There are so many pedals and effects on the best guitar pedalboards these days. It can be difficult to know what order to place them all in.
Reverb or Delay are two of the more important for sound creation. But what comes first? Let’s find out as we take an in-depth look at the question, do you put reverb before or after delay?
- The Usual way
- Who invented Reverb?
- The First Use in a Studio
- The Arrival of Fender
- The Echo Chamber
- Crude but Very Efficient
- The growth of understanding
- A Natural Partner
- From Echo to Delay
- From the Basics
- Do You Put Reverb Before Or After Delay – Plenty of Options
- Can You Put Reverb After Your Delay?
- Can You Put the Reverb Effect Before Your Delay?
- Personal Preferences
- A Sound That Can Be Sought After
- Is The Order Of The Always Pedals Important?
- Long Long Ago In The Land Of The Simple Folk…
- An Early Learning Curve
- Do You Put Reverb Before Or After Delay – The Order Matters
- For Those New To Pedals
- So What Is The Answer?
- Reverb Last
- Looking for some great effects pedals?
- Do You Put Reverb Before Or After Delay – Final Thoughts
The Usual way
Traditionally, most guitarists will say that you need to put the delay before the reverb. But that could make the sound muddy and messy. Some players prefer the delay behind the reverb, but that can have its negatives as well. Let’s have a closer look and see if there is a definitive position for these two vital sounds in today’s music.
But before we do, let’s get in the time machine and travel back a bit to look at the origins of both. We’ll start with reverb or reverberation to give it its full name.
Who invented Reverb?
No one, it has always been here. The properties of the space you are in create it. It is simply a sound bouncing around. If you have a room with exactly parallel walls, the sound will bounce between them. This resonance makes the room ring at a given frequency.
So given that it has always been there, who had the bright idea of harnessing that potential?
The First Use in a Studio
This was possibly a man by the name of Bill Putnam Snr. He recorded a vocal in the Universal studio’s bathroom to create the effect. You can hear it on the track ‘Peg Of My Heart’ by the Harmonicats released in 1947.
This was followed by people trying to be creative. Metal plates were fixed to the front of a guitar amp. They were sprung using clips so they would move and vibrate. The resonance created by the vibrating plate was captured by a microphone.
The idea was to create the sound of a large room. All very well and good, but we needed something a little more practical and better sounding.
The Arrival of Fender
One of the most respected names for their tube-driven spring reverb system comes into view. However, it wasn’t until 1961 that they produced their first stand-alone reverb unit. And they didn’t put it in an amp until the 1963 Vibroverb.
It was a step forward and a big one for the time. You can hear the results on ‘Wipeout’ by the Surfaris and ‘Pipeline’ by the Chantays.
The Echo Chamber
But the Fender idea wasn’t easily available to start with. Studios had already started to create their own, as they called them, ‘echo chambers’ based on Putnam’s ideas. Phil Spector and the Beach Boys used it, the Beatles at the EMI Studios, and Frank Sinatra recording at Capitol.
They all built these rooms or chambers with walls with reflective surfaces to create the sound. They then sent a signal into them and recorded the result using a microphone.
Crude but Very Efficient
The arrival of a German company EMT changed the landscape of the production of music and musical sound forever. In 1976 they gave us the first digital reverb in the world, the crude but very efficient EMT 250.
It was operated by levers, so it probably wouldn’t fit on your pedalboard; in fact, it probably wouldn’t even fit in your car! Nevertheless, it is a highly sought-after piece of equipment even today for its sensational sound.
The growth of understanding
Designers of recording studios and live venues were acutely aware of the effects of reverb, good and bad. Excessive reverb is not a good thing. And the characteristics of the place where the recording was being made were now being altered. The shapes and the size were now being technically designed to reduce any naturally occurring interference.
Most guitar players have a reverb pedal on their board. All studios have a Reverb unit or lots of them. And that is irrespective of the genre or musical style of the studio. They are built-in to some amplifiers as well. But they are very basic and do not have the same functional possibilities as a stompbox or rack-mounted version.
A Natural Partner
The delay pedal is a natural partner for the Reverb unit. It can produce the spacey, dreamy sounds you heard so much with bands like Pink Floyd. Putting the two together can result in great creations.
The combinations and the options are limitless. The sonic nuances achieved can be stunning. But before I carry on with where they are both placed, let’s take a brief look at Delay.
From Echo to Delay
Creating a delay is a simple process to control. And over the years, we have moved from analog tape loops to digital processors and pedals. But the actual process of creating the delayed sound is still the same whatever system is performing the task.
A note or series of notes are fed in, and the original plus a delayed version of that signal is played back to create an echo.
From the Basics
I am sure that some will still remember those Watkins Copicat machines. A tape that would often snap, it was a basic tape loop system. But when it worked, it was quite good, for its time. From those basic beginnings, it evolved into the digital delays we have today.
The first ‘real’ digital delay, though, was a rack-mounted machine. The Eventide DDL 1745 which came in 1971. The improvement and cost-effectiveness of digital signal processing was taking off. Anything was becoming possible.
Do You Put Reverb Before Or After Delay – Plenty of Options
Today there are a huge range of ‘delays.’ Some are quite basic and easy to use. Others require you to borrow someone from NASA to talk you through it. It established itself as a sound in the 80s and 90s, courtesy of people like Brian May, Dutch Eddie, and of course, Dave Gilmour.
As an effect, it can produce remarkable results, giving you a real depth and strength of emphasis to the notes.
You can have quick ‘slapback’ effects with short delays, where notes can be very staccato. Or you can use the ‘wall of sound’ effect. This is created by having a longer delay setting where notes overlap and mix with each other.
