We are going to look at how to use your guitar amp's effects loop, if you're lucky enough to have one. First, we should clarify what we mean by an effects loop and how to identify one in your amplifier.
What is an effects loop?
An effects loop consists of two jacks on your amplifier: One functioning as an output and the other as an input, in that order. These are usually labelled send and return jacks, where you run your pedals between both jacks, like this:
In this arrangement, the signal is being sent out from the preamp (the send jack) and then into the power amp (the return).
This means that your pedals are being applied after your preamp instead of before it. In another sense, your preamp is getting the first "say" in what your tone is going to sound like, allowing it to handle the foundation of your guitar's sound.
There are two types of send/return loops you might have, depending on your amplifier.
The most common effects loop is called a "Series," which simply means the entire signal is sent through the send jack and back through the return connection. In this scenario, your pedals are resposible for blending the wet and dry mix.
In a parallell connection, your amplifier actually splits into two identical signals: One to stay completely dry (without any effects applied) and a second that gets to be run through your effects. With a parallell effects loop, you can blend the "loop" or "wet" signal with the dry, uneffected signal at the amplifier level, but also at the pedal level.
Usually these amplifiers will have a wet/dry mix knob near the send/return loop jacks that you can adjust.
It just gives you a little more flexibility with your tone.
How to Set it Up: Step by Step
So how do you setup an effects loop on your guitar amp?
The process is pretty simple.
Usually the send and return ports are on the back of your amplifier and can be connected by instrument cables.
- The signal from your "send" jack goes to the input of your first pedal
- The signal from the output of your last pedal goes into the "return" jack on your amp
These two connections are the only ones needed to complete the effects loop.
Once you've made these connections with the pedals you want in the effects loop, you can connect your guitar to the amp's input as normal. You can also have other pedals in that signal chain, just like you would without an effects loop at all.
This begs the question: Which pedals should you put in an effects loop?
Which pedals go in an effects loop?
There are no "wrong answers" when it comes to deciding which effects will go in a send/return loop. However, there is some conventional wisdom that suggests putting all ambient effects into the loop.
Ambient effects are basically any effect that alters the timing of your original signal.
That would primarily include the following effects pedals:
Any of these three pedal types should - as a best practice - be placed in an effects loop.
Some people also prefer to put modulation effects in a send/return loop.
That could include any of the following:
Modulation isn't really an issue of timing, which means it can stay in your main signal outside of the effects loop, if you prefer. But the main focus of an effects loop should be to house your ambient effects and timing-related pedals. Some will advise putting a volume pedal in your effects loop as well.
Gain-related effects like distortion, filters effects (wah pedals), EQ pedals, compressors, and tuner pedals should all be outside of a send/return loop in your main signal chain.
Once again, here's Guitar Chalk's graphic with the main line and electric guitar included.
Once you have all this hooked up, you can turn on your amp and test things out. It might be worth trying some pedals in and out of the effects loop to see how they sound, since the results will - of course - depend on your amplifier and the quality thereof. But it's a pretty simple setup and helpful for those wanting to make sure their pedals and guitar rig are connected in the most optimal way possible.
Do you have questions about using your amplifier's effects loop? If so, feel free to leave it in the comments section below and we'll do our best to help out.