Alternative pedal order: part 1

My last post made me think a little more about the topic of effect order. While certainly there is an accepted order that sounds “best” for most people, most of the time, sometimes it pays to experiment.

Perhaps the oldest effect order quirk is whether or not tremolo goes before or after reverb. In many amps in the 50s and 60s the tremolo circuit came after the reverb spring. This gives a very different sound to the other way round and sounds a lot more throbby and dreamy.

Another effect order conundrum is delay and drive. Conventional wisdom suggests that delay should go after distortion, or in the effects loop of an overdrive amp. However, what if you love the tone of a particular vintage overdriven amp without an effects loop, but you also want delay? No less a player than Eric Johnson has made this a part of his signature tone in the past, sending his guitar signal through a tape echo into an overdriven Marshall stack. This combination gives a rich graininess to the delay repeats.

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Delay on distortion or distortion on delay?

While I don’t have a couple of vintage fender amps or a tape echo and Marshall stack to hand, I created a brief demo to illustrate both of these examples. In the demo I play the same (incredibly simple) riff 4 times but with different pedal combinations:

  1. Distortion into delay
  2. Delay into distortion
  3. Tremolo into reverb
  4. Reverb into Tremolo

I recorded the demo using a Tascam iXZ iphone interface, with signal coming from the pedals to a clean amp tone. The pedals used were a TC electronic vintage dual distortion, a TC electronic flashback X4 delay set to space echo, a TC electronic trinity reverb set to spring and a Boss TR-2 tremolo.

While the riff itself is very unimaginative, I tried to leave a lot of space so that the reverb and delay trails came to the fore. As you’d expect the delay going in to distortion has many more audible repeats. This makes for a more cluttered sound in the picked section. It also sounds a little less full to my ears, probably due to some filtering as part of the space echo emulation. An interesting side effect of ordering pedals like this is that progressive repeats sound cleaner as the signal hitting the distortion pedal lowers in volume. This is analogous to the old trick of rolling off the volume on your guitar for a clean sound through an overdriven amp. As for the second pair of demos, I was rather surprised by how much I prefered the deep throb of reverb going in to tremolo. As I mentioned earlier this combination was how some older amps were wired, and you definitely get a real vintage garage/ surf pop vibe that is quite addictive. I’m not sure if I will make it a permanent change though, because I think reverb should be closer to the amp than delay but I also like using the tremolo for different layers when looping. I suppose it is a good excuse for buying another tremolo pedal, or an amp with it built in!

Do you know of any other famous guitarists with unconventional pedal order? Jonny Greenwood springs to mind.

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