Updated: Jun 30
Guitar pedal manufacturers have made significant advancements in pedal production over recent years, expanding the range of available overdrive pedals and making them more accessible and affordable.
Given their popularity, many guitarists seeking killer tones rely on overdrive pedals and often have multiple pedals in their setup. However, the concept of stacking overdrives together is not well-established, despite being one of the best ways to achieve a range of beautiful tones.
To provide more information on the topic, this guide covers the fundamentals of gain stacking and stacking overdrives. The following topics will be covered:
1. What is gain stacking and how it works
2. Benefits of stacking overdrives and how it enhances your tone and rig
3. Common ways of stacking overdrives to produce various tones
4. Guidelines to follow for optimal gain stacking and getting the most out of your setup
Let's dive into the details and learn everything you need to know about stacking overdrives.
What is Gain Stacking?
Before delving deeper into gain stacking and various methods of stacking overdrives, it's important to understand the terms "gain stacking" and "stacking overdrives".
Gain stacking refers to having multiple gain stages in your rig and layering them on top of each other. This can be achieved by using multiple gain stages simultaneously, such as combining an overdrive pedal with the overdrive channel on an amp.
On the other hand, stacking overdrives specifically involves using multiple overdrive pedals simultaneously. This technique can be employed alongside different gain stages, such as stacking an overdrive pedal with a boost pedal or an already overdriven amp.
In simpler terms, when you stack overdrive pedals together, you are gain stacking. However, not all gain stacking involves overdrive pedals.
Benefits of Stacking Overdrive Pedals
Stacking overdrives offers several key benefits for guitarists looking to achieve killer tones:
1. Access to a broad range of tones: Stacking overdrives allows you to blend the characteristics of multiple pedals, creating unique and interesting tones that can't be achieved with a single pedal or amp alone - particularly useful if your drive pedals include dynamic EQ controls such as the parametric EQ filters built in to the WARP DRIVE, the FIG FUMB and the PDF range by STONE DEAF EFFECTS, to name a few.
2. Flexible tone tweaking: With multiple pedals in the chain, you have endless options for adjusting and fine-tuning your tones. You can tweak settings on each pedal, as well as on your amp and guitar, to craft a wide range of varied tones. For example; lower the mids on your WARP DRIVE pedal for some super heavy rhythm tones followed by a FIG FUMB fuzz pedal with the high mids boosted to push your solos clearly through the mix.
3. Precise tone control: Stacking overdrives enables you to tightly control your tone and the level of gain in your sound. This is especially useful in band settings or live performances, where you can easily and subtly adjust the amount of gain in your tone without using your hands.
4. Creating killer tones at lower volumes: Stacking overdrives allows you to generate warm and thick tones even at lower volumes, eliminating the need to crank your amp to achieve desired tones.
Each of these benefits is significant, particularly when it comes to overdrive pedals, which are known for their responsiveness to playing dynamics. Stacking overdrives amplifies this versatility and responsiveness, making it an excellent choice for rock guitarists.
Tips for Stacking Overdrives
While there are no strict rules when it comes to guitar tones, following these general guidelines can help you maximize the potential of your pedalboard:
1. Position your favorite pedal last: The last pedal in your chain has the most significant impact on your tone. If you have a favorite pedal that you want to stand out in your stacked overdrive setup, place it as the last pedal in your signal chain. This way, its characteristics will be preserved and enhanced by the other pedals in front of it.
2. Consider the order of your pedals: The order in which you stack your overdrive pedals can greatly affect your tone. Generally, placing a lower-gain pedal before a higher-gain pedal will result in a smoother and more dynamic sound. Experiment with different pedal orders to find the combination that works best for you.
3. Adjust the settings for each pedal: Each overdrive pedal in your stack should have its own unique settings. By adjusting the gain, tone, and volume knobs on each pedal, you can shape the overall sound and find the right balance between clarity, sustain, and saturation.
4. Use a clean boost as a catalyst: Adding a clean boost pedal before or after your overdrive pedals can significantly alter your tone. A boost pedal can provide extra volume, tighten up the low end, or push your amp into further saturation. Experiment with different boost placements to find the desired effect.
5. Pay attention to your amp settings: While overdrive pedals play a crucial role in your tone, don't neglect the settings on your amplifier. The interaction between your pedal stack and your amp's preamp and power amp stages can create unique tonal characteristics. Adjust your amp's EQ, gain, and volume settings to complement and enhance the stacked overdrive tones.
