Setting Up Your Effect Signal Chain

With all the different types of effects and devices available for musicians, there can be confusion with how to set up your signal chain with your effects.  We offer a variety of pedals that can be placed in many different ways in your audio signal chain.

There is no wrong way to connect your effects in your signal chain as each method can provide you with different sonic results. Though what works for one person or rig may not work for another.

Common Placement

Here are some common effect placement suggestions for pedalboard setups in general.

  • Dynamics (compressors), filters (wah), pitch shifters, and Volume pedals typically go at the beginning of the signal chain.
  • Gain based effects such as and overdrive/distortion pedals come next.
  • Modulation effects such as chorus, flangers, phasers typically come next in the chain.
  • Time based effects such as delays and reverbs work best at the end of the signal chain.
  • Volume pedals can go at the beginning or end of your signal chain to provide slightly different functionality in different locations in your chain.

Here are some example effect setups that many musicians use following the above suggestions.

Setup 1

Effects Pedal signal chain

Guitar => compressor => volume pedal => wah pedal => overdrive => chorus => tremolo => delay => reverb => amplifier

  • In this particular setup, the volume pedal is placed near the beginning of the signal chain to control the volume level going to the other effects and the amplifier.  This can be useful to clean up your signal by rocking back the volume a bit if you have the overdrive engaged.

Setup 2

Effects Pedal signal chain

Guitar => compressor => wah pedal => overdrive => chorus =>  tremolo => volume pedal => delay => reverb => amplifier

  • This setup is the same as the first one above, however, the volume pedal has been placed near the end of the chain right before the delay and reverb effects.  This allows you to have full control of the volume of your signal right before the delay and reverb effects. This is useful for fading in a fully overdriven signal without cleaning up the signal at the lower range of the sweep.

Effects Loops

Another way to set up your pedals is by placing them within the effects loop of your amplifier.  An effects loop is an audio input and output loop that is placed after the preamp and before the power amp section of your amplifier, using the Effects Send and Effects Return jacks. On some amplifiers, these can be labels Preamp Out (Effects Send) and Power Amp In (Effects Return).  Not all amplifiers have effects loops, but those that do allow for you to place some of your effects within the loop.

Typically, players tend to place their delay and reverb effects within the effects loops of their amplifiers.  This placement is especially helpful if you get your overdrive and distortion from your amplifier instead of pedals. Otherwise you would be feeding your delay repeats and reverb ambiance into the overdrive and distortion of your amplifier, which can sound muddy and washed out.  You can also place your modulation pedals within the effects loop of your amplifier as well for a different sound.

There are 2 types of effects loops: series and parallel.

With series effects loops, the entire signal from the amplifier’s preamp section is sent through Effects Send OUTPUT to pass through the effects and return through the power amp section from the Effects Return INPUT.

With parallel effects loops, half the the signal from the amplifier’s preset section is sent through the Effects Sent OUTPUT to pass through effects, while the other half passes directly on to the amplifier’s power amp section to always be heard unaffected.  With this type of effects loop, there is typically an effect level control that allows you to dial in the amount of the effect you want heard along with your unaffected signal.  We recommend setting the MIX control on any of your effects to 100% when placed within a parallel effects loop.  Our TimeLine and BigSky pedals have a Kill Dry feature (DRYSIG parameter in the GLOBLS menu) that mutes your dry signal for use in parallel effects loops—however we do not recommend using this setting when using more than one pedal within the effects loop.

Here are some setups that include placing some of your effects within the effects loop of your amplifier:

Effect Loop Setup 1

Setting up your Effects Signal Chain - Amplifier Effects Loops

Guitar => compressor => volume pedal => wah pedal => overdrive => chorus => tremolo => amplifier INPUT; amplifier effects send => delay => reverb => amplifier effects return

  • With this setup, only the delay and reverb effects are placed within the effects loop of the amplifier.  This setup allows the sound from your amplifier’s preamp section to feed into these effects.  Overdriven and distorted sounds generated by your amplifiers preamp section sound much clearer with delays and reverbs placed within the loop.

Effect Loop Setup 2

Setting up your Effects Signal Chain - Amplifier Effects Loops

Guitar => compressor => wah pedal => overdrive => amplifier input; amplifier effects send => chorus =>  tremolo => volume pedal => delay => reverb => amplifier effects return

  • With this setup, we have moved the volume pedal and modulation effects to the effects loop along with the delay and reverb effects.  Much like setup 1, you get a different sound from your modulation effects when placed after the amplifier’s preamp section.

