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Signal Chain Philosophy with Effects

 

Daisy Chaining can be your friend ...

 

by Chris Loeffler 

 

 

One of the most common questions asked in the early stages of exploring effects is “what is the best order for effects?” There are many different answers to that question, for very different reasons…but if you understand the way individual effects work, you can start to see logic in a fairly standard signal chain “best practice.”

 

Here’s what many players would recommend as a starting point: Filters, Compression, Gain, Modulation, Volume Pedal, Delay, Reverb. The reasoning is as follows.

 

  • Filters before gain sound more natural and organic, whereas filters after gain tend to narrow the frequency band and create a synthesized-type tone many players find too over the top.

 

  • Compression before gain. Compressors tend to raise the noise floor of gain devices. This gives a noisier signal and depending on the design, can darken the tone through soft high-end rolloff.

 

  • With multiple gain devices, there are typically two schools of thought: Highest gain to lowest gain allows high-gain devices to increase sustain, while lighter-gain devices control the tone shaping. Lowest gain to highest gain is ideal when you want to overdrive a light-to-medium gain device with an increased input signal (boost).

 

  • Most modulation devices are placed after gain because their effect becomes swampier and less pronounced when run into distortion. This is especially the case with time-based modulation effects, however modulation effects that use phase shifting or resonance, like a phaser or flanger, are often placed before gain to make them more subtle.

 

  • The reason for placing a volume pedal after modulation but before delay is because the modulation would be considered a core part of your tone. The most common use of a volume pedal is to control the overall output volume of the signal or create swells; placing it after delay would mean your delayed notes would also be choked or boosted.

 

  • Delay is typically near the very end because it’s meant to create reflections or echoes of the core tone, so it’s going to want to see everything in the signal chain. A notable exception to this is when you use of modulation on the delays, but not the direct signal. This makes it more of a modulation effect.

 

  • Reverb is almost always last, as it’s the effect that creates the space in which your signal sits.

 

However, always remember the biggest rule of signal chain order is to do what sounds right to you! Understanding the way different effects interact with each other makes it a lot easier to obtain the sound you want and saves unnecessary experimentation, so there is no “wrong” way to order your effects. Anything before distortion will sound more like a part of the instrument’s sound, as the ear is trained to hear gain as the amplification of the instrument, and anything placed afterward will sound more like post-production work.

 

So go ahead - daisy chain away  -HC-

 

 

____________________________________________ 

 

Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer. 

 

 

 

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