Pedal signal chain

Pedal Signal Chain

By Stefan Vos
In Jun 20, 2012

Is there a correct sequence in regarding a pedal signal chain? Which order should your pedals go in? The answer to this question is not a quick YES or NO. Many masters of the guitar have broken all the rules in particular sonic contexts to come up with awesome, original sounds. However, there are some very helpful guidelines and hints that have been established by guitarists and sonic gearhounds, people with knowledge of electrical signals, amperes and ohms, things concerned with science and maths, that ensure a good foundation for getting the best from different effects pedals. Let’s explore the topic of pedal signal chain.

Robert Keeley, of Keeley Electronics, makers of some of the best boutique effects pedals in the business, has the following to contribute:

“Placing effects in a logical order will help. This list of effects order is just a general guideline. Some of the best and most unique guitar tones have been created by breaking the rules… I came up with a little phrase to help remember the order because even I forget. Ask yourself this when you wonder about effects order or placement: Which Chain Of Effect Pedals Makes Life Easy?”

The Pedal Signal Chain Golden Rule

All you have to do is remember this phrase and which letter corresponds to which type of effect. Wah -> Which, Compressor -> Chain, Overdrive -> Of, EQ -> Effect, Pitch -> Pedals, Modulation -> Make, Level -> Life, Echo -> Easy. I like to see Wah pedals and sometimes even Phasers as the first effect after the guitar. We’ll call these Wah effects (yes even the Phaser). Wah pedals boost a frequency you sweep to with your foot and Phasers cut or notch a frequency that is swept to electronically. Distortion pedals make interesting response changes to the boost or cut from these sweep pedals.

Second Up: Compressor Pedal

Compressors typically go next although I like them after Distortion pedals in many cases if the Compressor is clean and transparent enough. Compression after Distortion has two effects that I really like: first, the noise floor is lower because the noise from a Compressor isn’t being amplified and distorted by the Overdrive pedal, and second, there appears to be more sustain. There is one drawback that some people notice and that is a darker, warmer tone. Some folks might prefer a more conventional, brighter tone. Next comes Overdrive or Distortion. Equalizer pedals can go next. They are commonly used for a boost pedal if they can be turned on and off, or used to shape the tone of the Distortion pedal. Pitch changing pedals, Vibrato for example; go next for the simple reason that many Distortion pedals can’t handle the many pitches at one time.

Modulation Effects

Try strumming a complex chord with your Distortion pedal on, say a C7#9#11. Modulation effects such as Chorus and Flanging go next. Level pedals that control the volume go next in many cases. This would include Tremolo, Volume pedals (great at this point in the effects chain because they cut all the hiss going to your amp), Noise Gates and Limiters. Compression is a limiter in many cases and this is why it works post-distortion, by the way. Echo effects go last. These include Delay and Reverb. A sample effects board might contain these effects: Guitar -> Wah, Compressor, Overdrive, EQ, Vibrato, Chorus, Tremolo, Volume Pedal, and Delay-> Amp”.

I hope this is helpful in fining the correct pedal signal chain for your board. As I’ve stated before: the best thing to do is follow your ears. Going with what sounds best to you will mean that you will enjoy playing more, which will hopefully mean better playing! Rock on!

Profile photo of Stefan Vos

* Has played in the UK with the band Lightning Type on stages like the Camden Barfly, Dublin Castle and The London Astoria * Has recorded at Beethoven Street Studios, previously owned by Seal, through a mixing desk once used by David Bowie, with one of Brian May's amps * Has played with local rock superstars Cassette * Has been teaching for the last 10 years to all ages and levels * Listens to and enjoys playing ALL styles of music * Has spent years refining the POWER STANCE for maximum on-stage rocking * Has dedicated himself to the lifelong pursuit of ULTIMATE TONE: The Way of the TONE Master * Has never played "Guitar Hero"


  1. Hi

    Do any of you know anyone with a Keely Compressor Sustain pedal for sale?


    1. Sorry. That would be Keeley.

    2. Profile photo of Tyrone Mayer

      Hi Gerald, Where are you based? We may have a few that we can get hold of for you.

Leave A Comment