Special Cases

Some of our pedals have qualities or features that allow them to work in multiple locations or a specific location in the signal chain.

Deco Tape Saturation & Doubletracker

Deco Tape Saturation & Doubletracker is a unique effects pedal that allows for a wide variety of tonal possibilities.  You can place Deco near the beginning of your signal chain and use the Tape Saturation as a light overdrive.  Or, you can place Deco at the end of your chain, use lower Tape Saturation settings, and provide your entire signal with the tape-like warmth, compression, and added low end harmonics.

Mobius Modulation has a unique Pre/Post connection feature that allows you to place the effects in one of two locations in your signal chain.  Within the Params menu of each preset, you can select whether you would like it to be placed within the Pre or Post positions in the chain.  (See Mobius manual pages 22-23 for details.)

BigSky Reverberator - Reverb PedalLex Rotary can work well after your gain based effect with your other modulation pedals, or at the very end of your signal chain as well to make it sound like your entire signal is passing through a rotating speaker cabinet.

BigSky
 Reverberator has a built-in cab filter activated by a toggle switch on the back of the pedal.  This gives you the sound of playing through a custom 1×12 speaker cabinet with the reverb effects engaged or bypassed.  This feature works well for direct recording or connecting directly to the mixer of a PA system.

Most important rule: There are no rules!

It’s important to remember that these setups are not set rules that must be followed.  You can get a variety of unique sounds by placing your effects in unorthodox locations.  It’s common to run into that special sound that came about as a ‘happy accident’ when setting up your effects.  Using these suggestions, you can build up your own pedalboard to suit your individual taste.

About Hugo
Hugo Hugo is Strymon’s customer support manager and calm voice of reason. When his cats stop yelling at him for food, he spends his time driving through local canyon roads and running marathons. He also loves to noodle on guitar and play old Nintendo games.

62 Responses

  1. almir alves says:

    hiiiiii!!!!!!

    very good!!!!! the diagrams of how to connect the pedals at amps with and without fx loop. I loved them.

    many thanks

  2. mark pidgen says:

    Great info! I have Big Sky. Would love to see ‘spaghetti western spring settings. (I think it would be spring ……Maybe plate?????

    • Hugo says:

      @mark pidgen – Thanks for supporting Strymon! 🙂 I would try Spring reverb settings with high MIX and medium-high DECAY settings and no PRE-DELAY or MOD.

  3. Graham Denney says:

    Hello, i have a colleague – Tom – who owns a musical instrument shop in Grantham, England – Simonds Music. I told him about the Strymon pedals and he said he would contact you to set up a dealership. He says he has emailed you twice and called and left messages but received no answer.
    I have already waited six weeks because I would prefer to support local business. Otherwise I will have to buy the Big Sky, Ola and TimeLine elsewhere.
    Could you kindly get in touch with Tom Simmonds.
    http://www.simmondsmusic.com
    0044 (0)1476570700
    enquiries@simmondsmusic.com

    Thenks. No commission expected.
    Graham

  4. Zachary Drummond says:

    What we REALLY learned from this…That Strymon is developing an overdrive, and that it will be red.

  5. Danny says:

    Are there suggestions on where to place an EQ pedals with the 4 setups in the article?

    • Hugo says:

      @Danny – As an EQ is used to filter and tweak the tone of the signal passing through it, this can be placed anywhere in the chain. For example, if you want to tweak the overall sound before the amplifier, place the EQ at the end of the signal chain. If you want to adjust the tone of your guitar before it hits your effects pedals, place the EQ at the front of your signal chain. It just depends on what you are planning on doing with the EQ and where in the signal chain it sounds best to you.

  6. CraigGB says:

    You should try the compressor after the overdrive stage. Providing an already compressed signal to a drive/distortion pedal doesn’t allow the full dynamic range of the pedal to be applied to the raw guitar signal, losing something of the capability or unique nature of these pedals. You can also lose the touch sensitivity of the drive pedal when the input signal has its louds softened and it’s quites upped. Placing the compressor after drive pedals allows the full driven tone to then be leveled dynamically with the compressor. Note that may drive and distortion pedals will include their own natural compression so addition of compressor after the drive pedals allows for fine tuning of the overall compression. It’s worth experimenting with.

  7. Ricardo says:

    In the Effect Loop Setup 2, where would put the tuner pedal? And a EQ pedal?

