24 July 2012

Troubleshooting my pedal board


I've recently re-tubed my Vox Night Train. The NT is an amp with very simple design and tube topology so, some of the issues that can be masked on others amps, easily pop up in the NT.
I checked first the guitar direct to the amp and then thru the pedal board (all pedals true bypass) and, with my basis pedals switched on (buffer, booster and delay).

What I have realized is that as soon as I started to switch off any of the basis pedals and, very specially, the buffer, the sound went way thinner and brighter. So, I wanted to re-check my pedal board as I had to do from the very beginning, pedal by pedal. There is no short path.

And certainly, I have found some things that surprised me. This is the history and, maybe can be of help to yourself.

Pedal Board Head

Well pedal board issues usually start on pedal board's head then, the issues are being propagated to the rest of pedals and even magnified by them.
Since I have realized that as soon as I switched on Compressor or Buffer the sound went damn thinner and brighter, I wanted to start with the first pedal I always check: the Wah, arranging then the rest of the "head" around the wah.

In first place, I have plugged the guitar directly to the amp, using an Evidence Audio The Forte cable. I tweaked the controls until get my amp's foundational tone, leaving the volume below tube's break up spot, since the final push will be done with the Xotic EP Booster.

Once checked the guitar direct to the amp, I plugged the guitar through the Wah. I have tested first the wah off and then on, just to check if they were issues due to the additional length of the cable going from the wah to the amp (Evidence Audio The Lyric II). Everything was OK.

I wanted to check then the Wampler Clean Buffer and, I have placed it before the Wah. I've tested the sound with the buffer off and then on and, everything sounded OK. I switched on the Wah, also to check if anything changed. At this point, I've noticed nothing special.

I've added the Wampler EGO Compressor then. Placed before or after the Wah and switched on alone I had no issues but, as soon as the buffer was switched on, placed before the compressor (even directly before or with the Wah in between), the sound become thinner and brighter.
That made me to suspect that, against my logic, this buffer would work better at the end of the chain, instead of at the very beginning of the chain.
I placed then the compressor before the wah and the buffer after the wah and, that become the best way.

As a curiosity, I made also a test checking same pedal plugged to different outputs of the same power supply (Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2) and, I was surprised to find a slight difference in tone. Some outputs sounded a bit brighter than the rest. The compressor worked best on output number 6. I did the same for every pedal that I've found delivering a thinner or brighter tone.

Once set up the chain compressor --> wah -->  buffer, I wanted to check if the TC Electronics Polytune (in principle, bypass) could affect the tone so, I've placed it at the very beginning of the chain (to make it to work as a general switch). Everything remained the same, therefore, I've leave it there: tuner --> compressor -> wah --> buffer.

Overdrive / Phaser

I wanted to check an overdrive then, specially to see if the sound went thinner with the buffer before it (to confirm my suspect). I've placed first the Wampler Euphoria after the buffer and, effectively, when switching on the buffer, the sound went thinner and brighter so, I swapped the order, putting the buffer at the end and, everything sounded better. That confirmed my suspect that this buffer would work better at the end of the chain.

Then, I've added the Xotic EP Booster and, I've checked it before and after the buffer and, clearly, if the buffer was before, the sound went thinner and brighter so, I've confirmed once more that this buffer would work better at the end of the chain. The chain was like this: tuner --> compressor --> wah --> overdrive --> booster --> buffer.

I've thought that this was a good time to check if the Mad Professor Tiny Orange Phaser works best before or after the overdrive. One more surprise for myself. Usually, I like more phasers and vibes (vintage ones, at least) before the gain pedals but, this time, the phaser worked clearly better after the overdrive so, the traditional way of arrange modulation pedals made the most sense. The chain was: tuner --> compressor --> wah --> overdrive --> phaser --> booster --> buffer.

The next step was to arrange my three overdrives. Previously, I had overdrives arranged in this mode: Euphoria --> Paisley --> Plexi Drive and, my previous tests did show me that the Paisley is very good pushing other pedals but, the Euphoria into the Paisley didn't sound so nice to my ears and, same I can say about the Euphoria into the Plexi Drive.
I checked first the Paisley into the Euphoria and, this was definitively a better way than Euphoria into Paisley. It seems that, the Euphoria in its sweet mode (Dumble-alike) has a noticeable compression so, when stacked before other gain pedals tends to make the sound a bit confusing.
Well, that made me to think that the natural place for the Plexi Drive should be between those two other two pedals so, I've tested it and, I liked the results way more than the old order.
So, the chain was like this now: tuner --> compressor --> wah --> paisley --> plexi drive --> euphoria --> phaser --> booster --> buffer.


