QUICK HIT: Using our pedalboard planner, I'm building a hypothetical pedalboard to illustrate some simple best practices as it relates to using overdrive pedals and arranging a pedal signal chain according to available conventional wisdom. Other effects used include delay, reverb, chorus and several others.
In this hypothetical pedalboard build, I'm going to use our pedalboard planner app to properly design and sequence a collection of guitar pedals with a focus on placing an overdrive pedal, specifically.
This is meant to show how a pedal chain order should look, assuming you want to feature and position an overdrive pedal in its most effective spot.
If you want to follow along, you can access the pedalboard planner app here.
Keep in mind, the gear I'm using in the app is fairly close to scale, meaning the dimensions are available for each pedalboard and pedal and are set in relation to one another. In other words, three five-inch pedals would fill up the depth of a 15-inch deep board.
Here's a quick look at the board and pedals I'll start with:
Pedaltrain Nano Plus
Boss SD-1 Overdrive
EarthQuaker Devices Sea Machine Chorus
Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter
Strymon BlueSky Reverb
Boss DM-2w Waza Craft Delay
To start, I'll setup my pedalboard in the app and make note of its dimensions. For this build I'm using the Pedaltrain Nano+ which is a narrow board that allows us to setup a linear pedal chain. Per the Pedaltrain website, this board is roughly 18 inches wide and five inches deep.
In the pedalboard planner app the board looks pretty basic.
Typically, compression and volume pedals are the first effects to come after your guitar in a signal chain. From there we would go to filter or pitch effects and then distortion.
- Filter/Pitch (wah usually)
Starting with Distortion
This means the Boss SD-1, our token overdrive pedal, will go first in the signal chain and be our tone's first stop coming out of the guitar.
From there we should be looking for anything in our list that would fall under the category of modulation, which in our case would be the phaser and chorus pedal. This means the gain increase from the SD-1 will run through the modulation which will then layer over top of the increased gain. In other words, we want to be modulating gain instead of increasing the gain of our modulation.
We want to be modulating gain instead of increasing the gain of our modulation.
Following conventional signal chain wisdom, we would end the path by adding any pedals that would be considered ambient. Ambient effects include anything that manipulates time, namely delay, echo and reverb. If you recall our list we had two such pedals picked out, the Strymon reverb and Boss Waza Craft analog delay.
My personal preference is to have delay before reverb, so that if you're using both you get the echoing mix figured out before you send it into what is a subtler manipulation. However, the difference in how you place effects within a single category is far less impactful.
The same goes for modulation effects, where I've placed my phaser pedal in front of the chorus. Switching them up would be of little consequence.
Let's look at a couple more hypothetical scenarios with this board.
Adding a Second Distortion Pedal, Filter Effect and an Effects Loop
I'll add a second distortion pedal with a more robust EQ system, as well as an envelope filter, both replacing an ambient and modulation effect. I'll also assume (just to make it more interesting) that we're now working with an effects loop.
Per Strymon's recommendation, let's take a look at a typical signal chain order when throwing your pedalboard into an effects loop:
The pedalboard will look the same, with the caveat that we make sure all ambient effects are placed inside the effects loop, while the rest of our effects will stay directly between the guitar and amp.
Let's start by adding the two new pedals.
I've taken out the Boss phaser and delay and want to swap them out with a heavier distortion and the Keeley envelope filter. However, I don't want to directly swap them, given the recommended order. Instead, we'll bump the filter to the front of the signal and put the SD-1 behind the heavier distortion since this particular pedal can function more as a preamp for my pedal line.
That distortion pedal is the AmpTweaker Tight Metal Jr, which is a robust enough distortion effect to be viable as a standalone preamp. Putting it in front of your overdrive gives you more power on the front end of your EQ, while the Keeley Neutrino functions as a kind of hi or lo pass filter on a mixer channel.
The following graphic is the same, but with some labeling that further explains the signal path and reasoning behind it.
Pedal Chain Order Takeaways with an Overdrive Pedal
Understanding what happens to an electric guitar signal is - at times - difficult and lacking any kind of straightforward explanation. You really have to place your effects in a particular context before figuring out what the best practices are going to be and even then you're relying on broad conventional wisdom.
However, there are a few things we can takeaway, even from hypothetical pedalboard build,s that involve an overdrive pedal.
1. Overdrive Effects Should Come After Filters but Before Modulation
Not only overdrive, but any pedal that impacts the gain of your signal should be placed after your filter effects. Following gain would be effects in the modulation category which would include phaser, chorus, flanger and tremolo. This way gain amplifies a pre-EQ'd tone and modulation layers the entirety of the signal (all the gain).
2. You can use more than one overdrive in your signal chain
Most guitarists who use multiple gain sources get at least one of those sources directly from their amplifier, though in our example we use a distortion pedal to serve as a preamp that is placed before our overdrive. The overdrive then serves as a booster for the first pedal.
3. Effects within a category are generally interchangeable within that category
It doesn't drastically impact your tone if you mix up effects within a single category. For example, the ambient effects - reverb, echo and delay - can be arranged among themselves without significant audible consequence.
Again, pedal chain order advice has a lot of subjectivity attached to it. Because it's really hard to give good answers without knowing the context of a particular guitar rig. That's why it can be helpful to use something like a pedalboard planner to actually plan out a board, even if it's just a hypothetical setup.
The Guitar Chalk Pedalboard Planner is free and easy to use, so feel free to check it out and build up some of your own board ideas.
If you have questions about this setup or about using overdrive in a signal chain, leave them in the comments section below and I'll do my best to answer.