Two great effects that produce some great sounds. But the question is, where should delay and reverb be placed in your effects chain. Let’s now take a look at that.
Can You Put Reverb After Your Delay?
There is a general rule that some will apply to the placement of pedals. And that is, the later in the chain you place it, the more of that effect you will receive. So on that basis, if you want the reverb to have its maximum effect, you would place it at the end of the chain. And that would be after the delay.
But, and there is always a but, you can place it as the second to last effect with the delay after it. That has the possibility of giving you other sounds and textures. It will depend on the sound that is most appealing to you as to whether that works or not.
Another element you might like to consider is where you are using it. By that, I mean the actual venue. There are what you might call ‘spatial’ conditions’ that may come into play.
In a studio or using reverb directly to your DAW, they may not. But the tones and sounds the audience will hear in a live performance could vary in a large venue.
Can You Put the Reverb Effect Before Your Delay?
You might think that it doesn’t make that much of a difference, but it can do. If you place the reverb in front of the delay, the echo that you receive from the delay has already got the sound of the reverb built-in.
That is not necessarily right or wrong, but the result is the notes will have a much longer sustain. That will cause them to overlap with each other, which can muddy the sound somewhat.
But that all comes down to what you like and what you prefer as a sound. A ‘muddy’ sound to me might be ‘dreamy’ to you. The effect of the reverb can be enhanced this way, creating a sound that is much thicker. And that applies especially if you are using other pedals like overdrive or distortion before the time-based effects in the chain.
A Sound That Can Be Sought After
In some genres, this is a positive boon. A heavy metal guitarist may benefit because it will add a little tonal balance to an already heavily distorted guitar sound. If the reverb is placed after the delay, you may well find a very cloudy sound that isn’t sharp and defined at all.
Is The Order Of The Always Pedals Important?
If you are using effects pedals, then you have them in a certain order. This is called the signal or pedal chain. That chain represents the sequence that the effects are applied to the sound. This is what guitarists use to create or more accurately ‘process’ their sound.
That order the pedals are placed in will affect that sound, and the sound is dependent on that order. So you ask, is the order important? It certainly is. But how do you know what goes where?
Long Long Ago In The Land Of The Simple Folk…
We didn’t have any pedals at all. Hard to believe, isn’t it? Some musicians from that era these days say that is when you had to be able to play rather than rely on a box of tricks. A little unfair, possibly some might argue, but I understand what they are saying. There is a certain amount of truth in it.
Gradually the effects started to arrive. The ‘Fuzz Box,’ the precursor to distortion and overdrive. Then came the wah pedal.
We didn’t have to sit and scratch our heads about what the order should be when we had just a Fuzz box. You just plugged it in. And then we got a wah. You just listened to whether it was better before the fuzz or after.
An Early Learning Curve
We soon learned that putting the wah in front of the fuzz reduced the level of the effect of the wah. But the other way round, it worked well.
Jimi Hendrix sat in Jim Marshall’s shop in West London, struggling with that one. Trying to make Fuzz work with Wah, until they sorted it out. Look how he sounded after they had. But that is another tale.
As other pedals arrived, it was just a case of slotting them into where they belonged and performed the best.
Do You Put Reverb Before Or After Delay – The Order Matters
Just as getting a wah and a fuzz in a certain order creates a sound you might not want, the same applies to other pedals. Try getting Delay and Chorus the wrong way round and see what happens, or put a fuzz at the end of your chain instead of the beginning – Ugh!!!.
However, experimentation is never a bad thing. Deliberately placing them in an order that some might consider wrong might give you an interesting sound that could be just what you need for a particular song or recording.
For Those New To Pedals
If you are just starting out using pedals, then placing them in a standard order will be best at first. Once you have understood what they do and can’t do in that order, then you can start to experiment by changing the order slightly.
So What Is The Answer?
As with a lot of things in music, there is no definitive, concrete answer. Both Reverb and Delay do things that are similar, but they are still distinct from each other. If you change their order, you will notice a change in the texture and the depth of the sound. That can be a good or a bad thing; it depends on your playing style as well as the type of music you play.
That is probably where I would start. It is the ‘traditional option’ and is going to give you most of the sounds you will be looking for. But as I said, don’t be afraid to experiment. Swap them around and see what they can do in a different order.
Also, the type of pedals you have could make a difference; for example, an older analog delay such as the Boss DM-2W Delay or an Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man would sound radically different to a more modern Boss DD-7 Digital Delay Pedal before and after a reverb.
If you are going to be looking for Reverb and Delay pedals, then these are good options. Boss always makes some basic pedals, but they are tough and produce great sounds at a very cost-effective price. And, you won’t need to call NASA to make them work.
So, check out the BOSS Reverb Guitar Pedal or the BOSS DD8 Electric Guitar Digital Delay. Or, if you want to push the boat out, have something to think about, and have all your pedals in one box, the BOSS Multiple Effects Guitar Pedal is a great option.
Looking for some great effects pedals?
Then check out our in-depth comparisons of the Best Delay Effects Pedals, the Best Digital Delay Pedals, the Best Analog Delay Pedals, the Best Reverb Pedals, and the Best Univibe Pedals you can buy in 2023.
You might also enjoy our in-depth review of two of the best delay pedals on the market, the MXR Carbon Copy Analog Delay Pedal and the Dunlop EP103 Echoplex Delay. Or if you’re looking for both delay and reverb in one fantastic pedal, then check out the Electro-Harmonix Canyon.
Do You Put Reverb Before Or After Delay – Final Thoughts
Traditionally, most guitarists will tell you that Reverb comes after delay, and in most cases, this will produce the best sonic results. However, depending on you and the music you play, it might not be the best solution; therefore, as with everything musical, including pedal chain order, experimenting is always the best option until you get a sound that you love.