Once you’ve gathered more than 4-5 effects pedals, getting them in the right order can be a challenge. After you’ve discovered how important the order of effects is for getting the desired sound, it can feel overwhelming because of all the possibilities.
Not only that, but a lot of people argue with you about the order of effects pedals and try and shame you into their way of doing things. Thankfully, getting the whammy pedal placement is an easier one to get right because it’s a pitch-shifting pedal.
Because the Whammy Pedal is a pitch-shifting pedal, it’s best to have it either at the start of your signal chain or close to it, that way it gets the cleanest guitar signal possible. This means you’ll want to put the whammy pedal either right after your guitar or after your tuner and wah pedal.
As I said though, there are a few ways of doing it. The Whammy pedal master, Tom Morello, the guitarist of Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, puts it close to the start of his signal chain, although, not right at the start. A good rule of thumb is to have it before your distortion, gain, and drive pedals.
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1) After the Guitar (First In the Signal Chain)
That’s what I like to do too. However, it winds up being somewhat near the center in most cases, because I always have the tuner pedal first. The image shown above shows my looper after the tuner pedal, but that actually goes in the FX Loop, in my view.
One of the reasons why it’s best to put pitch-shifting pedals first in your signal chain is that drives, compressions, and other pedals like that eliminate or change some of the frequency information that the whammy pedal would make good use of.
In essence, what this does is that it gives the whammy pedal less control over the signal. Put simply, its power over the signal will be weakened, and you won’t be able to get as strong as a dive bomb, nor will the harmonization effect sound as good.
As a brief aside because I think it’ll help you: I like to use the FX Loop now for many effects because it takes some of the time-based pedals out of the equation – I’ve written more about that here. And this includes the Looper Pedal as well (also my guide).
The Whammy Pedal, however, isn’t a time-based pedal. It’s a pitch-shifting pedal. I would never put it into the FX Loop, nor would I have it after distortion, gain, compression, overdrive, and any modulating time-based effects.
This includes flangers, phasers, chorus, and others like that. Ideally, you want to be able to record a loop and then jam over it either with or without the Whammy Pedal on, and that’s what this does for you. This guy down here does a great demonstration of his pedalboard.
I take his word seriously because he has a massive pedalboard that goes far beyond what I use. At least for now.
2) With Pitch-Shifting and Wah Pedals
As a general rule, most people put the Digitech whammy pedal with their wah pedal and other pitch-shifting units. You could either put your wah first or your Digitech whammy pedal first, I think either way would be fine.
The same thing goes for pedals like harmonizers, octave pedals, and other pedals that change the pitch of your sound in any way. I know that Tom Morello puts the wah pedal before the whammy pedal, which is shown in his rig demonstration down below:
Interestingly, for someone who is known for his creative use of effects, Tom Morello hardly even has that many pedals or effects. He says in the video that he has been using nearly the exact same board for almost 30 years.
3) Before Distortion, EQ, Compression, Drive, & Gain Pedals
As I said earlier, it’s a general rule of thumb to avoid processing the signal with distortion, EQ, compression, drive, gain, or boost, before you send it into the Whammy Pedal. Pitch-shifting pedals like a clean, unaffected signal.
If you put distortion on the signal and then send it into the Whammy Pedal, you’re going to get a messy sound. However, this sound could be used intentionally to get a crazy sound in the studio.
4) In the Amplifier’s FX Loop
You could put the Whammy Pedal in the FX Loop, but I believe most people would advise against that. Doing so would put the pitch-shifter, essentially, as one of the last things in your signal chain.
The Whammy Pedal would be receiving an audio signal that has already been processed and affected by every other effect unit on your pedalboard. You could probably get away with doing it though so why not give it a shot?
Important Thing to Note About A Whammy Pedal
1) There Are No Rules for Setting Up A Pedalboard
I say this in almost every article but there really aren’t any rules for this kind of thing. You just have to experiment with what you have and figure out what you think sounds best. For instance, some people may even like the way a Whammy Pedal sounds after distortion.
2) Pedals Will Often Still Work In “Improper” Order
One thing that’s definitely worth mentioning is that you can put your pedals in almost any order that you want, and they’ll still work just fine. It’s just that they won’t work as they were designed to work.
You may find that putting drive after your whammy or wah pedal actually sounds good for a particular section, versus the other way around.
3) Fuzz Pedals May Need to Go Before Pitch-Shifting Pedals
There are certain kinds of fuzz pedals that don’t work well with other pedals if they’re placed after them. Some pedals need the direct uninhibited audio signal even before the pitch-shifter gets a hold of them, so keep that in mind.