To Pedal or Not to Pedal – Part II

To Pedal of Not To Pedal – Part II

A Pedal Board

A Pedal Board

This is part 2 of our article on purchasing and setting up a pedal board (See Fretmentor’s Blog entitled “To Pedal or Not To Pedal Part 1”, where we talked about putting a pedal board together and the power supply required for the board.  Next, we look at some more details when making your purchase and constructing the right Pedal Board that meets your needs.

1. Start Small

Chorus & Overdrive Pedal

Chorus & Overdrive Pedal

Don’t run out and buy $500 worth of pedals. Start with two or three pedals. One overdrive or distortion pedal, one modulation pedal (like chorus) and one ambiance (reverb or delay) is enough to get started. Get used to them, play with the settings, the tone the level and experiment with using them in combination. Once you had a taste, you can start thinking about adding more pedals to your chain.


2. There are no Rules

Finally, there are no rules. With that said, here are the rules. Certain pedals are generally considered to sound better either in front or behind other pedals. The general order is still just a consensus opinion. For every one of these rules, you will find some famous guitarist that bucks the trend and uses a particular pedal in a different order to get a different sound. So, while these are the rules, feel free to break them at any time.

Wah Pedal & A/B Switch

Wah Pedal & A/B Switch

Expression pedals usually go first. So from the guitar, usually the first pedal is an expression pedal, like a wah pedal or other pedals that amplify or add sound. These allow you to run other behind the expression pedal and control the intensity of the effects from the other pedals further back in the chain.

Next usually comes pedals that change the tone of the guitar. These are overdrive pedals, distortion pedals and compression pedals – the bread and butter of your pedal chain. The order of these pedals is your preference. The compression pedal is commonly put in front of the overdrive and distortion pedals to increase the signal to these pedals and improve their sustain. Since the drive/overdrive and distortion pedals change the tone, they are usually put in the front so that the altered tone can be modulated and altered through the pedals later in the chain. Multiple tone pedals are common. Overdrive pedals like the BOSS Blues Driver create a very different tone and sound from other types of drivers like the OCD pedal or the Tube Screamer. Also, your tone pedals can be pre-set to different tones. You can keep one overdrive pedal fairly clean, one really dirty and one in the middle, and switch between them without spending time reseting the pedal before starting a different song.

The tone pedals produce a lot of noise and can create a fair amount of feedback and hissing from the amp. Especially if more than one is running. So, a noise suppression pedal is often placed after the noise-producing tone pedals and before the next pedals in the chain. Some people put the noise suppressor at the very end of the chain. You will need to try it both ways to see what works for you.

Digital Delay Pedal

Digital Delay Pedal

After the tone pedals come the modulators. These are pedals like flangers, chorus phasers and rotary pedals. These pedals take the sound, altered by the overdrive or distortion and modifying it.

Finally, comes the ambiance pedals. These are delay and reverb pedals. These are the last things that should happen to the sound before it reaches the amp. While most people put the delay before the reverb, I’ve been experimenting at both. I’m still not sure which sounds better.

I recommend starting with these rules, and then experiment moving your pedals around in the chain – especially the noise suppressor pedals and the reverb/delay pedals. The variations are endless depending on your taste and the type of music you want to play. Your pedal board should alway be a work in progress. That’s what makes it fun. So, good luck!

Andrew Baumann, a fretmentor student and attorney by trade, contributed this article.


About fretmentor

Born in Detroit, Michigan, David F. Jakubiak has been involved in music since the age of 7, beginning as a clarinet player and then at 9 turning his attention to stringed instruments. He earned trophies in group talent competitions while a student at the University of Michigan. The instructor earned a BA degree in Organizational Psychology from the University of Michigan and a Masters in Public Administration at the University of Kansas. At college, he also studied classical music and music history. His passion is teaching music and in performing as a musician. In addition to on-stage performances, David has played in various venues from outdoor festivals to small nightclubs. He plays, performs and teaches various styles of music, including rock, pop, blues, jazz, classical, country and bluegrass styles. He performs and teaches acoustic and electric guitar, five-string banjo, and mandolin. His styles range from Scruggs, melodic, Reno and old-time style on banjo, to finger-style and flat-picking technique on guitar, to various styles of mandolin. For over 45 years, Mr. Jakubiak has taught all age groups, taking a personal interest in each student to ensure that they receive the attention and lesson plans that meet their needs and interests. His lessons and instructional materials place a strong emphasis on the practical use or music theory to ensure that the student understands the instrument and learns how to improvise to develop their own style. Mr Jakubiak teaches group and studio classes, webcam lessons over the internet, and individual private lessons to students of various ages. He has compiled and produced eight instructional books on CD as well as numerous instrumental arrangements. David has written for Banjo Newsletter, a monthly publication for the banjo enthusiast and has published an article in Issue #37 of the Fretboard Journal. He is the founder of To contact David Jakubiak, please feel free to e-mail him at david AT (substitute the @ sign for the word AT)
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