    • Hugo says:

      @Ricardo – I recommend placing tuners as close to your original signal as possible at the beginning of your signal chain. An EQ pedal can be placed where you would like to filter your signal to the settings of the EQ which is technically at any point in your signal chain. Try the EQ in different locations and use the setting that works best for your.

  8. Marcus says:

    While your chain setup may typically be the way to go, there are a number of modulation effects that sound different and to some ears better when placed before the dirt.

    • Hugo says:

      @Marcus – Yes you are correct and I encourage you and all other player to experiment with pedal placement of their signal chain for different and unique results.

  9. koreangameboy says:

    How to Bbe sonic Maximizer??

    eq – bbe , bbe-eq, return – ended, ended??

    • Hugo says:

      @koreangameboy – I would treat the sonic maximizer like a EQ and place it anywhere that you feel would enhance the sound coming into it, likely at the end of your signal chain after your EQ and before the effects return of your amplifier.

  10. Timothy Chew says:

    What about in the case you have a buffer pedal? Where do you place the volume pedal? at the start of the chain before the drives?

    • Hugo says:

      @Timothy Chew – This really depends on the specs of your effect and volume pedals. A buffer should be placed 1) before long cable runs, 2) in front of low input impedance pedals, or 3) in front of many true bypass effects. If your volume pedal has a high input impedance, I would recommend placing it near the front of your signal chain. If the Volume pedal has a low input impedance, I would recommend placing it after the buffer. Again, this really depends on how you plan on using the volume pedal and whether the one you have has the right spec for that usage.

  11. Tom says:

    Hello. This is a great article. Does strymon have a user fourm group anywhere. I own the g system, i love it for its effects, but it cant do everything i want. I found strymon, and instantly bought a timeline. I have also ordered big sky and mobius. Is there a way to connect the strymon up to the gsystem, and haveva patch on the g pull up a bank on the strymon, and also be able to choose one or multiple strymons.

  12. Francisco says:

    Hi!! Great article!! My question is: Where should I place an octave pedal… before or after the drive pedals???
    Thanks a lot!

  13. Umberto says:

    Hi,
    Is there any difference using high or low impedance Volume pedals ? I have one H VP, should I then try to put it after OD and before my Timeline and reverb Boss RV-6 ?
    Or better Timeline and reverb in amp loop and VP beginning of chain ?
    Thx !
    Umberto

  14. David Sanchez N. says:

    HELLO

    I HAVE A BIG SKY PEDAL AND PEDAL VOX ST TONELAB
    MI SWITCHING MODE IS IN THE FOLLOWING ORDER

    TONELAB ST GUITAR VOX – PEDAL BIG SKY – EMPLIFICADOR.

    Is well connected, I NEED YOUR ORIENTATION AS THE TIMELINE multidirectional PROSIMAMENTE buy DELAY AND NEED HELP ON HOW TO CONNECT YOU.

    • Hugo says:

      @David Sanchez N. – Thanks for supporting Strymon! 🙂 I would recommend placing the TimeLine and BigSky after your ToneLab in the following order:

      Tonelab OUTPUT => TimeLine LEFT INPUT; TimeLine LEFT OUTPUT => BigSky LEFT INPUT; BigSky LEFT OUTPUT => amplifier front input

  15. Umberto says:

    Hi Hugo,
    Now I am a proud owner of a strymon lex as well. . Best place on pedalboard? I run Timeline and reverb both in amp fx loop… should I run the Lex at very end of chain front amp, or in fx loop as well ?

    • Umberto says:

      End of chain after dirt sounds no good… in front is just fantastic. .. why? Anyway. … the Lex is amazing; -)

    • Hugo says:

      @Umberto – Thanks for supporting Strymon! 🙂 The best place for the Lex is where it sounds best to you. If you like how it sounds in front of your drive pedals, I recommend using it in that location. I also want to note that turning up the PREAMP DRIVE on the Lex can lead to lower effect output volume and recommend using the pedals on-board boost (up to +6dB of boost) to counter this loss of volume.

      • Umberto says:

        After drive sounds just weird, don´t know why… but before drive is really amazing (also don´t know why, but who cares 😉 !!! maybe the Lex does not like being after one of the other pedals…
        Thx for the boost tip !!!
        Waiting for a Strymon OD 😉

  16. Craig says:

    I have a Deco and was wondering if it can be used with a delay pedal in a 2 amp stereo setup. I generally will set the Deco for wide stereo to get a bigger sound. Would like to add in delay but not sure if the Deco should be before or after and should delay should be from 1 amp or 2?

