Pedal Board

Getting your guitar effects pedals order right

How to choose pitch and modulation effects for your pedal board

This is the second of three parts related to how to organize a pedal board.

In the first installment of this three-part blog available here at Pedal Board Part 1,I talked about the basic compliment of effects pedals you need on your pedal board:  tuner, signal shaping, distortion, and echo. On my pedal board that translates to a BOSS TC-3 tuner, Vox ‘70’s Wah Wah, Golden Path Mad Man Overdrive and BOSS DD-3 digital delay.

Now lets add more sonic richness by putting additional pedals to the chain.

Focus today between the distortion pedal and the echo pedal on your pedal board.

I am going to concentrate on the space between the distortion pedal and echo pedal because that’s where the most sonic variety can be added to the main sound created by the previous effects in the chain.  Echo effects are always at the end of the chain because they simulate the room environment. Putting them earlier in the chain jumbles up the sound too much.

Getting your guitar effects pedal order right breaks down into getting the right effects pedals: pitch effects and modulation effects.

Like the name implies, pitch effects impact note frequency.  They make it higher or lower.  If you play a chord, the whole chord is affected.

The most common is vibrato.  It’s the warble sound like in a singer’s voice or when you rock your finger back and forth behind a fret while playing a note.  Some amplifiers have it built-in.  However, since the early days of guitar amplifiers, there has been confusion between vibrato and tremolo. Tremolo is changing the amplitude (loudness) of what you are playing in a slow moving periodic way. So if you are going to use the built-in vibrato – make sure its really vibrato.

The next most common pitch effects are octave pedals.

They play a note an octave above and/or an octave below the note being played, depending what you select. Some even play thirds or fifths.  With them you can make your own two-part harmony with yourself.  Octave pedals are popular with bass players in heavy metal bands to give that really deep driving low end.

Less commonly used by guitar players are ring modulator pedals.

These pedals multiply your note (or chord) with another frequency.  The second frequency is either a slow moving oscillator inside the pedal itself or an external source. Remembering high school math, multiplying two sine waves results in both the sum and difference.  This can lead to some pretty crazy, not necessarily in-scale, sounds.  Ring modulators are usually more the realm of synthesizers and keyboards.

Next in getting your guitar effects pedal board order correct, is in choosing the modulation effects.

The most common is tremolo.  This is also a common effect in guitar amplifiers. It also happens to be the first effect ever to be incorporated into one.  As stated above, it’s an amplitude modulation (loudness changing) effect.  The volume of the notes you are playing is changing in a slow moving, periodic way.

Most guitar amplifiers do tremolo just fine.  However, there are newer pedals which take tremolo to a whole new level. They offer a selection of different modulation wave types (sine, square, triangle), have much more intense depth control.  Some have of tap tempo feature that enables you to tap a beat that the pedal learns and sets as the modulation rate.

The next group of modulation effects are the phase shifters: Phaser, Flange and Chorus.

They are all similar in that they work on the phase and frequency spectrum of your signal.  They work by splitting the signal into two.  One of them is time delayed very slightly, just a handful of milliseconds.  The two are added back together so they add/subtract from each other depending on the delay and phase. This leads to a cancelling or addition of frequencies.  To give it a dynamic effect, the delay time is slowly changing through a slow moving on-board oscillator.

The Phaser is the most straightforward of the three.

It brings to your pedal board a nice subtle off-balance effect.  Classic versions are the famous Uni-Vibe or the more recent MXR Phase 45 and Phase 90.  Give Eruption by Van Halen a listen to see what I mean.

Flange has the same airy off balance feel.

It adds a kind of sound “whoosh” to the sound as the phase and delay are changing.  You can’t miss it on, Itchycoo Park by The Small Faces.

Chorus is the most complex.

The idea behind it is to give the notion of the multi-voice sound of a choir, still with the spaciness of the Phaser.  A great example is the Edge’s playing in U2’s I Will Follow.
All three work well in stereo, especially Chorus. The version of the pedal needs to have a stereo or left/right output.  Played through two widely spaced amplifiers, they give a very open spacious feeling.

On my pedal board, I have an MXR Phase 90 / Eddy Van Halen and Line 6 Roto Machine.  The Roto Machine is a Leslie rotating speaker simulator that is a specialized kind of phaser.  A very good example of a Leslie effect is Eric Clapton’s guitar in the middle of the song Badge.

What are your pitch and modulation pedals?  What order do you have your guitar effects pedals in?

Comment below or send me a picture and a description.  It’s OK if it doesn’t have Golden Path pedals on it. – This is all about discovering new sounds and ways to get them.

Click to read Part 1 of this series on  how to create an ideal guitar pedal board setup, by visiting: How to construct a guitar pedal board setup the right way the first time.

Click to read Part 3 of this series on  how to create an ideal guitar pedal board setup, by visiting: Advanced guitar pedal board setup tricks and effects.



In the next blog, I’ll discuss adding compressors and other effects as well as moving around effects so they are in a different order.