If you’re new to guitar you might just be using your instrument and a simple practice amp that either has or doesn’t have built in effects; reverb, delay, modulation, etc.
In this article, we’re going to briefly discuss signal chain at the surface level so you have a good enough understanding to build your tone and not work against yourself when adding pedals into your chain.
The most basic set ups consist of your guitar going straight into your amp, why would anyone want to get more complicated than that?
Well, to start, the tonal possibilities are endless, and the tone you’ll find when using pedals, stomp boxes, or modeler units is of higher quality, exceeding the effect quality of amps that have multiple effects built in. Where these amps typically have one type of each effect built in, with just a “Mix” or “Level” parameter, using pedals for effects provides much more control over the effect, allowing you to produce the soundscape you’re wanting to hear.
Before discussing the signal chain, it is important that your instrument’s electrical components are working properly and that there is no faulty wiring.
“Get in line!”
Typically if you use any dynamic effects like compression, a noise gate, etc, depending on what you need it to do, it may be the first effect in your signal chain (example: compression), or it can go in the effects loop of your amp (example: EQ).
Things like overdrive and distortion go second in the signal chain, usually before your amp.
Modulation effects can some times go before the amp, although usually go in the effects loop of your amp, but again, where it sits in your signal chain will be determined by what you’re wanting the effect to do.
Note: Effects like noise gates can be used at your leisure where you need them. For example you may have a noisy distortion pedal or compression pedal that produces a hum or raises the signal causing it to be harder to tame, you can put a noise gate directly after the noisy pedal, or if your problem is after the amp(most high gain amps could use a good noise gate), you can place it in the effects loop to eliminate as much noise from the amp as you can. You’ll even find some musicians using more than one noise gate depending on what style you’re playing so know your objective tone and what you need to achieve it.
Now the signal chain should lead to the input of your amplifier out to your speaker cab, IR, or cab simulator.
now let’s traverse time and space… effects…
From there you should be utilizing your amps built in effects loop to place your remaining, time, space, and modulation effects.
Assuming we’re setting up the most bare basic of rigs, the chain in your effects loop could typically follow:
Experimenting is necessary though for you to grow and develop your own understanding, but no matter how many extra effects you have, following the above method should keep your pedals from working against each other.
Reverb going into delay usually obscures the quality of the reverb and can have undesired effects so a very common practice is to keep any reverb effects last in your chain. Modulation effects though can have differing desired functions, so placing a tremolo effects can sometimes be more about taste than what “makes sense”.
So with all that in mind, we’ve covered the bare basics of setting up your signal chain with one of the more common ways your chain would be set up, which is an excellent foundation for the beginner that’s looking to build their rig and their understanding of it, and although this can be used as a solid point of reference, it’s important to explore for yourself too! I hope you found this article useful and informative, as always, thanks for reading!