Four Tips to Tone Stack Your Guitar Pedals

Four Tips to Tone Stack Your Guitar Pedals

Posted by GLS Audio

One of the most attractive aspects of drive pedals is that you can do tone stacking. Most recognizable dirty tones and many amplifiers can be recreated by combining a few drive pedals and learning how to make them mesh well.

If you have used more than one guitar pedal at a time, then you've "stacked." Depending on the pedals on your pedalboard and settings, your test may have mixed results. Still, the basic concept is solid; use one gain pedal to enhance or color the sound of another. 

Stacking pedals creates a dynamic, harmonically rich sound that you can tweak in so many ways. However, before you start stacking pedals, it's vital to know how to stack pedals for a focused drive tone.

What is tone stacking?

"Pedal stacking" refers to using multiple pedals (more than one overdrive, distortion, or fuzz pedal) together and using them both simultaneously.

Tone stacking, also known as pedal gain stacking, is a term that refers to connecting more than one pedal to add gain to your signal. These can include preamps, overdrives, distortions, compressors, boosts, fuzzes, and amp.

You'll need to use the stacked pedals a little differently than you would if they were run alone to get the pedals to sound and work properly. A suitable guitar instrument cable is also necessary to achieve the best results.

Why is the concept of gain staging important?

Gain staging is the process of managing all of the volume levels of a device or a track in production to achieve the cleanest mix possible.

Gain staging:

  • improves the quality of your mix.
  • Removes excess noise and distortion.
  • It allows you to take full advantage of your DAW's and plugins capabilities.

Introducing good gain staging practices into your projects is an easy way to achieve the cleanest mix possible and stand out from the competition.

Four Tips to Get the Best Tone From Pedal Gain Stacking

Here are five tips to get the best results from your pedal stacking:

Experiment with the last pedal you use

The last pedal in the stack has a profound effect on the overall tone you get from your signal chain. A boost or overdrive can easily mask any subtleties that pedals earlier in the stack added.

Use a clean boost or transparent drivers for overdrive gain

You can use a clean boost as a gain boost by placing it in front of an overdrive pedal or a volume boost if you set it after. Some pedals are suitable for specific tasks. Transparent drivers are excellent for adding gain or amplifying sounds that you do not want to change, such as a second channel or a gain stage. 

All pedals add a natural EQ curve to your tone

All driving pedals have natural sound and EQ curves. Some pedals play particular roles, and the only way to know how they work best is by playing with them in different parts of the signal chain. All overdrive pedals have an EQ that'll shape the tone coming into each next pedal.

Keep your levels... level

Finding the optimum gain stacking between pedals is crucial. Too much gain or level can cause high-pitched noises, handling noise, compression, and weird EQ. This all circles back to the fundamentals of proper gain staging.

The quality and consistency of your patch cables are critical to have the best out of pedal stacking.

Frequently Asked Questions on Tone Stacking

Can you use overdrive and fuzz together?

You can stack overdrive and fuzz together, but note that the fuzz pedals should go first, then the overdrive pedals. Stacking fuzz and overdrive pedals this way ensures that they mesh properly and play well together.

Can you stack three overdrive pedals?

You can stack multiple overdrive pedals together and blend their characteristics. This helps you to create unique and exciting tones. It also provides you with many options for tweaking and adjusting these tones.

Should fuzz go before or after overdrive?

Fuzz pedals should usually go first, followed by overdrive pedals and finally distortion pedals. That's because you should have the most significant changes to your tone at the start and then let the later pedals refine it before it goes into your amp.

Can you use a distortion pedal with an overdrive pedal?

Yes. You can use distortion and overdrive pedals together. This is referred to as gain-stacking. However, you need to properly dial in your controls to make the tone sound different. Using both together and having your distortion too high will usually mask the overdrive effect.

Closing Thoughts

Whether you're playing rock, blues, or metal, stacking overdrive pedals is an effective way to amp up your dirty tones. By using different pedals in your stacks, you open up endless possibilities. A solid tone wouldn't be possible, however, without the high-quality cables to maintain integrity from the first pedal to the last.

Shop cables at GLS Audio today!