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The Signal Chain

Click to enlarge


There are some compromises and decisions needed to be made whan getting your sound down to tape. What sounds you are looking for on any particular song or track within a song will of course determine how you set up your guitar and the equipment from your guitar on it's way to your tape deck.

A few months ago, I was invited to record the guitar parts and the keyboards for the song "Stop" by Uriah Heep. This is a very early Heep song, and the guitar isn't anywhere near as prominent as Mick's is today. On this song, it's just a rhythm accompaniment but has kind of a lightly distorted sound with very little sustain. I opted to go with my Les Paul for the "chunky" sound and I also knew that I would not be recording the guitar with a mic on this sonng, but would go through some effects and directly into the deck to try and get that sound.

Since I couldn't have a real amp running at this time (it was late at night) , I started experimenting around with my FX-69 Distortion, with a DS-2 Distortion, and my Zoom 1010 which has about 20 different distortions built. None seemed to fit the bill exactly. There was either too much distortion, or it sounded to shallow if I backed off the % of distortion. I also wanted to have a hint of slap echo on the guitar. Sometimes less is more and more is less :-) The following configuration produced almost exactly the sound I was looking for:

  • Les Paul with Neck pickup on about 1/4
  • Signal from Les Paul to FX-69 Distortion - 1/2 treble, 1/2 bass, output at 8, distortion on full
  • FX-69 to Rockman rackmount with a very small echo and chorus effect applied.
  • Rockman to Tascam tape deck

You may ask what's so special about this setup that produced an early 70's slightly distorted sound?

It was the combination of the bridge pickup on the Les Paul, and the result of simply turning down the volume pot on the guitar almost to zero. The gate of the FX-69 was JUST picking up the output from the guitar, and the Rockman's chorus brought the signal out just a bit more.

I ended up panning the guitar to the right (about 3:00) in the final mix so that it would have it's own presence and overall I was happy with the sound :-)

There really isn't a right or wrong way to setup your effects chain...everyone has different effects, and since there are sooo many different kinds of effects and devices out there, it's really totally up to you as to how you wish to hook things up together. But I'll say a few things in general here that may or may not meet with what you are trying to accomplish.

Hell, I know guys that plug the guitar into a Distortion Pedal, and then right into the tape deck in order to get the sound they want...and it WORKS for them ! Whatever work for you , works for you...it's that simple.


If you have a volume pedal...GENERALLY it will be the 1st device in your chain, but not always...that depends on what you want to do with it ! If you want to control the TOTAL volume output into your deck, yes, place the volume pedal 1st in your chain.

My Pedal Board
Click to enlarge

Sometimes, you may want it to be after a specific device, such as an Digital delay or Echoplex, but only by experimenting and learning how your output is affected by the diffferent placement of the devices will you know where to put something in order to get the sound you are looking for.

Next in line again GENERALLY, if you are using a Wah Wah pedal, place it after your volume pedal. That way, whatever is going on after the wah will be affected by the tonal variations produced by it. An interesting twist however is to place it LAST right before your deck...try it some time..this configuration can produce some every cool effects !

Next, usually would come your distortion devices, and then things like flangers, chorus's, doublers, whatever...and last but not least, your Digital Delay of Echo Machine. I find that by placing the Delay last in the chain allows two things to happen... 1st the entire signal is processed before it get's to the Delay, and I like that kind of effect, and also the use of the volume pedal, or the volume pot on your guitar in conjunction with the delay can produce some very outrageous effects, that sound very much like violins, E-bows, and early Alex Lifeson "Rush". There are many cool things you can do with echo, and that will be a whole seperate article.

OK, so now to put the words into pictures.

You can click here to see the order in which I usually set up my effects. Different songs call for different things but for the most part this gets me where I want to go. You'll notice that at the end of the signal chain the signal goes to a Rockman rackmount. One if these is Bob Dreher's and that one was used in recording at Ken Hensley's Upper Room Studios a couple of years ago on a song I did called "Treaty". The Rockman took the signal from the guitar, and that was the ONLY effect on that song and from the Rockman, they went directly into the recording console. Simple, but it worked !

The other Rockman shown in the illustration is mine. Bob's has a very nice chorus effect, and mine has a fatter distortion...so I use them both :-) Directly from the Rockman, the signal gets to either the 8 or 4 track deck.

You'll note that my Digital Delay has one "Dry" (unprocessed) output, and one "Wet" (processed) output. This offers a WHOLE world of possibilities...for example, if you wanted to record the same guitar part on 2 tracks simultaneously, one track using one series of effects, and the other using a different bunch of effects ..it's a GAS !

This idea can also be accomplished by running the output of a previously recorded track into your effects (through the effects loop of your deck) , and then onto another track. I will get into these types of things in the same article where I talk about the fun you can have with Echo's and things :-)

Lots to digest here huh?

Even if you have just two or three devices, spend some time playing around with the placement of them until you find out what works for YOU !

AND HAVE FUN...that's THE most important thing !

In the next article, I'll get into what you can do with Echo's, effect loops (fruit loops?), and the amazing E-bow.