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Here are three examples of how pedal order can produce amazing sounds. It’s all about how the pedals interact with each other. As you will note, some of these classic sounds were crafted by following conventional effects-routing wisdom, and some were made by twisting the rules. When it comes to tone, experimentation may be your most valuable tool.
JIMI HENDRIX: “Bold As Love” Buffers and Vintage Transistor Fuzz
The creamy lead and punchy rhythm sounds that Hendrix created with his Fuzz Face are some of the most sought-after tones ever recorded. For tracks such as “Bold As Love,” he achieved this by riding the guitar’s volume control with the Fuzz Face on the whole time.
The problems start when you try to incorporate modern buffered pedals into this classic Fuzz Face to Marshall stack setup. The trick is to place your transistor fuzz as close to your guitar’s passive output in the chain as possible. Non-true bypass pedals that “load down” the pickups like a wah and Octavia are actually fine because they add no active circuitry when bypassed.
Check out the differences when you have a pedal with a buffered bypass in front, and then after the fuzz. Without the buffer in front, your fuzz should go from raging lead when your guitar’s volume knob is on 10, to bright and clean when you back it off.
EDDIE VAN HALEN: “Atomic Punk”
As a general rule for wiring pedalboards, effects such as chorus, phase, and flange are usually placed after distortion. But if you’re running into a clean amp, it’ll be hard to really nail the MXR Phase 90 sound on Van Halen’s “Atomic Punk,” or Hendrix’s Uni-Vibe on “Machine Gun.”
On both tracks, their Marshall heads were set to a volume that would naturally overdrive and compress anything coming through the input jack. While it’s not really a good idea to show up to a session with a 100-watt head on 10 anymore, there are a couple of tricks you can use that will keep the volume down, while still juicing up your tone.
If you have a multi-channel amp, you can switch over to a channel with a bit of light crunch. If you have a single channel amp, you can try placing a sonically neutral overdrive pedal such as a DOD Overdrive 250 after your mod units.
ERIC JOHNSON: “Cliffs of Dover”
The BK Butler-designed Tube Driver has been a favorite of players like Joe Satriani, David Gilmour, and Eric Johnson. On its own, the pedal can deliver enough distortion to satisfy most solo tone applications. But, the trick to Johnson’s violin-like lead sound is to have multiple low-gain stages instead of a single high-gain source.
For the track “Cliffs of Dover,” he ran his Tube Driver and Maestro Echoplex into a 1969 100-watt Marshall head with a Y-cable to jumper into both channels. With the amp’s volume controls at around 7, the preamp section and output tubes both add their own distinct type of overdrive.
With the drive knob barely at noon on the pedal, there are now three stacked low-gain layers that add up to one giant lead tone. You can accomplish nearly the same vibe by using two overdrive pedals with moderate drive settings, and the delay of your choice sandwiched between them.