In a guitar signal chain, the delay unit is generally placed before a reverb pedal, but it’s up to the individual musician to decide on the order. Putting delay before reverb can muddy up the sound, so most guitarists prefer placing it after the delay.
Before the advent of reverb pedals, guitarists used quirky homemade devices for the reverb effect. They’d secure a metal plate onto an amp using springy metal clips. A mic would capture the resonance of the vibrating metal plate to recreate the feel/vibe of a large, echoey room.
Thanks to acts/artists like Pink Floyd, U2, and Eric Johnson, the delay pedal is no stranger to the guitar pedal board either. From spacey, resonant tones to spatial illusions to multidimensional textures, delay has been the backbone of “time” based sheen in guitar history.
There is no shortage of cool effects the modern electric guitarist can use to build an interesting and complex sound. From modulations to dynamics to distortion, the options and combinations are practically limitless, and it’s up to you, to tinker and find out what works best for your music.
In this article, we’ll discuss the placement of reverb and delay in your signal chain and their sonic nuances in each scenario.
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Guitar Reverb: An Overview
Reverb, short for reverberation, is the phenomenon when a sound wave strikes a hard surface and bounces back to the listener. The characteristics of reverb depend on the place (room) where the music is played, especially the shape and size.
Most electric guitarists have incorporated reverb into their pedalboard to modify or enhance their sound, regardless of their style or genre. Their popularity has also prompted amp manufacturers to include a built-in reverb in several amps.
However, amp reverbs have limited function and tweakability. Most guitarists prefer to use an analog or digital reverb via rack mounts or stompboxes. This allows them to change the timing, amplitude, and volume of the returning sound to create effects, layers, and sonic textures.
Guitar Delay: An Overview
A delay pedal works by recording the music fed into it and playing it back with a “delay” to create a decaying echo. Delay started with the tape loops of the 40s and evolved into stompboxes in the 70s. Today, you can find an array of analog/digital pedals of varying complexity.
From wet/dry/wet live setups to cascading delays to an always-on tone sweetener, virtuosos like Eddie Van Halen, Brian May, and David Gilmore put delay on the map in the 80s and 90s. It’s unfathomable to imagine U2 without The Edge’s use of modulation and sending the output through two different amps to create his signature ethereal tone.
When used properly, it can have an incredible effect on a note or melody, providing depth and emphasis. With a quick playback setting, you can create a “slapback” effect. With longer delays, you can create a “wall of sound”, where one playback follows another in quick succession, and gradually fades out.
Can you put reverb AFTER delay?
The short answer is that reverb is generally placed at the very end of a pedalboard. However, it can be placed as the penultimate pedal with the delay after it to achieve certain textures and sounds. Whether this is acceptable or desirable will depend on the sonic quality you are after.
In a natural setting, reverb is usually the last effect that influences the sound before it hits your ears, so it comes last in the chain as well. We spoke about the “comp first” as a pedalboard mantra in a previous article. Similarly, you can remember this characteristic as “Reverb last”.
The venue (when relevant) will also factor into the tone that your audience will hear. The spatial conditions may not be as relevant in a studio or while recording into your DAW. However, we’ll leave those spatial intricacies for a future post.
Can you put Reverb before delay?
Running reverb before delay means the echo you achieve from the delay already has the reverb sound built into it. This is fine from a technical standpoint, but the notes will be sustained even longer and will run into one another, creating a muddy effect. However, one man’s muddy is another man’s dreamy.
This reverb-to-delay dreamy texture is highly sought after in hard rock or heavy metal, where it tends to mellow out or balance the guitar sound that is already crispy/crunchy from the use of distortion and/or overdrive.
The reverb effect will be enhanced, creating an even thicker sound. This is even more true when they are using effects such as overdrive and distortion further up the chain. Putting delay first keeps the tone sharper. Delaying reverb would create an even cloudier, washed-out sound.
Conclusion: Reverb Last
Both effects accomplish something similar but distinctive. You are free to go about it in different ways as long as you do it consciously and understand the noticeable difference in depth and texture. To expand your knowledge, I recommend this article from Izotope. It has listed eight practicable ways to use delay and reverb for your guitar recordings.
Is pedal order important in a signal chain?
An effect signal chain is the sequence of effects that guitarists use to process their sound. The tone resulting from their pedalboard is heavily dependent on the order of the pedals. Does the order of these effects matter? Of course, it does.
For example, putting a wah pedal before the distortion could dampen the range of the wah. Now try it the other way around and you’ll find the dimensions of the wah are amplified. Ultimately, every novice should start by understanding the basic guidelines for pedal placement. From there on, you can bend all the rules as you experiment to find a tone that works for you.
The conventional wisdom is that reverb comes last, but I’ve seen many guitarists try it the other way around to achieve memorable tones. The differences are subtle, but to a connoisseur (or audiophile) they are readily apparent and important. It’s up to you to play around, experiment, and discover which way it works for you.
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