Practical Tips and Tricks for Stacking Gain and Overdrive Pedals

In the guitar world, especially when it comes to tone, everyone has an opinion on what’s “right.” However, between the blurred lines of audio science and the endless chatter of gear forums finding what’s best tonally for yourself can be a challenge.

With seemingly thousands of options for fuzzes, boosts, overdrives and distortions finding the right setup and the correct combination for them could be the difference between a bland setup and a rig that turns heads the second you hit that first power chord.

To best understand what may work for your rig we’re going to walk through a few guidelines to help lead you to your best setup.

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What’s your roadmap to tone?

The first step in proper gain staging is to understand what the ultimate overarching tone you are looking for is.While this may seem a bit obvious, many players often want to have a board that “can do it all” when they should have a board that is for the specific gig they are on or tone in their head.

Before considering the overdrive order and staging you must first consider what guitar and amp the pedals are going through. While there are tons of fantastic boutique brands out there, we typically see a few “parent” types of amps that have specific characteristics.

Knowing what your amp is capable of and what it cannot produce on its own is the most important part of selecting the ideal overdrives for that setup. The major parent types of amps consist of the following:*

*There will be plenty of other types of amps not mentioned here such as Trainwreck style, Dumble style, Hiwatt, etc. The groups below primarily capture the majority of amp tones and the stacking logic will follow for any amp. The key is knowing the signature qualities the amp provides.

Marshall:

These amps, all things considered, are overall more midrange heavy, with low bottom end and pleasing highs. These amps are often used in rock styles and have plenty of gain on tap. Think Zeppelin and Van Halen

Hot Rodded Marshall:

This style of amplifier is very similar to the previous category but are often higher in gain and have tighter low end and the same quality of mids as there parent category. These type of amps are found in harder rock styles and metal. Think ’80s hair metal.

Ulta High Gain Style:

This amp type is for the most hardcore of metalheads. These amps produce insane amounts of gain and ideally tight bass response. Cue the “cookie monster vocals” for this type of amp.

Vox Style:

Amps of this style typically have chimey high end, loose midrange and bass. This amp has a jangly tone but can certainly rock with a unique heavy midrange induced drive tone. Think U2, Tom Petty and Queen.

Fender Style:

This style amp is known widely for their clean tones, excellent headroom, high highs and rounded lows. These amps also typically feature a scooped midrange

Now that we’ve gone over the major categories of amplifier types, we can discuss how drive selection comes into play.

Selecting the Drives:


The first step to a well-stacked board is to find the proper combination of pedals that will push your amp to the capabilities it cannot produce naturally. A wise selection is typically a boost and/or drive for solos and one to stack additionally for thicker leads.

Just like knowing your amp’s characteristics, drive pedals also fall under categories. They are:**

**Again, yes there are lots more categories to consider, but for the sake of a 1000-word article I tried to compress (see what I did there?) as much as I could!

  • Soft Clipping: Typically lower gain overdrive pedals such as the TS808 and Boss SD1
  • Hard Clipping: Typically higher gain pedals such as the Rat
  • Transparent: Typically pedals that drive your signal, but do not color the tone of your chain as much as the previously mentioned types would
  • Amp in a Box: Pedals that emulate the tone of amplifiers such as the Ramble Effects Marvel Drive

Place the pedals in the order of lowest gain to highest gain with the exception of fuzzes which should typically go first before the other drives in the chain.

Boosts are often subjective and it depends on your overall goal of how you wish to use it. If you are looking to use it as a true boost to the gain of your whole drive chain, then it should go before all of the other drives and fuzzes. Doing this will allow the boost to further drive each circuit after increasing the gain. This can create some scorching effects and heavy leads!

If you place the boost after the drives, it will act more as a volume boost and drive your signal harder into the amp generating a more pushed amp drive tone/lead boost.

That can sound killer, as well.

The idea behind this is to allow each pedal to behave at its best, but when stacked together they will compound on each other — creating thicker and thicker drive until it creates a full-blown wall of sound!

Additionally, one must consider what the characteristics of each drive creates and how they will blend into each other as well as making sure the volume on each is not just at unity gain with the rig, but with each pedal. That will provide a better blend when engaging effects.

Two for One

Two-in-one pedals are often either a boost section into a drive or two drive sections cascaded together.

Thinking as outlined above a two-in-one should either go first if it is the only boost option of all your pedals being stacked or after the boost if it is a two-drive circuit.

Now that you have the basics of tone stacking have fun! Remember only you can decide what pedals and gear are right for your needs. Experiment, trust your instincts, and use your ears to create the signature tones you’ve been looking for!

For more information on JRAD pedals, please visit https://rockettpedals.com

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