  17. josh says:

    I recently rearranged my pedals after reading in forums about ideal placement. I used to have tuner>sonic stomp>looper>keeley flanger/delay/fuzz>blues driver>wah. The sound was fine.
    The first image below is of my old setup.
    My current setup is tuner>wah>blues driver>keeley falng/delay/fuzz box>sonic max>looper. The second photo is current setup which sounds way better than original. Problem is now my flanger/phase side of my keeley won’t get loud like it used to and my loop wont let me hear what I’m playing when I lay down a riff, also when I play the loop back I can no longer play over the track.

    Input would be much appreciated and thank you.

    • Hugo says:

      @Josh – Changing the order of the effects in your signal chain can drastically change the sound you get from each pedal depending on where it was before and where it is now. Can you please send us an email to support@strymon.net with further details including a video recording of what you are experiencing so we have a better idea of what is happening?

  18. Ibe Mitchell says:

    I have the Flint. I’m going to use it for the both of its functions. My delay is following, then my volume. On every example the delay is pretty placed between the tremolo and the reverb. That raises a few concerns for me. I just bought the Flint yesterday. Should I take it back, and buy a Tremolo and reverb separately?

    • Hugo says:

      @Ibe Mitchell – Thanks for supporting Strymon! 🙂 The setups above are just suggestions and using a delay before or after the Flint will still sound great! Give it a try to see how it works for you.

  19. Patrick Win says:

    What about the tuner? After/before the compression? After or before the volume pedal?

    Thanks!

    • Patrick Win says:

      I see this was answered above. Sorry about that. How about an a/b/y box? I guess it depends on what effects you want to send to which amp, correct? I’m thinking after the volume pedal, I will run the a/b/y and split to two different amps.

  20. Dax says:

    Help Please, for some reason when connecting mobius and timeline to the effects loop the mobius works as expected but the timeline does not work at all. All of the presets act the same way with no delay at all. Everything is connected the right way!

    • Hugo says:

      @Dax – Sorry to hear that you are having trouble with the pedals in your setup. If the pedals work on their own in front of the amplifier isolated one at a time, this is likely related to a setting or connection with the pedals. Please shoot us an email to support@strymon.net with full details on the amp make and model, the inputs and outputs used on both the amp and each of the pedals, and the setting of the switch on the back of the pedals. Also, include whether this happens on every preset or only certain presets with each pedal.

  21. Jon says:

    I see you suggest compression before wah. Everything else I’ve seen suggests wah, then compression. But, Strymon’s opinion is significant. Is there a specific reason you recommended this?

    Thanks!

    • Hugo says:

      @Jon – This placement was purely subjective as I like to place my OB.1 compressor as the first pedal in my own chain. There is nothing wrong with placing your effect in different locations if they work better for you that way.

  22. Peppe says:

    Hi! Thanks for a great article!
    My question is about adding a noise suppressor. I have the Boss NS-2 to tame a Peavey 5150. (I am also using a wha wha, chorus, digital delay, Maxon od-808, tuner and EQ.
    On the NS-2 pedal there is input, output, send and return. What is your advice on where in the chain it should be and how to connect it? As I guess you already know the 5150 do have an effect loop.

    Greatfull for any advice, thanks!

    Best regards,
    Peppe

    • Hugo says:

      @Peppe – According to the NS-2 manual, you should place all effects except delay and reverb between the SEND and RETURN of the NS-2. So, you can try:

      Guitar => NS-2 INPUT; NS-2 SEND => Tuner => WAH => Chorus => OD-808 => EQ => AMP INPUT = Amp EFFECT SEND => Digital Delay => NS-2 RETURN; NS-2 OUTPUT => Amp EFFECT RETURN

  23. Carlos says:

    Where would you recommend “amp-in-a-box” pedals? I have had my Catalinbread DLS III in the loop of my möbius along with od/boost/fuzz. I run it into a clean HRD. Oh and happy new year keep up the great work and congrats on the great reviews on the Riverside!

    • Hugo says:

      @Carlos – I recommend placing pedals like this in between the effects you would like to use with them. Place OD/Boost/Fuzz pedals before the amp-in-a-box and delays and reverbs after. Just treat it like your amplifier in the effect chain.

