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Effects Loops: How To Use A Guitar Amp Effects Loop


Mack FXLoopToday I received an email from a reader who asked: "What effects should I put in my amp's effects loop and which ones should I put between the guitar and the amp?".

This is a VERY common question so I thought I would share my answer.  My comments below are based on a series loop.


First, there is no 'best' way to use a loop.  You can put any effect in the loop and any effect in front of the amp and the tone will be good - but somewhat different.  Your ears and your preference is what finally decides what goes where.  That means you should experiment until you get a set up that you like best.

Second, before you start experimenting you need to recognize the difference between putting an effect in front vs. in the loop.  An effect in front is working its magic on your guitar signal (or the guitar signal that has been effected by previous effects).  An effect in the loop is working on the signal from the amp's preamp - that is the guitar signal effected by any effects out front and then processed by the preamp.  Therefore, the only difference between the two is that the loop's signal has the extra preamp mojo to work with.  Other than that there is no difference.

So, whatever your amp's preamp does to the tone is what the loop is going to see.  High gain amps use a LOT of preamp distortion.  Classic tube amps make the sound louder though the preamp and will add tube 'warmth' to the tone.

The other thing to consider is that, of course, the preamp section of the amp includes the amp's tone controls.  That means the signal the loop sees has been altered by the tone control settings.  

To sum up, from a tone perspective the only difference between the loop signal and the signal out front of the amp is the effect of the amp's tone controls and whatever sonic mojo the preamp adds.  Otherwise, from your effects point of view they are the same.  (That doesn't take into consideration the amplitude or size of the signal, but that doesn't really affect the tone.)

Your question is: in what order should my effects be placed.  Common thinking says that 'time based' effects should go in the loop and the rest out front.  Time based means any effect like delay, reverb, chorus, phaser, flanger, envelope filters, ring modulators, etc.

That's a good place to start, but I really urge you not to stop there.  Think about it: doesn't it seem like it might be interesting to put, say, an overdrive pedal in the loop to take the signal that the preamp has worked on and add some OD?  What would the added tube warmth and tone shaping from the preamp sound like overdriven?  That's kind of interesting.  Try it!  

Same with distortion, or wah, or boost, or whatever.  The other side of that coin is that maybe putting delay in front of the amp and then letting the preamp work on it - along with its tone controls - might sound very cool.  Time based in front of gain/OD/disortion or vice versa?  Many players do it one way and many the other.

You have two choices: go with standard practice and only put the time based FX in the loop or experiment and come up with your own configuration that suits YOUR ears!

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