Guitar Stereo Pedals and Pedal Placement

Guitar Stereo Pedals and the order in which they are placed is a critical factor when it comes to your guitar tone. Of course, anything that involves the manipulation of your guitar tone is subjective.

However, there are definitely guidelines to follow that can help you immediately.

After examining  the theories and methods of three of the industry’s top pedalboard designers, I found some interesting points to consider.

One of the things I found interesting when using stereo pedals, is that every stereo pedal that comes after the first stereo pedal, has to be “true stereo” with “discrete stereo inputs and outputs”, otherwise you’ll experience undesirable mismatched results.

If you only use one stereo pedal and you placed at the very end of the chain, you’ll be good to go without problems. If you are using more than one stereo pedal you may have a problem due to the fact that most stereo pedals quite often have only a single mono input.

Also, many pedals with two inputs are often not actually “True Stereo” because the two inputs are summed to mono before feeding the stereo processor.

Even when using true stereo pedals, you still have to watch out for phase and other imaging issues.

I find this information to be very helpful because if you’re not aware of issues like this, you could easily find yourself spending tons of time trying to correct a phase or stereo imaging issue in other areas that aren’t related to the core problem.  Then once you figure out where the problem is coming from, you’ll then wonder why…  and it won’t make sense. Bottom line is you must use “True Stereo Pedals” if you are using more that one.

As far as pedal placement is concerned… this is very interesting.

Bob Bradshaw puts the distortion devices early in the chain, then adds filters, wahs, and other modulation devices. He adds all delays at the end of the chain. This is implementing the idea of a harmonically rich distorted signal being filtered, rather than filtering a clean sound going into an echo.

Normally you wouldn’t place your delays first before going into your distortion boxes, unless you were looking for a very specific sound.

Pete Cornish, uses compression first directly out of the guitar, steering clear of any volume pedals prior, as it would defeat any compression and leave the system with maximum noise if the volume pedal was reduced to zero.

He runs higher gain pedals before lower gain pedals, and has found that the higher gain pedals control the sustain better and the lower gain pedals control the tone better when connected in that order. He then incorporates the modulation effects.

It’s useful to use a volume pedal before delays, as you can control the swell better. If you use a volume pedal at the end of the chain it makes a great master volume and mute.

Any boosting devices are used at the very end, as not to overload any part of the signal chain.

Dave Friedman agrees with the concept of compressors before overdrives, and then adding the modulation devices towards the middle, and using all delays and echos at the end of the chain.

The wah-wah  pedal is always a personal preference for its position due to the way it may react within your personal pedalboard design. Sometimes it’s placed early in the chain, and other times it’s placed after the overdrives.

In fact, Dave describes a situation where the the bass player of “Rage Against The Machine” likes to place his wah pedal at the end of the chain,  after the delay. This method allows you to filter the delays and other effects.

I hope this information has been useful to you, as I found it to be very interesting. This could be a big “Ah ha” moment for those experiencing stereo imaging and phase problems, as well as helping to spawn new pedal placement ideas for enhancing “The Big Picture” of your sound.

*** Please leave a comment below and share your thoughts. Thank You.

~ Robert Lee Molton


  1. Dave Howard on September 7, 2010 at 1:49 am

    Very Interesting as I got an endorsement deal with Providence- Pacifix Pedals… Great Pedals and cables!!!!
    and working out Pedalboard efx placement on a new setup.

  2. Gary Jones on September 7, 2010 at 6:05 am

    Nice to hear from you Robert. Gary

    • bobmolton on September 9, 2010 at 1:23 am

      @Gary – Thanks Gary, let me know if you have questions.

  3. bobmolton on September 7, 2010 at 6:51 am

    @Dave – Congratulations on your endorsement deal! I hope this post helps rock your new setup. Keep me posted on the outcome… I’m sure others would enjoy hearing about it as well.

  4. dennis on September 7, 2010 at 5:53 pm

    Thanks for the interesting article and info!

    • bobmolton on September 9, 2010 at 1:22 am

      @Dennis – Your welcome. Let me know if have any questions.

  5. Ron Kubinski on September 7, 2010 at 9:52 pm

    Robert, good to hear from you…Like everyone I have been chasing tone extensively so I would like some advice. I am running a JVM 410C with an Intellifex, another delay and a phaser all in the effects loop. On the front end I am running a compressor, a volume, a Digitech Whammy, a distortion and then a noise gate. From the Intellifex I am taking one output to the JVM loop as I mentioned above and the other output from the Intellifx to a Vox Valvetronix. Here is the question…a friend of mine told me to run balanced cables in the effects loop chain and it seems the tone went from smooth to a little more harsh. Should I go back to unbalanced cables? Please give your expert opinion.


