform changes. In other words, modulating a distorted signal is better than distorting a modulated signal. What exactly do I mean by modulation, waveform, and volume? Let's uncover some of the lingo.
Using Effects Categories
Before we can fully understand why pedal order matters, or even talk about how to order them, we need to categorize guitar pedals based on effects categories. Generally speaking, there are five effects categories:
- Gain (distortion)
- Compression and Volume
Pedals should be ordered based on these categories. Let's start by giving the order based on the categories alone:
From right to left, starting at your guitar and ending at an amplifier, this is how effects categories should be ordered. Now, let's go over which pedals would go into each category. We'll go in the order given above:
Compression and Volume
- Volume pedals
- Wah wah pedals
- Pitch shifters
- Octave pedals
- Distortion pedals
- Fuzz Pedals
While there are some pedals that are more nuanced and difficult to categorize, most of them can be sorted into one of these five parent categories. Now, let's look at another diagram that shows how we might order a few of these pedals, based on those categories.
Now: Let's look at this setup with pedals only. Since we know the categories a little bit better, it'll be much easier to arrange our pedals in a proper, linear signal path.
Based on the categories we've covered, you can order almost any guitar pedal or any type of effect. If you have questions about types of pedals that you aren't sure how to categorize, leave those in the comments section and I'll do my best to help out.
What about a pedal tuner?
If you have a pedal tuner, it can technically be placed anywhere in a signal chain. However, I personally prefer to keep mine at the beginning, before any effects that actually manipulate the signal. Some players keep them at the end of their pedal chain, right before the amp. Either way is fine.
How do you connect them?
All guitar pedals connect with the same type of cable you use to connect your guitar to your amplifier. These are called instrument or "TRS" cables, identified easily by the quarter inch tip (jack) where they're plugged in.
As you might have gathered, it isn't a great idea to use lengthy guitar cables between each pedal, simply because pedals are usually placed much closer together. For connecting pedals close together, you have a few options that are shorter and far more functional.
They include the following:
- Instrument Patch Cables
- Low-Profile Patch Cables
- Pedal Couplers
All three of these are basically really short forms of the instrument cable pictured above. For example, a low profile patch cable looks like this:
It's simple, but effective. Here's a look at some pedal couplers:
Let's look at some of the comparisons between pedal couplers and patch cables.
Patch Cables VS Pedal Couplers
Pedal couplers have their advantages and disadvantages. On the positive side, they're virtually indestructible and great for preserving your tone and keeping unwanted noise to a minimum. On the negative side they're completely inflexible and can struggle to deal with height differences between pedals. They also - surprisingly - don't do a great job of minimizing space (physical distance) between pedals.
The patch cables with the low profile angles (pictured above) actually do a much better job of reducing space between pedals, when compared to pedal couplers. I've used both, but the low-profile patch cable is my personal favorite connection solution.
Let's chat about patch cable length.
As I eluded to earlier, it's important to minimize the length of cabling between each guitar pedal. The more length there is, the more opportunity you have for noise and unwanted electrical interference to creep in. Generally speaking, it's wise to aim for three to six inches of cable length between each pedal. Most patch cables measure around six inches, though the low-profile options are available in three inches. It depends on how you have everything set up, but a good, general best practice is to keep your cabling to a minimum.
Summary and Questions
I don't mean to sound like setting up your guitar pedals is a completely rigid, barricaded activity.
What I'm giving you is a list of best practices, and not a list of rules. Because your pedalboard is uniquely your own, especially as you begin to learn how to use effects and build your own style and sound. These guidelines will help you get started and give you a jumping off point.
Feel free to leave questions in the comments section and we'll help out as much as possible.
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