If you’re wondering whether you should put the tremolo before or after delay in a guitar’s signal chain, then this post is for you!
I’ll unpack this more in the following sections.
Understanding Signal Chains
We guitar players can spend hours, days, and even months tweaking our rig. And you do all that just to get that perfect tone you’re looking for. But most of that time and effort usually goes towards pedals.
For this, you first need to understand what the signal chain is. Essentially, the signal chain consists of all elements that form your tone. We refer to it as a chain since the signal travels from your guitar and goes through all the elements.
It starts with your guitar and ends with a speaker. The chain includes everything in this path. In a lot of cases, the pedalboard has the most elements in this path. It’s not uncommon to hear guitar players refer to their pedalboard as the signal chain.
And it’s important to note that there’s a signal path. This means that the signal goes into one device, gets processed, and then goes out. Then the next device in the chain processes the signal that came out from the previous device. The process continues all the way to the end of the chain.
So when you turn on all of your pedals, it’s not a chaotic process that happens all at once. The signal travels from one pedal into another. This means that you can significantly change your tone depending on the order of the pedals.
Even digital pedalboards or those complex modeling units work with the same principle. There will be an order of effects that changes your tone in the same way.
What Order Should You Put Your Pedals In?
But then we get to the obvious question. How should you order your pedals? Well, technically, you can do it whatever way you like. However, there are some basic principles on how to make the tone cleaner and more controlled. After all, that’s what most guitar players are aiming for.
This is the most common order according to effects type. Going from the guitar to the amp, you might consider arranging your pedals like this:
- Filters (including wah)
- Dynamics (compressor)
- Clean boost
- Pitch shifters (including harmonizers and octavers)
- Gain pedals (distortion, overdrive, fuzz)
- Modulation (chorus, flanger, phaser, etc.)
- Atmospherics or time-based effects (delay and reverb)
There may be some variation to this order, all while keeping things in order. For instance, some like to put EQ after distortion. Some also prefer to have a clean booster after distortion.
Other than that, I advise that you respect the order. Sure, you can put an octaver after the distortion, or distortion after delay. But there’s hardly any chance it will fit the music that you’re playing. In my experience, it just sounds messy.
There are a few variations to where you should put volume pedals. But that’s a whole different story.
Tremolo Before or After Delay?
Now, I had to go through all of this information first, giving you the simple answer of what should go first would raise even more questions. So it’s important to understand the basic principles first.
Technically, there’s no wrong way to go here. The tremolo pedal can go both before and after the delay. What’s more, neither of these two options would sound bad, they’re just different.
There’s also the issue of what the tremolo effect actually is. Traditionally, we categorize it as modulation. But technically, what we refer to as tremolo is actually a fluctuating volume effect. Nonetheless, due to its function, we can still call it a modulation effect and get away with it.
This also brings us to the issue of its placement in a signal chain. Just like a regular volume-adjusting pedal, it’s flexible. However, in almost all cases, it goes before delay and reverb.
In my opinion, the question should be asked about the delay, not tremolo. This is the issue of atmospheric effects. The processed signal is fed into delay or reverb. These pedals add finishing touches to your tone.
Tremolo Before Delay
What tremolo does is more fundamental to your tone compared to delay. As the volume flutters, so to speak, you want the delay effect to process it. Even when the tremolo pedal completely cuts off the volume, you’ll still hear the repeats coming from the delay pedal. There won’t be any moment of complete silence.
Tremolo After Delay
However, if the tremolo goes after the delay, you’ll get a different result. The tremolo pedal will alter the repeated signal coming out of a delay pedal. If you set the tremolo pedal to completely cut off the volume, then you’ll have moments of complete silence.
This is not the most conventional way to go. But you can still do it. Just bear in mind that the adjustment of output volume will also affect the delayed signal as well. And it may sound a bit weird compared to what we usually expect to hear.
Remember: You’re Free to Experiment
Nonetheless, you’re still free to experiment. In music and art, there’s no such thing as the wrong choice. As long as it sounds the way you intended it to sound, it’s all good.
However, if you want a clean signal that fits all of the genres today, follow the basic guidelines. The order that I mentioned above is the safest bet. Almost all uses of the tremolo effect follow that set of rules.
I hope this article has helped you think through this issue.
And if you want to learn more about technical electric guitar gear setup, check out:
Lastly, feel free to message me in the comments below if you have questions about this or another guitar-related topic!