4 Perfectly Pleasing Pedal Pairs

Plugging pedals into other pedals is tremendous fun. It's also an inspiring creative exercise. Stacking experiments are a wonderful way to come up with new, interesting sounds, potentially leading you to write new music, play guitar in a way you haven't before, or even find your signature tone. The only problem is, this kind of experimentation requires access to a wide variety of different pedals, and many players do not have that luxury. YouTube and various guitar forums can be helpful when embarking on a stacking adventure, but the only sure fire way to determine if two pedals are going to play well in your rig is by hooking them up on your pedalboard, stomping on switches, turning some knobs, and listening.

For those who just want to get down to business, however, or those who have other grown-up sorts of obligations that might prevent them from sitting around twiddling knobs for hours, there are a handful of proven pedal pairs that are widely known to stack nicely. A few of these even fall into the category of "legendary tones," having appeared on many famous records in the classic rock canon. These dynamic duos make an excellent place to start stacking, as they are generally a foolproof method of getting great tones right off the bat, and they can provide an excellent foundation for future tone experiments. Here are a handful of perfect pedal pairs for creative tone stacking.

Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi + Colorsound Power Boost

This is a tone combo that almost every guitarist recognizes as the magic blend used by Pink Floyd's David Gilmour, most notably on the Dark Side of the Moon and Animals tours, and likely in the studio as well, during the recording of his first solo outing. Gilmour is famous for gently prodding his Big Muffs with a variety of boost and drive pedals, but the most highly regarded of these combinations is probably a ram's head-era Big Muff running into a Colorsound Power Boost. These two pedals complement each other beautifully, with the Power Boost smoothing out the wild, hairy edges of the Muff, while adding some mid-range definition to help it penetrate the mix.

The trick with this setup is to keep the output of the Power Boost set modestly, to avoid excess saturation, and play through a big, clean amp with lots of headroom. Of course, purchasing a Ram's Head Muff and a Power Boost these days would be a prohibitively expensive proposition for most of us, but there are plenty of fine clones available that will do the job just as well. Wren and Cuff makes a superb Ram's Head clone, with the Caprid, and excellent Colorsound Power Boost clones are available from Buffalo FX, ThroBak Electronics, and others. In truth, just about any low-gain, gently mid-focused boost or drive pedal should do the job in this scenario if set up correctly.

Marshall Blues Breaker + Klon Centaur

All controversy and cost issues aside, the Klon Centaur is a spectacular pedal for stacking. Its neutral nature just gives you more from your amplifier, and it also allows the Centaur to pair nicely with other, more tone-coloring pedals. One of the pedals it is known to play very nicely with is the original Marshall Blues Breaker, which was Marshall's attempt at cramming the distinctive tone of their amplifiers into a stompbox. By all accounts, this attempt was very successful, and the Blues Breaker remains a classic amp-in-a-box overdrive pedal. Running a Blues Breaker into a Klon is a fairly well-known tone recipe these days, with John Mayer being perhaps the most famous proponent of this setup.

The combo works really well in a wide variety of rigs, and the blend of tones results in a delicious stew that is equal parts sweet, thick, richly detailed, and dynamically crunchy (if that makes any sense). Of course, those who want this tone need not shell out the absurd amount of money necessary to procure an actual Klon Centaur, as there are tons of excellent and affordable "Klones" that will do the job very capably, including Electro-Harmonix's very tasty (and very economical) Soul Food. Original Blues Breakers, while not super expensive, still hover in the 250-dollar range (a bit much if you ask me). Build Your Own Clone and General Guitar Gadgets both sell really good Blues Breaker kits for DIY-inclined guitarists, and Mooer and Snouse Electric, among many others, sell very affordable pedals that accurately clone this simple, wonderful circuit.

Ibanez Tube Screamer + ProCo RAT

These are two bona-fide classic dirt pedals that just happen to make beautiful tonal magic together. If you haven't tried this combo, you might logically assume that, because both the Screamer and the RAT are known for having prominent mid-range characteristics, the end result of stacking them would be a nasty, mid-honk mess. This could not be further from the truth, however. Running a Tube Screamer into a RAT can yield a thick, harmonically delicious crunch when driven by the guitar's bridge pickup, or a creamy, endlessly sustaining "woman tone" when the neck pickup is engaged. It's really an addictive sound, and the tactile responsiveness is very satisfying as well.

The key to making this combination work is setting the gain and Volume on each pedal modestly, and running it into a relatively clean amp. Cranking the gain and volume too high on either pedal will result in a farty, muddy tone that you probably won't find very pleasing. I typically like to keep each pedal's volume around unity (perhaps slightly higher on the Tube Screamer), with gain at about noon on the RAT, and at about 9 or 10 o'clock on the Screamer. (Adjust tone to taste.) Also, personal experience and popular opinion both suggest that putting the Screamer first is the best way to stack these two pedals, but that should not discourage you from trying it the other way as well.

MXR Carbon Copy + Boss DD-3

I bet you thought I was just going to talk about dirt pedals the whole time, didn't you? Au contraire, Mon ami, for the world of delay stacking is a many-splendored sonic playground which should not be left unexplored. My favorite pedal combination for this maneuver is a warmer, murkier analog delay, like the MXR Carbon Copy, running into a cleaner digital delay, like the Boss DD-3. I picked these pedals because they are widely known and commonly available, but just about any blend of analog (or simulated analog) and digital delay will do the trick.

There are a number of interesting ways to set these delays up to complement each other, but the most common method is probably to set the Carbon Copy for a shorter slapback sound, while setting the DD-3 for a longer delay time and extended repeats. This gives you a darker, quicker initial echo that suddenly morphs into crystal clear repetitions, an effect which I personally find very enchanting. Reversing this setup can also be cool, with the DD-3 first and the Carbon Copy set for longer repeats. There are a lot of different ways to do it, so experimentation is encouraged. One of the nice things about stacking delays is that it involves less trial-and-error than dirt stacking experiments typically do, because most delay pedals will play together nicely without much prompting.

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