Pedal Chain Order: Distortion, Overdrive and Fuzz Pedals


Pedal chain ordering is a hugely debated topic amongst guitarists, because there really is no right answer when it comes to the best pedal order. However, there are a few things that most guitarists agree on when it comes to placing your gain-related pedals, like distortion, overdrive and fuzz.

In this post, I’ll go through the best position to put your gain-pedals, plus what happens to the sound when you move the position around. So let’s get started!

Where's the Best Position?

Generally, your distortion/ overdrive/ fuzz effects pedals should go towards the start of your pedal chain. It’s a good guideline to put pedals which have the greatest effect at the start of your chain (closest to your guitar) and those that have a lesser effect at the end (closest to your amp). 

That’s because you should have the biggest changes to your tone at the start, and then let the later pedals refine it before it goes into your amp. So with that in mind, most guitarists like putting their gain-related pedals at the start of the chain, or close to the beginning.

Whether it’s at the start, or slightly further down the chain, depends on what other pedals you’re using. Here’s what generally should go before and after your gain pedals. 

Put Gain after

  • Tuner pedals
  • Compression pedals
  • Wah-pedals 

Put Gain Before 

  • Modulation effects pedals e.g. chorus, phaser, tremolo
  • Pitch shifters
  • Time-related effects e.g. delay and reverb 
  • Volume pedals 
pedal chain order

Why is this a good pedal chain order?

There are several reasons why you should place your gain pedals after your tuner, compression and wah pedals. You want your tuner pedal first so you can avoid any effects interfering with your tuning pedal. 

Then your compression pedals should go next. If you put them here, you’ll be able to smooth out unwanted sounds caused by inconsistent picking pressure to give you a more rounded and professional tone. If your compression pedal goes after a distortion/ overdrive/ fuzz pedal, then it’ll end up boosting the distortion effect too much in order to smooth out the level. This will lead to a really muddy and messy sounding result.

Your wah pedal should normally go before your gain pedal, because you probably want it to have a large effect that can be shaped by later pedals. You can swap this around with your gain pedal to give you a slightly different kind of effect.

Modulation, pitch shifters, time-related effects and volume pedals usually go after your distortion/ overdrive and fuzz pedals because they’re used to  tweak the tone more than alter it completely.

What If You Have All Three Gain Pedals?

Okay so now you know roughly where your gain pedals (distortion, overdrive, fuzz) should go in your pedal chain, what happens if you’re using all three different pedals.

Well, this is known as gain-stacking. If you have all three pedals, you’re effectively layering more gain on top of your tone. Here’s what order you should put all three in, going from the guitar end to the amp.

  1. Fuzz
  2. Overdrive
  3. Distortion

It’s mostly agreed that fuzz pedals should go early on in the pedal chain. This is because the effect the fuzz pedal has is very closely related to the volume control on your guitar. If you roll back your volume control, you’ll really decrease the effect the fuzz pedal has, but if you have it on max, then it’s free to do it’s thing. Hence, it makes sense to have your fuzz pedal as close to your guitar as possible (at the start of the chain), as it’s easiest to control here. 

The order of the overdrive and distortion pedals is greatly debated. Generally, I think it’s better to have distortion after overdrive, because I consider overdrive a more specific kind of sound and distortion as a way to simply crank up the gain and create that wall-of-sound kind of effect. 

Whether you want to put your overdrive or distortion first depends on what you want to boost the most. If you’re looking for more of a distorted gain style, then put it after the overdrive. But if you want a subtler sound, then put your overdrive last and don’t have your distortion pedal cranked up too much. 

Check out this post on using distortion and overdrive together to learn the effect of each pedal order. 

What Happens if you Put Gain Pedals Later On?

So most players tend to put there gain pedals earlier on in the chain, as it is a way of adding distortion to an unmodified tone, rather than adding distortion to other effects. But what happens when you put gain pedals later on in the chain?

Although I agree with putting distortion towards the beginning of the pedal chain, some players get a great tone by putting it later on. It all depends on what type of pedal you’re using, and what type of pedals you’re using it with. Like I said earlier, there are no hard and fast rules when it comes to ordering your pedals. You should do what you think sounds good to help you develop your signature tone. 

The reason I don’t put distortion/ overdrive pedals after time-related effects or modulation effects, is because I don’t want to add gain to these effects, I want to add gain to the original guitar tone. For example, if you place your delay pedal before your distortion pedal, you’ll end up adding distortion to the delayed sounds. This can end up sounding pretty messy and hard to tell what’s going on.

So I prefer to place time-related pedals after distortion, so that they can subtly shape the tone, rather than define it, like gain pedals do, if that makes sense. 

What About Fuzz and Wah Pedals?

So there is another big debate, as to whether fuzz pedals should go before or after wah-pedals. It really depends what type of pedals you have. A lot of guitarists like the sound of putting the fuzz first because you can then add fizz and noise to the wah-effect this way. But it’s all personal preference with this one. 

 

So there you go! That’s where to put distortion, overdrive and fuzz pedals in your chain! I hope you’ve found this article helpful, thanks for reading. Here are some other posts you might find useful:

Heather

Hey, I'm Heather. I started playing an electric guitar when I was given a Squier Strat for my birthday around 15 years ago. I now own an acoustic guitar and several electric guitars including my personal favourite, a PRS SE Custom 24.

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