Fuzz pedals are a fairly unique kind of stomp box relative to all of the other units you can get for the guitar. In some way, it’s like they’re in the space between overdrive and distortion, and they can do a lot for your guitar’s sound and vibe.
Due to their uniqueness, for lack of a better term, guitarists often wonder where in your signal chain is it best for them to go. This is understandable because learning to set up a pedal signal chain is both an art and a science, and there are many types.
Generally speaking, fuzz pedals should almost always go directly at the start of your signal chain, even before compression. This is because of the germanium circuitry inside of the pedal which needs to be closer to the guitar signal. The same rule often applies to older wah and uni-vibe pedals.
In terms of pedal signal chain advice, guitarists will often tell you to experiment because “there are no rules,” and this is true in a sense. However, I would say it’s different when it comes to fuzz. There does seem to be a rule, and it’s for it to be at the start of the chain. Let’s talk about this and more in the following section.
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Compression and Fuzz – Which Comes First?
Probably the best video I’ve seen on signal chains and the order of guitar pedals, including fuzz, is this YouTube video from JHS. Without getting into the specifics, the guys explain simply how the fuzz pedal is like the “neediest” pedal.
The Fuzz Face uses silicon-germanium circuitry which apparently doesn’t play nicely with other pedals. At the time of its invention, the Fuzz Face pedal was created not with other effects in mind.
In the 1960s, the idea of having a massive pedalboard of 10 to upwards of 30 pedals was probably inconceivable, so the pedals of the time were designed as if they would be one of the very few other pedals in the chain.
Truthfully, I wouldn’t be able to explain the science behind why this is the case, but I imagine it has something to do with impedance, the flow of energy, and the instability of that energy. But what about compression?
Fuzz pedals should come even before compression pedals which are commonly placed at the start of the signal chain or just after distortion and overdrive. But we’ll talk more specifically about compression pedals toward the end.
Understanding The Signal Chain Guideline
How you set up a pedalboard varies from person to person, but I believe there are some common guidelines, or rules if you want to call them that, that you could follow. It would go something like this:
Fuzz > Volume > Pitch Effects > Compression > Overdrive/Distortion > EQ > Chorus > Tremolo > Noise Gate [Time-Based Effects in FX Loop]
As I’ve said in other articles including in my looper pedal guide, putting your time-based effects in your FX Loop is a great way to give you more control over certain sounds, and clean up in front of your amp as well.
That should give you something to at least start with if you’ve got a lot of pedals. So ultimately, I think the answer to your question is fairly straightforward.
You want to put your fuzz pedals at the start of your chain. Let’s talk about compression now.
Where Should Compression Go In The Signal Chain?
But this isn’t the most common way to put a compressor in a signal chain. Probably one of the more ubiquitous ways to set up a compressor is to have it just before overdrive and distortion, however, you lose some of the overdrive sensitivity if you put it here.
The reason for this is that it’ll squash some of your dynamic range, so you won’t get that touchy vibe that makes playing with overdrive, distortion, and gain so much easier and fun.
If you’re the kind of person who values this feature, it may make sense to put it after instead. If you put it after your overdrive and distortion, you’ll retain some of that touch sensitivity, for lack of a better word.
Other Articles You May Be Interested In
- Where Should The Whammy Pedal Go In The Signal Chain? [EASY]
- Where To Put The Looper Pedal In Your Signal Chain [SIMPLE]
- Guitar Effects Loop Vs Direct Input – Which One’s Better?
- The Ultimate Troubleshooting Guide to Guitar Pedals [EASY]
- What Guitar Pedals Sound Better With Dying Batteries? [EASY]
Important Things to Note About Fuzz Pedals and Signal Chains
1) There Are Other Equally Important Factors When Setting Up Fuzz Pedals
Where you put the fuzz pedal in your signal chain plays a massive difference in how it sounds, especially if you have compression in there as well.
The fuzz pedal, including the Fuzz Face and Biff Muff, are sensitive units, so a lot can be done to manipulate their sound, including other factors outside of the signal chain. One of them is what kind of fuzz pedal you’re using.
- Different Fuzz Pedals Have Totally Different Sounds
There are some pedals that appear to totally imitate the fuzz face while others are a mixture of overdrive and fuzz.
The most classic sound is the fuzz face sound, and on its own with just a clean amp, you’ll probably struggle to get some of your favourite fuzzy tones. But if you pair it with a cranked amp or an overdrive pedal, it’ll be a different story.
- Buffers Matter A Lot For Fuzz Pedals
One commonly recommended way of setting up a signal chain, not just with fuzz pedals, is to have a buffer at the start and at the end of your signal chain. However, it’s best to have the fuzz pedal even before the buffer.
Be wary of BOSS pedals which are buffered units. They don’t play nicely with Fuzz Face pedals. True bypass pedals are a lot easier to work with when it comes to fuzz pedals.
- Clean vs Dirty Amps and Fuzz Pedals
Another factor for changing the way your fuzz pedal sounds is whether you’re using a clean or dirty amp setting. As I said earlier if you try and use a fuzz pedal with just a clean amp, it’ll lack the bell-like chime.
If you really wanted to get a dirty and fuzzy tone, fuzz pedals are great when paired with other effects units like overdrive, as just one example.
- 9V Batteries (Alkaline vs Carbon-Based) and Power Supplies
And lastly, we have whether you’re using a power supply or 9V batteries (my guide on this). And believe it or not, what kind of battery you use in your fuzz pedal matters a lot for it.
An alkaline battery usually won’t sound as good as a carbon-based battery. This has to do with the instability of impedance and the flow of power. The carbon-based battery is the more unstable of the two.
- Not All Fuzz Pedals Use Germanium Transistors
It’s worth noting that not all fuzz pedals use germanium transistors, in fact, many of them nowadays are made with silicon transistors instead.
According to Andertons – who has a great article on the subject – silicon transistors are cheaper and easier to come by so most manufacturers will use them now.
This has led to a large body of people who are purists about the original germanium circuit fuzz pedals. So how does this matter?
If you have a germanium circuit instead of a silicone circuit, you’ll definitely want your pedal at the start of your chain.
2) Regardless, Fuzz Pedals Are Almost Always Best At The Start
I think it’s important for me to emphasize that regardless of what kind of fuzz you’re using, how you’re giving it power, whether you’re using a dirty or clean amp, or whether you’re using a buffer, the fuzz pedal will probably work best at the start of your signal chain.
If you keep it simple and just put it before everything else, it’s doubtful you’ll run into any problems.