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Building Your Perfect Pedalboard: Essential Guitar Effects Explained

As a guitarist, navigating guitar effects can be a thrilling yet confusing experience. With countless effects and numerous variations available, it’s normal that beginners often find themselves overwhelmed when crafting their pedalboard.

Whether you’re a novice seeking to shape your sound or a seasoned player aiming to refine your setup, we’re here to help you unlock the secrets to constructing your perfect pedalboard.

brown and white stratocaster electric guitar


The tuner is the first pedal that you place on your pedalboard.

This pedal is pretty simple. It tunes your guitar. But this is a very valuable pedal when recording and playing live.

Tuning your instrument is very important. Sometimes your guitar can randomly go out of tune in the middle of a set or recording session.

Now you might have a “perfect pitch” and can tune your guitar yourself. But you probably don’t want the crowd to be hearing you tune your guitar.

Most tuner pedals can turn off the rest of the effects. This means you can tune your guitar quietly.

I can’t stress enough how valuable having a tuner pedal around your board is.


The next pedal on the board is the compressor.

Now this doesn’t do anything of notice with your guitar sound, but it does something that you will find valuable.

Compression is balancing out the loud and soft parts of the audio. 

This can boost and tone down your clean sound, depending on what needs to be done.

If your clean sound is too soft and can’t be heard, it will boost it so it doesn’t get overshadowed by the rest of the band. 

Subsequently, if you are strumming too hard, it will reduce the level so it doesn’t sound too loud.

This is the first pedal that comes after the tuner. This is because you want to compress the clean signal first before adding other effects onto the chain. 

Having other pedals come in after the compressor can affect what is being compressed. So to ensure nothing of that sort happens, have the compressor comes before other effects.


Now we can move on to the effects that actually change your guitar’s sound. The next two pedals are called dirt pedals.

First on the list is the overdrive pedal. This pedal is based on a tube amplifier (amp).

Tube amps are designed so that the signal gets more distorted as you crank up the volume.

Now you can have the sound of a tube amp on a pedal that goes for less and doesn’t take up too much space.


The next pedal to follow overdrive is the distortion.

Now, this isn’t as crucial because you can achieve distortion with an overdrive. But pairing them together will make for a great combination.

So what’s the difference between distortion and overdrive?

Distortion will always have a consistent distortion sound, whereas overdrive requires increasing the level.

You can change how the distortion will sound, but it will distort your clean signal once turned on.

Now the placement of the distortion will depend on who you ask. It will definitely be after the compressor. But what about the overdrive? Should it be before or after it?

Ideally, overdrive should go first. Unless you crank it up to its max setting, overdrive sounds cleaner. It makes the signal more nuanced and adds character, but it will sound cleaner than if you put the distortion first.

That is why distortion pedals should go after the overdrive pedal.

Modulation Effects

For the next set of effects, I will be talking about the kind of effect as a whole since there are different modulation effects.

So what do they affect? Modulation effects can alter a signal’s pitch and amplitude and even add motion.

But what these do is change the sound in a more creative and colorful way.

A popular example of a modulation effect is the chorus. What this effect does is it doubles the sound of your guitar. But that second sound is delayed with a modulated pitch. This creates a wider and adds a kind of shimmer to it.

Another modulation effect is a flanger. Flangers work by copying the original signal with the difference of it playing slower. So when the original and slightly slower signal plays together, it creates a swoosh movement effect.

Tremolo pedals affect a signal’s amplitude. In simple terms, it changes the signal’s volume. A typical example is moving up and down. This is also a way for creating movement in your signal.

These are just three examples of modulation effects. These are recommended if you want to try experimenting with your guitar sound. It’s a nice addition to include if you don’t want to stick to clean or distorted guitar sounds.

These types of effects go after the dirt pedals. 

Time-Based Pedals

The last two pedals that go to your board are the time-based pedals.

The two pedals in this category are the delay and reverb pedals.

Delay pedals create an echo sound by creating copies of the original clean sound. They can add more presence to a guitar or act as a neat trick to spice up a song.

Reverb pedals also create an echo. In their case, it is done by recreating the space of places with ideal reverbs. Examples of these places are small halls, churches, and empty rooms.

Both these pedals will make your guitar sound lively and spacious. 

Power Supply

Now all of your pedals run on batteries.

One way to ensure that your pedals won’t lose power in the middle of a set or recording session is to have a power supply.

Power supplies can power more than one guitar pedal simultaneously. So having one on your pedalboard is very beneficial.

Volume/Expression Pedals

Volume and expression pedals are neat little upgrades that you can add to your guitar pedalboard.

The basic function of this pedal allows you to control the volume of your guitar. You don’t have to go to the amp to do this anymore.

Again this is very handy in live settings. 

Another thing this pedal can provide is wah. Adding wah is another way of spicing up your guitar sound.

Now the placement of this pedal is actually before anything else. You’re manipulating the clean signal first and foremost. So to make for cleaner wahs, place the expression pedals before compression.

The Rig Rundown

That about does it on the essential guitar pedals for your pedalboard.

Hopefully, this shed some light on what guitar pedals to start with and what to buy and place first on your board.

Don’t forget to have fun and try different settings for each pedal until you find the right sound.