Signal Chain

How to order guitar effects in your signal chain

A "Signal Chain" is a term used commonly by guitar players to describe the order of their effects. It is normally illustrated in a diagram or flow-chart from the guitar to the amplifier.

Much time could be dedicated to a discussion involving guitar pedals and how they should be placed in a signal chain, so we'll keep the principles very simple. Below is a basic illustration of an effective signal chain:

  • Guitar
  • Compression
  • Equalization
  • Wah/Pitch Shift
  • Distortion
  • Modulation
  • Delay
  • Reverb

Notice that the delay and reverb follow distortion. The reason for this is you don't typically want your distortion pedal distorting a delayed or reverberated signal; this would typically sound "muddy". In mother nature, reverb and delay occur after the original sound has occurred...hence it sounds very warm and natural (obviously). The same principle is being applied when you have your delay and reverb at the end of your signal chain.

Many modern amplifiers have effects loops. Effects loops allow the user to mix in specific effects after the preamp and before the power amp. This can also be useful if the amplifier has a high quality reverb tank, allowing the guitarist to implement effects (such as delay) after the preamp distortion and before the reverb.

Modifications to the above order are not necessarily wrong. If like the sound of modulation before your distortion, go for it. At the end of the day, let your ears decide. The signal chain displayed above is only intended to save you experimentation time in achieving your "signature tone".