You Must Forget In Order To Remember
Remember when you were a kid? That blissful carefree existence
with limited rules and unlimited possibilities. One day you could
be an astronaut going through space in your home-made cardboard
rocket, and the next you were a cowboy riding through the
wilderness on your family's overbearing Golden Retriever. Then you
got older... Rules and responsibilities started to take over your
life, and systems and rutines got put into place to make your day
to day life easier to time-manage.
The same thing goes for your life as a musician. When you start out you're blisfully unaware of the difference between delay and reverb. Chorus is something that comes after a verse, and you're actually able to enjoy pedals that aren't true bypass. Then the more you get into it, you learn that the otherwise imaginative and creative world of music contains rules as well. You can't use those cheap cables you used to have, 'cause they suck your tone. You can't play that Fender amp, 'cause it's too mid-scooped, and you can't run Fuzz before a Wah, because what would Jimmi think?
So you end up doing what other people do, which is almost always the following:
Guitar -> tuner -> wah/filters-> compressor -> fuzz -> overdrive/distortion -> pitch-shifting -> modulation -> delay -> reverb -> Amp
And while this is a really great starting point, and will leave you with a very pristine sound, it might not be the right sound for you.
Hence we're throwing out the rulebooks today, and taking a look at some "unconventional" pedal placements to give you a proverbial hit across the head, so you can forget the rules and remember what music and tone chasing is all about. Having fun!
Reverb before Overdrive/Distortion
You're probably thinking "Wooh Wooh Wooh, hold your tonal
horses!" right now. And we know, everybody preaches how important
it is to run your Reverb pedals after your overdrives and
distortions, because otherwise your sound will get muddy and boomy.
But you can actually make it work the other way around, and with a
pretty cool result as a matter of fact.
The trick to this is to use subtlety and restraint. We know, it's difficult. You just want to crank that sucker. But trust us, if you set your reverb to a spring or room reverb with a light crunchy overdrive after it, you'll immediately be taken back to those gorgeous gritty reverb tones of the 50s and 60s.
Troy Van Leeuwen of Queens Of The Stone Age and Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine are prime examples of this tone trick.
Delay before Overdrive/Distortion
Another slightly tabu subject in modern day setups is running
delay before dirt. Why would you do that!? Uhmmm, have you heard
about Jimmy Page, Eric Johnson or maybe Eddie Van Halen? All of
their early ambience and slapback tones were created by running a
delay straight into an overdriven amp.
Again, you have to show a bit of restraint with your delay mix and your gain setting, but once you get it set just right, you probably don't want to put your delay pedal back in its usual spot. Or maybe you should just get more delay pedals to cover several spots in your chain? Yeah, that sounds like the right solution.
Reverb before Delay
Reverb before delay is also a common no-go for tone purists
since delaying your reverberated signal can create tonal clutter.
But some highly unique ambient and psychedelic tones can be
achieved by going down the path less traveled.
Try running a modulated reverb into a reverse delay for some spectacular mind-bending pads, or a splashy spring reverb into a tape echo for a cool vintage flavored echo explosion.
Tremolo after Reverb
We all love that lush pulsating ambience from a smooth trem into
a reverb pedal. It's just very organic and easy to play off. But
have you ever tried it the other way around? Yeah, we're talking
choppy square-wave trem straight after your verbs.
No? DO IT! It's like you're being sucked in and out of space, voluntarely throwing yourself into a tonal abyss only to make it out on the other side alive somehow. Okay, we might be over-selling it here. We get carried away easily, but that still doesn't change the fact that it sounds bloody marvelous, and you owe it to yourself to try it out.
A soft sine-wave trem also results in a cool effect. A more lush and ambient effect, and not as abrupt and explosive as the square-wave.
Wah after Fuzz and Distortion
Probably the most classic rock sound ever is running a Wah into
a thunderous Fuzz Face. Those gnarly boosted mid-range sweeps are
just to die for. But what would happen if we decided to reverse the
order? We know, we know. Total tonal sacrilege. But just hear
us out... Or rather, hear Philip Sayce out, one of the best blues
rock guitarists currently alive. He prefers running his Wah before
his gain stages in order to keep the Wah as pure as possible, and
what you get is one crazy beautiful wah tone.
Philip gets into the nitty gritty of his wah and fuzz setup around the 4:40 mark. But hey, watch the entire thing. That dude can play!!
Compression after everything else
The reason for having a compressor as one of the first things in your chain is so it only squeezes your core tone, and then feeds the new compressed signal into your effects. But what happens if you place it as the very last effect in your chain? Interesting stuff is what.
By doing so, your compressor starts to act as a limiter for your
entire chain. This is a great thing if you have some very...uhmmm,
let's call 'em "lively" effects. This could be a gnarly fuzz pedal,
a true spring reverb in a pedal format, or a delay that tends to
oscillate easily if it's fed too much pre-gain. So by placing the
compressor last, you can keep all of these "crazy" effects under
control and always maintain a stable and coherent sound
The legendary Charlie Sexton is one of the top players that likes to use this secret trick.
Again, subtlety is key here. If you over-compress you will kill the dynamics of your entire chain.
Looper Before Everything Else
The common thing to do with a Looper, such as our Ditto Looper,
is to place it last in the chain. That way the looper records every
single effect pedal you have switched on before it, capturing a
complete snapshot of the sound you got going at the moment.
But what happens if you move it to the front of your effects chain? Complete creative control is what!
By moving it to the front of the chain you only capture your guitars dry signal, and then you can apply effects to the dry loop afterwards. This is awesome for soundscapers and experimental musicians. Just record a phrase and start molding it with time-shifting delays and cavernous reverbs. So much fun to be had!