Conventionally, a chorus pedal is placed before a delay in a pedalboard or an effect signal chain. Chorus is a modulation effect and delay is a time-based effect. Both these pedals are capable of creating dreamy and ambient sounds on the clean tones of an electric guitar.
Single ripples, subtle slapback, or infinite ambiance: delays are crucial for adding depth, dimension, and motion (check out our guide to buying your ideal delay pedal). Chorus pedals are commonly used to fatten or alter the timbre of guitars. They can be pivotal in approximating the “double-tracked” tone or other sound-staging effects.
Chorus is a modulation effect that a) duplicates your audio signal, b) alters the pitch of the copy, and c) mixes the copy with the original signal. What you get, sounds like more than one guitar playing together at one time. In fact, it is also a delay effect that is quite similar to a flanger.
This crops up as a confounding wrinkle, however – how does the placement of these two units on a pedalboard impact the end result? Is it a straightforward decision or is there some artistic freedom that allows for some overlap?
In this article, we’ll make a distinction between chorus, delay, and the order in which they commonly appear in a guitar signal effect chain.
Guitar Chorus Pedal: An Overview
Today, chorus pedals are only half as popular despite being twice as feature-packed. From rack mounts to pedals to guitar amps, there are multiple options to add to your effect signal chain. This also includes mono chorus, stereo chorus, and surround chorus in both digital and analog units.
Regardless of the form factor, they all do the same thing – make pitch-modulated copies of your guitar signal. Your chorus pedal is simply taking in the signal and spitting it out with another layer that is pitch-modulated and/or delayed.
The syrupy shimmer of the chorus was all the rage in the 70s and like pop ballads (and mullets) – their partners in crime – they fell out of fashion after being “done to death” in the 80s. After a few years, they resurfaced in a newly palatable lust-clean-grunge avatar and thick shoe gaze distortion tones.
In the 90s, chorus enjoyed newfound attention in the hands of Kurt Cobain, John Frusciante, Andy Summers, and many others. And, let’s not forget Jaco Pastorius’ doubled fretless bass tone. Boss CE-1, Electro-Harmonix Small Clone, and Fender Bubbler are good examples of guitar chorus pedals.
Guitar Delay Pedal: An Overview
The “delay-ed” signal or decayed echo has enamored guitarists since the tape loop era of the 40s and 50s. Since the introduction of analog delay pedals in the 1970s, delay has become the mainstay of pedalboards across a wide range of genres and styles.
A digital delay pedal will sample your input signal and record the audio to a storage buffer to play it back using the parameters of the unit. The delay effect creates depth and emphasis that can be altered for doubling, slapback, and other ethereal effects that approximate the sound of an acoustic space.
From Robert Fripp’s (King Crimson) Frippertronics to The Edge’s densely overlaid arpeggios, electric guitarists have showcased the versatility of this spatial unit. Boss DD-7, Strymon TimeLine, and TC Electronic Flashback are among the most recognizable delays of the last decade.
Chorus before or after delay?
The chorus effect falls under the “modulation” category of guitar pedals. This indicates that it will be placed towards the end of the effect signal chain. Right after “dirt” and right before “time”. The delay is a time-based effect, so it is typically placed after the chorus pedal.
For the sake of curiosity, let us explain the two scenarios. Let’s say you’ve placed a delay before the chorus in your effect chain. Now, when you play a note on the guitar you will hear a composite signal that is a combination of the note and the decay of the note reflections of varying amplitude depending on the feedback and other parameters on your delay pedal.
This signal will now be processed by the chorus pedal. That will cause it to modulate ALL the reflections as the LFO sweeps over the composite signal. It is going to sound confused and muddy. The resulting tone will lack definition and clarity.
Conversely, you will notice a much simpler sound if you place the delay after the chorus pedal. Running the chorus first ensures that the audio is first duplicated by the chorus pedal. The audio signal that goes into the delay will be “delaying” the same sonic content.
So, while no rulebook states that it’s prohibited, you’re highly unlikely to see a chorus pedal placed after a delay. It would only make sense if you are intentionally chasing a maverick guitar tone, wherein you don’t mind the muddiness and lack of definition.
Conclusion: Chorus first, unless…
Chorus before delay for the sake of definition and clarity. Chorus after delay if you’re creatively inclined to find a use for its eccentric texture and can justify the use of a muddy and poorly-defined tone. You can always switch them around to experiment and see what works for you.
Is pedal order important in a signal chain?
Yes, pedal order is of utmost importance and significance. An effect signal chain is the sequence of effects that guitarists use to process their sound. The order of pedals will determine how the signal will be processed as it voyages through the effect signal chain.
Generally, the pedals are categorized based on their function and the following order is used as a starting point:
- Dynamics: Pitch Shifter, Wah, Compressor, etc
- Gain or Dirt: Overdrive, distortion, and boost pedals.
- Modulation: Flanger, Phaser, Chorus, etc.
- Time – Delay and ‘verb
These pedal placement recommendations for your effect signal chain fall in the realm of “accepted notions” or “best practices”. They encapsulate the general approach based on what is common knowledge. You can bend the rules as and when required to sculpt the tone based on your creative vision. Let your ears be the final judge.
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