Learning to connect and configure guitar pedals can be challenging, especially when you’re using multiple pedals with different functions. If this is your first time using effects pedals, here are the answers to a few frequently asked questions to help get you started.
How do guitar pedals work?
Guitar pedals (sometimes called effects units, effects pedals, or stomp boxes) are miniature electronic units that allow a guitarist to alter their guitar’s sound. Some of the more popular effects that can be created with a guitar pedal include fuzz, distortion, flanger, chorus, tremolo, delay, and wah-wah. Guitar pedals can also be used to control a guitar’s tone, equalization, and volume.
How to set up guitar pedals
There are some basic guidelines to correctly ordering your pedals, but there’s not really a right or wrong way to do it. At the end of the day, it’s best to experiment with different setups and find the optimal arrangement that hits the tone and style you’re looking for. That said, here is the preferred way to order your signal chain:
- Start with the tuner pedal – if you’re using a chromatic tuner pedal, you’ll want to plug your guitar directly into the tuner.
- Connect your tuner pedal to filter effects – filter pedals (wah-wahs, envelopes, auto-wahs, etc.) work best when they’re used early in the signal chain, ideally following your tuner pedal. If you’re not using a tuner pedal, then your filter pedal should be first in the chain.
- Use a compressor pedal after your filter pedals – compressor pedals can be used to level-out a guitar’s volume by boosting the volume quitter tones. If you add the compressor pedal late in the signal chain, your guitar’s tone will already be heavily modified and will almost always result in noisy, unwanted sound.
- Add your distortion and overdrive pedals – these are some of the most popular types of effects pedals, especially if you’re into rock-n-roll. These will amplify the overtones of each note you play, and you don’t want amplified overtones going into your compressor or filter pedals, so these pedals need to come in after filter and compressor pedals.
- Add pitch-shifting pedals – these pedals usually work best when they’re getting a compressed signal, so you’ll want to add them to the signal chain after compression or equalizer pedals.
- Add your modulation pedals – when you’re using modulation pedals (phaser, tremolo, flanger, chorus), you’ll want to place these towards the end of the signal chain to get a richer sound.
- Add your volume pedal – if you put your volume pedal at the end of the signal chain, the pedal will adjust the volume of the finished signal. If you place the pedal at the beginning of the chain, it’ll adjust the volume of the unmodulated signal that feeds into the other effects pedals (which can sometimes be helpful if you use overdrive a lot, as it cleans up your sound).
- Use time-based pedals last – effects pedals that add delay or echo tend to work best at the very end. If you put these before the volume pedal, it can be difficult to control the volume of each successive echo or delay effect.
How to build a pedalboard
There are six steps to building a pedalboard:
- Pick the right board – when you’re deciding on a base for your pedalboard, the obvious consideration is that it needs to be big enough to fit all of the pedals you have in mind. It’s helpful to connect your pedals and see how much space you’ll need, then shop for the pedalboard. If you’re a traveling musician, you’ll want to consider portability. If you’re using a lot of pedals, it might be a good idea to get a pedalboard with a cord caddy underneath.
- Only use professional-grade cables – poor cables will undoubtedly hurt your signal and tone. Purchase professional-grade cables, and go as short as possible.
- Add a buffer – buffers convert high-impedance signals (e.g. coming from your guitar) into low-impedance signals and will significantly improve the sound of your pedalboard.
- Use a loop switcher – putting a pedal into a switchable loop isolates it from the chain and reduces the tone-suck that often accompanies pedals.
- Order your pedals – there’s definitely an accepted order here (see the order in the previous section “how to set up guitar pedals”), but at the end of the day you’re the master of your tone. If you want to switch up the pedals to get the tone that you’re looking for, don’t let the standard order stop you from doing that.
- Connect the board to a power-source – pay attention to your pedals’ voltage requirements. They can be DC or AC, and they’ll usually run anywhere from 9 – 24 volts.
How to connect pedal to amp
Here’s how to connect a single pedal to an amp:
- Start with all of your equipment switched off
- Connect the amp and the pedal to a power source
- Plug the guitar into the input jack on the pedal
- Connect the pedal’s output jack to the amp’s input jack
- Turn on the amp and set your levels
- Always turn the effects knobs down before turning the pedals on
How to power multiple guitar pedals
If you’ve got multiple guitar pedals, it’s a lot easier to daisy-chain them together instead of plugging them all in separately. Here are a few things to keep in mind when you’re trying to power multiple guitar pedals:
- Check the voltage – pedals can only be daisy-chained with other pedals that are the require the same voltage. Most pedals are 9v, but they can be as high as 24v.
- Add up the current draw for the pedals – if you check the warning label on your pedal, it should list the current draw measured in mA. If it lists a range, note the high end of the range. Add the current draw requirements from your pedals together (e.g. 20mA + 50mA + 125mA = 195mA total).
- Choose a power source and daisy-chain cable that meets the voltage and current requirements
How to connect guitar pedals
When connecting guitar pedals, you’ll want to use short, professional-grade cables. Longer cables will degrade your signal, as will cheaply-made cables with poor connections. To see how to order your signal chain when connecting guitar pedals, see the section on “how to set up guitar pedals.”