Guitar Pedal Tetris

I love gear, guitars, and pedals.  Probably too much at times!  I love the creativity of being able to craft different sounds and try different things see what works and what doesn’t.  I love to experiment with different effects to figure out what various overdrives do, or what can I do with a particular delay sound.  One of the big things that influences what ultimately comes out of our amps, is the ordering of our effects going into the amp.  This is one of the most common questions that I get from guitarists, so I wanted to take a few minutes and walk through my pedal ordering philosophy.  This is by no means an exact science as there are many ways that you can do it; this just happens to be what works for me.  If you do any research, you will see that what I am describing here is seen as a fairly traditional way of ordering effects.  Enough of the small talk, let’s jump into this!


Tuner.  I would place this first so that the only thing you have feeding it is your guitar.  This will help you to get a truer tuning without having to turn a bunch of effects off.  

Wah.  Wah’s interact best with the uninterrupted dynamics that come from your guitar, so place it before any other pedal in your chain.

Compressor.  This next set of pedals (compression and overdrives) are what I consider my main "tone shapers."  I love compression and it is a pedal that is always on.  Compression serves to even out dynamics a bit as well as tighten things up.  It can also be used to boost gain but I don’t really use it for that purpose.  Gain wise, I run it even with what is coming out of my guitar.

Clean Boost/Overdrive/Distortion/Fuzz.  I run them in this order, from lowest gain drive to highest gain drive.  I run a clean boost right after my compressor as an EQ and overall gain/volume boost, before going into my first drive.  I always have this pedal on.  I also run a boost after my last drive as a solo boost.  Boost is one thing you can move around as it behaves differently based on where it is placed.  I currently don’t run a fuzz pedal; but if I did, I would run it after my last overdrive or distortion pedal as they are very high gain and tend to be colored differently than other overdrive/distortions.  Also, the type of fuzz pedal will influence where it should be placed in the chain.

Octave Generators/Pitch Shifting Pedals.  I want my entire overdriven signal to be fed into this pedal

Volume.  I place my volume pedal here for a couple of reasons:  First, I don’t want it to affect my drive pedals, just my overall volume.  If you would like your volume pedal to control the amount of drive in your tone, place it either before or after your wah pedal - or right before your compressor.  Secondly, I want it before all of my other effects (modulation, delay, and reverb) because I want what comes from the volume pedal to feed these pedals.  If you place your volume pedal at the end of your chain you will never be able to do any volume swells as the volume pedal would kill all of your sound right before the amp.

Tremolo/Modulation Effects.  I want these effects fed into my delays and reverbs.

Delays.  I want everything except my reverb to be fed through my delays.

Reverbs.  I want my entire board run through my reverbs.  With my reverb placed here, I am able to create expansive ambient textures or allow my reverb to be the glue that brings my sound together.

  I hope that this is helpful.  This is not the end all, be all.  I have found that this order is what what allows me to get what I want out of my rig but part of the fun and creativity of this is moving things around and experimenting with different orders to see what works for you.  So have fun and let the tetris begin!

by Daniel Vencil