Reverb and delay are two of the most popular effects, but where do they go in the signal chain? In this article I’ll address everything you need to know about ordering reverb and delay pedals in your signal chain and all the caveats to consider.
Here’s the quick answer…
Reverb and delay pedals should go at the end of the pedal chain (furthest from the guitar), and should be placed after all other effects pedals including overdrive, distortion, modulation, EQ volume, and compression. Typically the reverb pedal goes after the delay pedal if both effects are used.
If your amp has an effects (FX) loop, then the reverb and delay should be placed in the loop so they are after the pre-amp stage in the signal chain. This means the reverb and delay effects will not get distorted by the amp so the tone does not get muddy.
Reverb and Delay Go at the End of the Chain
Reverb and delay are both classified as “time-based” effects and should go at the end of the signal chain closest to the amplifier. Placing reverb and delay effects before other pedals such as overdrive, distortion, fuzz, modulation, EQ and wah is not recommended.
Here’s why reverb and delay should be placed at the end of the chain and before other types of effects.
Gain/ Drive Pedals
Reverb and delay pedals should be placed after overdrive, distortion and fuzz pedals as otherwise you would also be driving the reverb/ delay effect which causes the sound to be very muddy.
Here is a comparison of reverb before (first demo) and after (second demo) distortion. When placed before the distortion, the tone sounds a lot more messy. Some guitarists actually use this placement though and prefer the sound. It’s all personal preference.
Filter/ Dynamic Pedals
Filter and dynamic pedals include boost, wah, compression and EQ effects. Reverb and delay pedals should be placed after these otherwise the echo will not sound as natural and the “tails” of the delay/ reverb will be too elongated.
Octave pedals are typically placed towards the start of the signal chain before any distortion or overdrive because they work best when dealing with a clean signal. For the same reason, it’s best to place reverb and delay pedals after an octave pedal so it achieves the best effect.
Modulation effects include chorus, flanger, phaser, tremolo and vibrato. There is some debate at to whether these should go before/ after reverb and delay, but most guitarists place them before these time-based effects. This generally results in a cleaner and less chaotic effect.
Experimentation is always encouraged when it comes to pedals though, so try your reverb/ delay before and after your modulation pedals and see which sound you prefer.
Check out this video to hear the difference.
Noise gate pedals are placed before reverb and delay. The most common placements for the noise gate are at the very start of the chain (to reduce background noise from the pickups) or after the gain pedals (to reduce the humming but without affecting the sustain).
Placing a noise gate pedal after reverb or delay should definitely be avoided because it will remove these effects almost entirely!
Buffer pedals are designed to preserve the signal strength running from the guitar to the amp. If you are just using one buffer pedal, use it at the start of the chain before any reverb/ delay effects. However, if you are using two buffer pedals then you can place one before the reverb/ delay (usually before any drive/ modulation/ EQ pedals too) and another after the reverb/ delay at the end of the pedal chain.
Volume pedals should be placed before reverb and delay pedals in the signal chain. This allows you to be able to control the volume but without affecting the reverb/ delay decay which makes everything sound more natural.
Check out my complete guide to pedal placement to for more information on every type of pedal.
Reverb or Delay First?
Okay so now we know that reverb and delay typically go at the end of the signal chain just before the amplifier, what about if you have both effects? Which goes first out of reverb and delay?
The most popular approach is to put a delay pedal first (closest to the guitar) and then a reverb pedal afterwards (closest to the amp). However, there are no hard and fast rules, it is all down to personal preference.
- If you put your delay pedal before your reverb, you would be creating a series of repeated notes, and then giving them more depth and liveliness. This tends to sound the most natural.
- If you put the reverb pedal before the delay pedal, then you’ll be adding depth and presence, and then creating a series of repeated notes of this tone. This creates bigger washes of sound.
The main reason why reverb is typically placed last is because it can sound a bit muddy when placed before delay in the signal chain.
Check out this YouTube video to hear a comparison between the two.
Should Reverb and Delay Go in the FX Loop?
Guitar amps have two stages of amplification:
- The pre-amp strengthens your guitar’s signal to “line-level” and shapes the tone using the EQ controls (bass, middle and treble).
- The power-amp amplifies the sound after the pre-amp and boosts the “line level” to “speaker level” where it can be played through the speakers.
An effects loop (FX loop) allows you to place pedals after the pre-amp stage of the amplifier but before the power-amp stage.
If your guitar amp has an FX loop then you should put the reverb and delay pedals in the loop.
This is because you want these time-based effects to go after the pre-amp stage if you are using your amp’s gain.
If you look at amps which have built-in spring reverb then the signal chain typically goes:
Guitar > Pre-Amp > Reverb Effect > Power Amp
This is because you want any time-based effects to go after the pre-amp where a lot of the gain is generated.
If the amp doesn’t have an FX loop and you are using a reverb/ delay pedal and the distortion from your amp, then the reverb/ delay will be before the pre-amp stage causing the effect to sound muddy and distorted.
Check out this diagram to demonstrate.
Check out my complete guide to using an FX loop and which pedals should go through it to learn everything you need to know.