How to combine effect pedals – not every combination works fine

Ask the DudeSome combinations of effect pedals are awkward – similar to human relationships: some won’t get along well with one another.
On the internet you can find contradictory statements concerning several effect pedals. While some describe an effect as warm and rich, others consider the same pedal as thin and lifeless. But do those statements result from strictly subjective impressions?
Not merely.

Every pedal has its very own sonic character. This is affected by the guitar and amp you are using. But also, other stompboxes before and behind the respective pedal are influencing its sound.

I, for example, have a small pedalboard with only three high-class pedals on it. One high-priced tube overdrive pedal right at the start of the effect chain which is followed by a really good delay and the most recent multi reverb pedal. Regarding every pedal separately, I am totally enthusiastic about each of them. But as I tried to create a slightly overdriven sound with the delay, the tone was somehow disappointing.

The reason for this discontent was that the overdrive pedal heightens the treble and, in combination with the delay, which also raises the mid level, the sound became unnatural and nasal. In addition, the reverb made the sound become thinner. Although the single parts of this conjunction were fabulous, the combination was rather unsatisfying.

Some pedals also have the side effect of increasing or decreasing the volume of the signal slightly. Thereby, the following pedal has to deal with a different level and this, of course, affects the sound.

Concerning the arrangement of your pedalboard, I would always suggest to tailor all other effect pedal to you favorite one. It is important to try out the added pedals in conjunction with the other stompboxes on your board and not to rely on statements you have read on the internet.

A well-working buffer at the start of an effect chain, in front of a delay or at the end of the chain can also make a decisive difference. The impedances at the input and the output of every single pedal are not standardized and only few manufacturers indicate the values. Nevertheless, these values actually affect the sonic behavior of effect pedals. Some delays benefit from a buffer that decouple them from the prefixed pedal. They will sound more vivid then. It is also worth it to experiment with the order of the pedals.

And, take a look into your pedal cabinet and search for the pedals you haven’t used for some time. The overdrive pedal that have been kicked off your pedalboard some time ago, now might become the perfect match for the recent setup.