So, let’s say that you have a decent tube amp that’s the perfect size for your regular gig, and a great set of pedals to put into a board. What’s the next step? Unfortunately, there are many ‘wrong’ ways to set up a guitar rig and very few ‘right’ ways. By ‘wrong’ I mean not optimised for the best tone and sound quality; obviously anyone is free to place things how they want – within reason – as much of this is all subjective. Some ways do, nevertheless, work much better than others.
It is important to care about the way in which you place an effect pedal, both in relation to other effects pedals and to the amplifier, as the only pedal with a truly clean signal going in will be the first pedal in the chain. You will clearly get different results depending on whether you distort your modulation, or modulate your distortion.
There are two very common setups which many people follow in order to get a nice sound from their equipment. Both have advantages and disadvantages, but they are the surest ways to avoid problems in your rig which could damage your overall sound in the end.
The first way is by far the most common, and involves putting everything in line between the guitar and the pre amp. This way is the simplest way, as it is straight-forward and logical. First, you have the compressor to squash and focus your clean signal in order to drive the pedals after it, then you have the overdrive pedal which can be used to add to your amp’s own natural overdrive. After this, the distortion pedal for lower volume distorted tone, or just a different sound to solo with. Finally, we have the modulation effects which are kind of like the icing on the cake. modulated distortion sounds great, but distorted modulation can sometimes result in bad sounding harmonics, and overdriven compression results in a great, strong signal going through the rest of the rig, while compressed overdrive will likely weaken your sound considerably.
The second way is a little more complex, but the one that I personally prefer to use when performing. The order of the pedals is pretty much the same, and the only real difference is the positioning of the pre amp in the chain. As stated in a previous article on the subject, many good guitar tube amps have a built-in effects loop which allows a player to place effects between the pre amp and power amp stages of the amplifier.
This is a little better in my opinion, because of the fact that the pre amp itself adds gain to the signal and produces natural distortion at certain volume levels. By placeing modulation and delay effects in the effects loop after the pre amp, you improve your tone in two ways. One way is that now all gain and tube overdrive occurs before the distortion pedal and modulation, which makes for a smoother overall sound, and the other is that the overdrive is placed right before the pre amp, which means that it is much more efficient at driving the tubes in the amplifier into distortion.