When it comes to connecting effects pedals for your guitar, nearly every choice you make will affect your overall tone. From your choice of the pedals themselves to the order you place them in to the type of guitar cord you choose, everything in your guitar effects pedal chain will influence the final sound of your rig. The problem comes, of course, in the fact that there is no correct way of connecting effects pedals, as every guitarist uses his own subjective ear to determine what is his or her “best” tone. And that elusive “signature tone” can take years of trial and error as you try out different effects and different configurations of those effects.
But before we get to the more advanced pedal board techniques, let’s start with the basics of how to connect effects pedals. If, for example, you have three pedals you want in your chain, take the guitar cord plugged into your guitar and plug that in to the input on your first pedal. Then connect the first pedal’s output to the second pedal’s input with a short “patch cord,” then repeat with the third pedal, except in the output will be another guitar cord connected to the input of your amp.
Seems simple enough, but unfortunately the above example leaves out one of the crucial aspects of the tone that will be produced from the three pedals—the effect pedal chain order. There are many schools of thought on the best order of connecting effects pedals, though none can be considered “correct.”
Though it is up to each individual guitar player to find the “sound” most suited to his or her ear and playing style, there are a few guidelines you may want to at least test out as you search for you own “best” tone. If you have a tuner pedal, it is typically a good idea to put this in the beginning of your chain, as you’ll want the clearest signal possible going into this pedal to ensure accurate tuning.
When connecting effects pedals, many guitarists prefer to put their “sound shaping” pedals in the chain before their more “FX” pedals. This means putting distortion pedals, compression pedals and EQ pedals before your tremolo, chorus and delay pedals. For example, you want to get the distortion sound you want set before it gets to the delay—the distortion sound needs to be delayed, the delay doesn’t need to be distorted. Again, never stop experimenting with your order of connecting effects pedals, as the sound you’re looking for may require you to break every “rule” presented above.
Next to consider are the pedals themselves. True bypass pedals are pedals that, when turned off, have absolutely no effect on the sound of the guitar, it’s like they’re not even in the chain! Now, this is a great feature to have when trying to keep your tone as pure as possible, but most pedals are not true bypass and are known as buffered pedals. While it seems that all pedals would be made to be true bypass to preserve the tone of your guitar, true bypass pedals have problems of their own. Many of these pedals will produce a loud noise when switched on or off, and when used in long pedal chains, they will quickly diminish the signal of the guitar, just as if you were using a very long guitar cord.
Another solution is to add a bypass loop switcher to your chain. This essentially splits your pedal board into two or more different chains. Most guitarists will put their sound shaping pedals (distortion, compression, etc) into one “loop” and their FX pedals (chorus, tremolo, etc) into another, connected by a true bypass loop switcher. This pedal will switch between the two loops so that when, for example, you’re just using distortion, you don’t get any sound diminishing effects from the other pedals not in use. You can also combine the loops when you need effects from both.
As stated many times, the biggest thing to pay attention to when connecting effects pedals is your own ear. This is the only measure of the “correct” way to build your chain.