If you’ve used more than one distortion pedal at a time, you’ve “stacked” them. Based on your pedals and their respective settings, you might have got mixed results. The basic idea however, is solid. Use the first gain pedal to boost or colour the sound of another. While the concept is simple, the details make all the difference.
Stacking overdrive/gain/boost/distortion/fuzz pedals can help you accomplish a variety of sonic goals. You can set them up to be multiple gain stages. A common setup for that is a light gain pedal followed by a heavier gain pedal. When dialled in correctly, this can create four awesome and distinct sounds: clean, dirty, heavy, or saturated.
Fuzz pedals add a unique colour palette to your overall sound but function in pretty much the same way as any other drive pedal. In case you feel that your fuzz pedal is at its best with the gain set high, use it as a heavier-gain pedal. In case you like the sound with a lower-gain setting, treat it as a lower gain pedal itself.
You can also utilise drive pedal stacks if you want to alter the overall character of your existing rig. In order to provide yourselves with an alternate set of sounds, begin with a pedal that has the tonal characteristics of a specific amp, ideally one that is different from your amp. After that, stack it up with a pedal featuring a different flavour of gain. This will create two distinct amp tones that can easily be overdriven.
For maximum flexibility, start with a clean amp sound while stacking gain pedals. The concept can work with a dirty amp too, but the less distorted your amp setting, the more you can influence the sound with pedals.
Tips for Stacking Pedals
- The last pedal in the stack has the biggest influence on the tone.
- A clean boost can be used as gain boost in front of an overdrive pedal or a volume boost if placed after.
- Some pedals are great at specific jobs. Transparent drives are great for adding gain or boost to a sound you don’t want to alter, like a second channel or gain stage. TS-style drives boost mids, taper highs and lows, and add some compression and a bit of clean, undistorted signal to the mix. These are great for making a lead stand out or tightening up a chunky rhythm sound.
- All drive pedals have an inherent sound and EQ curve. Knowing what that curve is will help you know how and where to stack a pedal. To figure out what your pedal sounds like, try these steps:
- Start with the EQ controls set to flat (typically 12:00).
- Set the Gain control at 9:00 or 10:00, lower if the pedal still responds properly.
- Match the volume control so the level is the same when the pedal is engaged/disengaged.
- Play a chord with the pedal off. Turn the pedal on and play the same chord. Listen to the EQ differences in the two sounds. Are there more or less mids? Does the low end shift noticeably? Are the highs the same?
- Bring up the gain incrementally and toggle between on and off. Does the character of the pedal change? Is it a good thing?
- 10.Do the same with the Volume control while adjusting the Gain to different settings. Some pedals sound better turned up or driving your amp harder.
- 11.Finding the optimum gain staging between pedals is important. Too much gain or level can cause excessive hiss or hum, handling noise, weird EQ, and compression, and it can actually make your sounds seem smaller.