Once the right order for the overdrives was clear and, also the place of modulation effects after gain effects, I went for the two distortions: the Wampler SLOstortion and the Wampler Pinnacle.
I checked first the Pinnacle, after the overdrives and, before the booster and buffer. Everything was OK.

I added then the SLOstortion and checked both swapping their order. Even that I will not usually stack both distortion pedals together, I did the test anyway. In my opinion, the SLOstortion into the Pinnacle has a better sound but, the drawback is that the Pinnacle is a noisy and raw pedal while the SLOstortion sounds to me more depurated so, the output of the SLOstortion into the Pinnacle increases a lot the noise and, therefore, I've choose to put the Pinnacle before the SLOstortion, because one never knows if I will need both at same time any day.

So the chain order was: tuner --> compressor --> wah --> paisley --> plexi drive --> euphoria --> pinnacle --> SLOstortion --> phaser --> booster --> buffer.

I've checked also the behaviour of the different overdrives with every distortion unit. To my taste, the Paisley seems to work better with the SLOstortion, while the Euphoria seems to work better with the Pinnacle.
The Paisley adds a bump in middle-trebles to the boxy middles of the SLOstortion, focusing a lot the sound.
The Euphoria adds a tad of compression and darks a bit the shrill sound of the Pinnacle.
The Plexi Drive seems to like more the SLOstortion.

The Pinnacle seems to like a bit of compression on its input. A compressor or an overdrive with light compression (Dumblish) can be the cherry to the pie.
The SLOstortion likes better, more open gain pedlas before, clean and dynamic overdrives help to open the boxy sound of the SLOstortion.


I had to add the Wampler Nirvana Chorus to the chain and, it was clear that modulation effects should work better after gain pedals (as per my test with phaser) so, the doubt was, phaser into chorus or chorus into phaser.
I've checked first phaser into chorus and, it was OK. Even that I don't dig too much to mix both pedals together, I needed to check which order is the best if I even need them together.
One more surprise to me. When the phaser was before the chorus, the chorus started to sound thinner (switched on alone!). But, I liked the sound more in that way.
It seems to be some kind of impedance or other kind of issue when stacking these two pedals together.
That phaser into that chorus affected the sound of the chorus, even if the phaser was off.
Swapping the order, everything sounded better.

So, the chain was like this: tuner --> compressor --> wah --> paisley --> plexi drive --> euphoria --> pinnacle --> SLOstortion --> chorus --> phaser --> booster --> buffer.

I've had to stop the tests at this point, leaving without tests the last pedal that I have to add to the pedal chain: the delay. But, it should go after modulation effects, anyway and, before the booster and buffer.

The issue between the two modulation effects, makes me to suspect if the Tiny Orange Phaser has some kind of incompatibility with Wampler's pedals or if it is the Nirvana who has some issues. I have to check what happens to the Chorus and Delay if I remove the phaser and chorus out of the chain.

Comparison old and new order

Following chart shows the order that the pedal board had before this intensive test. This was the order I thought would work better, without testing every pedal in deep (shame!).

And, this is the order after testing in depth every pedal and with the issues, surprises and compromised solutions discussed above.


Evidently, it makes no sense to do a video with the whole session. Anyway, I am trying to show a bit of the each step of the whole process, with my findings after every critical step. To someone that never did this exhausting job, this could give a better understanding on how to proceed.


There is no short way!. I cannot give nothing as granted when facing a new pedal board!.
It doesn't matter how experienced you are with chain of pedals, when mixing together more than one new pedal, everything must be tested in depth.
Some of my well established rules felt down. Some of the standard rules were reinforced and, some of my bets were appropriated while others were absolutely out of reality.

Probably, what surprised me more is the need to move the buffer (Wampler Clean Buffer) to the end of the chain, after every other pedal, when I've bet that it should go the first on the chain (to recover a possible lost in the original guitar' sound). This pedal, in this particular case is thinning and brightening the sound of any pedal after it (ones more than others, specially affected are compressor, chorus and delay).