  24. Joe Mullikin says:

    I am running the TimeLine, Mobius, Big Sky and Flint along with a few JHS drive pedals and a POG. I have a 5 channel true bypass looper and use a DMC-3XL and TNT tap to control my MIDI devices. In the past I have had all of my drives and POG in the 5 channel looper. But I have reduced significantly the number of drives I am running. I run a SP compressor and an EM-Drive at the beginning of my chain that are my always on pedals & I’m not sure I need them in my loop. I also cut down to 2 drive pedals (JHS Double Barrel & Jetter Gold Standard). Would I be able to run the TimeLine, Big Sky, and Mobius through the bypass looper and leave them always on but bypass through that? Should/Do I need to use a TRS to do this run since I am going straight into the in/out signals? I’m trying to do some experimenting but wanted to get your opinion as well.

    • Hugo says:

      @Joe Mullikin – Yes, you can place each of the Strymon pedals within their own loop while engaged in your switcher using the LEFT INPUT and LEFT OUTPUT jacks of these pedals and just use the loop switcher controls to bring the effects in and out of the signal path. Make sure to use standard mono TS instrument cables as the jacks are unbalanced and do not benefit from TRS connections.

  25. Martin Mazzon says:

    Hi, I just bought BigSky, Mobius and Timeline. I have a Nord Stage 2 (Stereo outputs) and a Moog Sub 37 (mono output). I want to run the 3 pedals thru this 2 Synths in a live situation. Can you help me please with the connections. I also have a standard mixer.

    • Matt says:

      If your mixer has an effects loop, it would be best to run your synthesizers right into your mixer and use the send/return for your pedals. Or, if there is no effects loop, you can take stereo out of the mixer and run through your pedals before going to your amp/PA. Then, you can easily pick which instrument you wish to send through the pedals.

  26. Heath says:

    Where would my micro pog be best place in the above diagrams?

    • Hugo says:

      @Heath – i would place pitch effects at the beginning of your signal chain, before or after a compress if used at the front as well. This will provide your pitch effects with a clean dry signal to process its pitch effects from.

  27. Tim says:

    Can you give a brief explanation on which jacks to use when connecting the Big Sky to the Timeline or vice Versa. A bit confused with the feedback loop on the timeline. Also is there an on and off switch for the pedals or do I have to turn the mic down manually for each one. I know these are simple questions but I’d appreciate . Thanks ! Thanks !

    • Hugo says:

      @Tim – If you are using BigSky and TimeLine in you signal chain in mono WITHOUT using the feedback loop feature, I would recommend placing TimeLine before BigSky and using just the LEFT INPUT and OUTPUT jacks of the pedals:

      signal => TimeLine LEFT INPUT; TimeLine LEFT OUTPUT => BigSky LEFT INPUT; BigSky LEFT OUTPUT => amp or other effects

      If you DO want to use TimeLine’s feedback loop, which allows you to send TL’s delay repeats ONLY through additional effects, the connections are different. So if you would like to apply BigSky’s reverb effects ONLY to TimeLine’s delay repeats, flip the rear switch to FEEDBACK LOOP and make the following connections:

      signal => TimeLine LEFT INPUT; TimeLine RIGHT OUTPUT => BigSky LEFT INPUT; BigSky LEFT OUTPUT => TimeLine RIGHT INPUT; TimeLine LEFT OUTPUT => amp or other effects

  28. Tim says:

    Correction I meant mix* thanks

  29. Carl says:

    I have a pretty basic setup ; tuner, volume pedal, overdrive and blue sky in that order. When I power up my blue sky bypass switch comes on and I can’t use the Strymon box. When I remove it from the chain described above it works just fine. Any ideas why the bypass is on ?

    • Hugo says:

      @Carl – Sorry to hear that you are having trouble. I am not clear on why this would be happening from the info you have provided. Can you please shoot us an email with details on the input and output connections and how each pedal is being powered when you experience this problem? Also, please also include a video that clearly shows this behavior, your connections, and how each pedal is being powered so that we have a better understanding of what you are experiencing. support@strymon.net

  30. joe rock says:

    Can You Run A Morpheus Droptune Pedal & A Pitch Shift Pedal In The Effect Send-return ….?

    • Hugo says:

      @joe rock – Technically, yes, you can place pedals anywhere you want in the chain, but pitch based effects like this work best with your unaffected dry signal at the beginning of the chain.

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