Remember, these tips are meant as guidelines, and the most important aspect is to experiment and trust your ears. Every pedal combination and setup will yield different results, so take the time to explore and find the sound that resonates with you.
Common Stacking Configurations
Here are a few common stacking configurations that can help you achieve specific tones:
1. Transparent Overdrive into Mid-Range Boost: Start with a transparent overdrive pedal, such as a PDF2 or PDF1-X pedal, to add some smooth breakup and compression. Then stack a boost pedal, like the Stone Deaf Q-BOOST, with the mids pushed to boost your tone further and add more sustain and grit.
2. Low-Gain Overdrive into High-Gain Overdrive: Begin with a low-gain overdrive pedal for a touch of breakup and warmth. Follow it with a higher-gain overdrive pedal to add more saturation and sustain. This configuration allows you to retain note clarity while still achieving a powerful and harmonically rich tone.
3. Boost into Overdrive into Amp: Start with a clean boost pedal to increase your signal and push the front end of your overdrive pedal. Stack the boost into your preferred overdrive pedal, and then let the signal hit your amplifier's overdrive channel for added saturation and depth. This setup provides a wide range of tonal options, from mild breakup to searing lead tones.
4. Overdrive into Amp, with Boost in Effects Loop: Place your overdrive pedal before your amplifier's input, setting it to your desired level of gain. Then, insert a boost pedal into the effects loop of your amplifier to increase the overall volume and saturation without adding more gain. This setup allows you to push your amp's natural overdrive while maintaining control over the overall volume.
Experiment with these configurations, tweak the settings, and don't be afraid to try unconventional pedal combinations. The goal is to find the combination that helps you express your unique playing style and delivers the tones you desire.
Stacking overdrive pedals is a fantastic way to explore new tonal possibilities and unlock a wide range of sounds. By understanding the fundamentals of gain stacking, the benefits of stacking overdrives, and following some general guidelines, you can create your own signature tone.
Remember, the key to finding your ideal stacked overdrive tone is experimentation and listening. Trust your ears and don't be afraid to try different pedal combinations, orders, and settings. Here are a few additional tips to consider:
1. Balance your gain levels: When stacking multiple overdrive pedals, it's important to find the right balance of gain. If all your pedals have high gain settings, you may end up with excessive saturation and muddiness. On the other hand, if all your pedals have low gain settings, you might not achieve the desired level of drive. Experiment with different gain levels on each pedal to find the sweet spot that complements your playing style.
2. Use EQ pedals for tone shaping: Incorporating an EQ pedal into your stacked overdrive setup can provide even more control over your tone. An EQ pedal placed before or after your overdrive pedals can shape the frequencies and help you cut through the mix or add warmth. Try boosting the midrange for a more pronounced lead tone or scooping the mids for a heavier rhythm sound.
3. Try different pedal combinations: While stacking overdrive pedals is a popular approach, don't limit yourself to using only overdrive pedals. Experiment with different types of pedals, such as fuzz, distortion, or even modulation effects like chorus or delay, in combination with your overdrive pedals. Mixing different types of gain and modulation can result in unique and inspiring tones.
4. Consider the overall volume: Stacking multiple overdrive pedals can significantly increase your overall volume. Pay attention to the output level of each pedal and adjust accordingly. You may need to adjust the output volume on some pedals to match the unity gain level or use a volume pedal at the end of your signal chain to control the overall volume.
5. Record and evaluate: When fine-tuning your stacked overdrive setup, it can be helpful to record your playing and listen back to it objectively. Sometimes, what may sound great in isolation might not blend well in a band or mix context. Recording allows you to evaluate the effectiveness of your tone and make adjustments accordingly.
Lastly, it's worth mentioning that every guitarist has their own preferences and unique setup. While these tips provide a starting point, there's no definitive formula for achieving the perfect stacked overdrive tone. Take the time to experiment, trust your ears, and enjoy the process of discovering your own signature sound.
The videos below show you just some of the endless tonal possibilities you get with STONE DEAF EFFECTS pedals and incase you didn't know, we also publish guitar tab videos on our YouTube channel so if that's something you're also into, subscribe to our channel.
Good luck and thanks for reading!