I also changed the placement of the Xotic EP Booster. Definitively, it works better at the end of the chain (but before the buffer, in this particular case) than at the very beginning. This can be masked if we are using a darker gear (darker guitar and darker amp) but, with a bright guitar (Stratocaster with classic single coils), a bright amp (Vox NT) and bright speaker (Celestion), placing the EP before any other pedal, increases a lot the high-end content. Even placed at the end of the chain, the gain level should be set up very carefully. There is a sweet spot were it sounds amazing but, crossing this point, it can sound harsh.

The EGO Compressor, in this particular case, needs to maintain the Tone knob at minimum to preserve the original tone of the guitar. As soon as we add the single bit of treble with this knob, we are making the sound clearly thinner and brighter.

The Paisley works awesome as the very first gain pedal. It loves to push other pedals and combines nicely with any other gain pedal. It works well into the Euphoria (Dumblish) and into the Plexi Drive (Marshallish) and, even with the three switched on together.
It also pushes nicely the both distortion units but, it probably does a better job with the SLOstortion.

The Euphoria seems to want the last place in the overdrives chain, at least in its Smooth mode (Dumblish). Reason is that is tends to compress the sound and, it can add confusion to other overdrives if placed before. The Euphoria also pushes good distortion pedals but, not so nicely as the Paisley but, it seems to work better into the Pinnacle than the Paisley.

Even that the Plexi Drive is designed to be played alone, to achieve that JTM45 tone, it's being nicely pushed by the Paisley and it can push distortion pedals but, maybe in a not so good way than the Paisley or the Euphoria. In any case, it seems to work better pushing the Pinnacle than the SLOstortion.
A compressor before can help to give it some sustain and some glue between notes (a bit staccato, to my taste).

Other of the surprises (even that I was already suspecting something similar) is the fact that some pedals seem to be very sensible to the output of the power unit that you use to power the pedals. This was specially true for the EGO Compressor, the Nirvana Chorus and the Faux Tape Delay.


  1. Hola!

    No se ve tu video con los ultimos ajustes de tu pedalera...

    Saludos y thanks!!!


  2. SOrry !!!

    No se ve en mi Mac pero si en el PC....



  3. Marvelous info, we should all sit down and do these tests as what we think or theory out concerning order is not always going to work best. I use a lot of the pedals you have and you gave me great ideas. I too have the Euphoria in front of other drives, switching that puppy now. Wahs are always confusing, buffers, compressors plus I use a Whammy V that has to be more front for tracking.

    1. Thanks for your kind comments.
      Yup, it's a real headache to deal with a pedalboard full of pedals and, very specially when we are mixing pedals of different makers.
      Pro people (like Gilmour, Page, etc) go to Peter Cornish, to ask him to integrate their preferred pedals in a pro pedalboard that gets rid off any issue (impedances, signal to noise ratio, etc.).
      For mortar people, as my self, or it works in any place or you better remove that sexy pedal out off your board, to don't compromise the rest of the chain.
      BTW, my pedalboard isn't this one, currently.
      I've swapped everything, because I am having lots of issues with my mains voltage. There are some other entries related to these issues.

  4. Marvelous article, well thought out and I love how you broke tradition and just listened to the result. I have about a dozen front end pedals and I swear it is a constant order issue. I just hate my EVH phase infront of OD or dirt, just does not sound right. Also my new Vibe drove me crazy, everything everyone claimed was terrible. I used much of your drive chain ideas and placed my Vibe after everything and will now put the EVH after the Vibe, I am placing my boost/buffer end of chain to see how that does. Again, marvelous work testing all this stuff.I need to sit down with mine and run through this.

  5. So now you have me digging out the mA meter to check my power supplies although surely even the 100mA lines even if low should be more than enough to power low current pedals. If the voltage is not holding somone's tech dept is going to be hearing from me Monday. Now we cannot trust power feeds??? I thought pedals were driving me nuts.

    1. Believe me. This is happening more often that known.
      I had some talks with other musics that claimed about the same.
      They didn't knew what was behind but, they said the some days their rig just sounds bad and, they choose to avoid using the gear, because there is no excitement using it.
      This is a real pain, when your electric company doesn't delivers a good electricity mains.


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