    • bobmolton on September 9, 2010 at 12:47 am

      @Ron – good question… Is it possible that when you ran the balanced cables it could have boosted the gain flow and caused a slight clipping sound. That may explain the harshness. I would suggest trying the balanced cables again, and reset the entire gain structure through the loop to match. See if that gives you an overall better sound. If so, go with it… Otherwise, my opinion is if it didn’t noticeably improve your sound, go back to your original cables. Remember the old saying, ” If it aint broke, don’t fix it.” 😉

  6. Tony on September 8, 2010 at 2:54 pm

    I’ve got wah first,then delay,compression, dist.,zoom,and last is decimator. I’ll have to experiment alittle ,but my tone sounds good to me.You think I should move the delay right before the decimator? I’ll give it a try. Good to hear from you.

    • bobmolton on September 9, 2010 at 1:02 am

      @Tony – Wow dude that is a very interesting set-up. I’d actually like to hear it. Do you have a sample of your Guitar Sound?… or maybe a band track with your guitar?
      If so, I’d love to post it here for all of us to hear and discuss. Since it is an interesting set-up, it would be cool to hear some of the differences.

      When you asked if I would use the delay before the decimator, my answer would be no. This is just my personal preference… I would run the delay at the very end of the chain… After the decimator.

      For the effects you have mentioned, I would run them all in this order…

      1. Wah
      2. Distortion
      3. Compression
      4. Zoom
      5. Decimator
      6. Delay

      I would also run the left and right output of the delay to two different amps if possible.

      This is just my personal preference though.

      Let me know if you have any guitar samples.

      ~ Robert

  7. Pat Mahoney on September 8, 2010 at 9:38 pm

    Hey Bob I think this is good info and I think you need a vacation in Tecumseh Nebraska so you can give me free guitar lessons…lol

    • bobmolton on September 9, 2010 at 1:12 am

      @Pat – Hey Pat how’s it going buddy… Great to hear from you. Yeah, sounds like a vacation in Tecumseh would be a great time! You never know Pat, someday we may end up in the same room with two guitars and two amps calling our name. 😉

      How’s your lead playing coming along? I’d love to hear any samples of your work… I would be happy to post your audio clip here if you’d like. Not trying to put you on the spot or anything… Just trying to share your talent. Let me know.

  8. Jimmy Reed on September 9, 2010 at 7:48 am

    Thanks for the blog Bob. I have almost always liked compression right after the guitar and then Wah and an overdrive. That’s all I like in the front. I prefer modulations and delays to be in a good loop. Unfortunately you can’t do this with all amps. Keep rockin’ everybody!!

  9. Ron Kubinski on September 9, 2010 at 8:04 pm

    Hey Bob, I just purchased the MXR stereo chorus you are showing on this page. I am thinking of running that in the effects loop and taking out the Intellifex. I want to run individual pedals for a while. I was going to put it last in the chain so I would have in the:

    Effects Loop;
    1. Mooger Fooger Phaser
    2. Time Machine delay
    3. MXR Stereo Chorus – going to the JVM and the VOX

    Front End;
    1. Black Finger compressor
    2. VOX Volume
    3. Hendrix Wah
    4. Digitech Whammy
    5. Satuator Distortion
    6. Decimator Noise Gate

    Is there anything in the chain related to order you would change?
    Also, is it better to drive the pre-amp tubes harder than the power tubes for better tone quality and in my setup?

  10. Nel's on September 14, 2010 at 12:04 pm

    Hi Bob,

    I’m new to tube amps been a solid state man forever lol. I just got a B-52 AT-100 retubed it with JJ’S also resealed the cab and the sound is unbelievable, I love it. My question to you is, i always used a boss gt3 pedal board and now it seems to rob the amp’s tone it’s overall sound. But it still needs something i play heavy metal any suggestions?


  11. the movie zone on September 22, 2010 at 6:51 pm

    howdy!, that was a cool article, i really enjoyed it.

  12. Max Fusner on September 23, 2010 at 3:31 am

    Thank you for the excellent information! I’ve been wanting to learn how to master the guitar for more years than I care to remember but always figured it would be to hard. Your guitar instruction courses have changed my mind! I will be back to report on the progress I make. Once again, Thank You!

  13. redwing on April 9, 2011 at 3:11 am

    This is very interesting info on pedal placement. Thank you for sharing your expertise!

  14. atrakcje eventy łódź on February 13, 2012 at 2:38 pm

    Pretty nice post. I simply stumbled upon your weblog and wished to say that I’ve really enjoyed browsing your blog posts. In any case I will be subscribing for your rss feed and I hope you write once more soon!

  15. SM with certain amps... on February 19, 2013 at 9:48 pm

    […] the volume pedal quickly and the delay will decay out my pleasant to the ears (in my opinion) Guitar Stereo Pedals and Pedal Placement | Easy To Learn Guitar Methods | Simple Guitar Instruction Reply With Quote « Previous Thread | Next Thread […]

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