Editor’s note: This article is written by my friend Jim, a self-professed guitar- and pedal-junkie based out of Nashville, TN. Check out Jim’s blog for more articles like this one.
Stacking various overdrive, distortion and fuzz pedals together is a great way to achieve different layers of sound. While there are not any specific rules to follow, here are a few general guidelines to help you along on your sonic journey.
First, try placing your low gain pedals before the high gain pedals. A simple set up would be a low gain Tube Screamer being run into a high gain Fuzz Face. The Tube Screamer will give you a slightly overdriven crunchy sound with a boost in the mids. Often this sound is perfect for rhythm guitar or bluesy leads. If you prefer to run a Tube Screamer with little to no gain, that would be absolutely fine too.
Turn up the fuzz all the way up on the Fuzz Face. When engaged, this pedal will probably remind you of some classic rock tunes from the Sixties or the Seventies. Clearly, the two pedals have distinctly different sounds. What happens when we stack them, or run them together?
Once you turn both pedals on, you will have a more defined fuzz sound with the mids from the Tube Screamer shining though. I usually notice more sustain and a little bit more gain, depending on how you run your Tube Screamer. Ok, now you have three distinct sounds from two pedals. This is a general idea of the type of things you can do when stacking pedals.
Try to keep the gain down on the first pedal when stacking two pedals. I know, it’s almost impossible to not crank the gain all the way up. Try to resist the urge. When two high gain pedals are played together, the typical result is a very muddy tone, or at least a tone that lacks definition. To alleviate this problem, you will most likely need a separate EQ pedal or use versatile pedals with very flexible EQ controls.
Finding pedals that stack well together will take some time. There are many factors involved when considering the effects pedals, your guitar, your amp and the tones you want to achieve. Be patient. Just because your friend likes a pedal, don’t go buy the same exact pedal. Try to borrow it for a little while. It’s ideal to play as many pedals as possible. After time, you will definitely find some pedal combinations that you really enjoy stacking together. Have fun finding new sounds!