What is pedal stacking and how do I do it?

Running a pedal in front of an amp is designed to push its tubes into breakup for some sweet, sweet crunch or distortion. It's an ideal technique for those of you who can't or won't turn the volume of your amp up to 11.

Stacking pedals

But a variation on the technique is to combine multiple pedals (known as pedal stacking) to achieve a more nuanced and richer tone than a single pedal can produce.

And by switching certain pedals in the chain on or off, you'll also be able to cover far more tonal ground than with a single pedal. 

Rather than cranking the volume knob on a single pedal, you can carefully manage the volume and drive of each pedal in your chain - this is known as gain-staging.

It's here that the mythical transparency of the Klon Centaur and Timmy Overdrive shine, adding gain to the sum of parts without colouring the sound with EQ.

Watch the gain

When pedal stacking, the key is to keep the gain produced by each pedal much lower than if you were just running one overdrive or distortion. Don't forget, the gain is added to with each additional pedal, and overdoing it can negatively affect your tone.

Combinations

You'll quickly find some combinations work better than others, especially if you have a range of different pedal types. Below I have listed some common combinations and suggested stacking orders.

Clean boost -> Klon-style mild overdrive

Running hot into a 'transparent' Klon-style overdrive brings extra 'chew' and texture. Great for raunchy blues or classic rock tones.

Klon-style mild overdrive -> Distortion

Run fairly low, the Klon-style pedal adds some extra girth and grit to your favourite distortion pedal, while helping to tidy up the bottom end and increasing sustain too.

Tubescreamer-style overdrive -> Clean boost

Placing the boost after the overdrive will add volume and preserve the gain level without over-saturating things.

Fuzz -> Tubescreamer-style overdrive

The accentuated mid-hump of a Tubescreamer-style pedal placed after a fuzz will open up the sound, adding punch and clarity to your tone, as well as additional volume.

 Delay -> Distortion or Overdrive

Running a distortion or overdrive after a delay means that the repeats get distorted as well as the original guitar sound. This can work really well if you're looking for a particularly grimy, gritty texture, but beware - it definitely won't give you a clean delay sound! Increase the volume/gain of the delay to drive the second pedal harder to further increase the grunge factor here.

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