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Signal Chain?

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I'm having a little bit of trouble understanding the signal chain...the best advice I've seen here is "use your ears" and "try it yourself," which I've been doing, and noticing some slight effects, but I want to understand the signal chain a little bit more in theory...for instance, what are some examples of a chain to get a certain effect? I've read that noise gates should always go before compressors, but other than that, I really don't know what other effects I can achieve by moving around the signal chain. I've switched EQ's and compressors around and noticed a slight difference in sound, but I really can't put my finger on. Can anyone elaborate or give me some examples of common practice with altering signal changes?


Thanks. :D

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Quick rundown: (remember, these are merely overly general practices, so "use your ears" is still the finest advice)


Processing tools that change the dynamic or frequency content should go to inserts (EQs, Dynamic processors). Because -most of the time- you don't want to hear the unaffected signal while using those tools.

As for the chain -again generally-:

  • You'll want noise gates first, as you don't want unnecessary content to go through other processors
  • EQs usually come before compression, since you may want to carve out unnecessary frequencies, or boost important ones to make compression work just like the way you intended (although, the other way around may just be the effect you want, "use your ears" LOL)


Time based processors (reverbs, delays, modulation FX [chorus, flanger etc.]) may be used as inserts, but usually they are fed from aux sends. As usually you don't want "all wet" sound with these effects, and you'll most likely find yourself using the same effect for multiple tracks, AUX sends fed via BUSes gives you the most flexibility during mixing.

There's no specific "chain" here, just listen to the results, i.e. chorus after reverb makes your reverb tails kinda mushy, or unitelligible.


Hope that helps 8)

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My understanding of fx signal chains started with guitar stomp-boxes.


Wah (filters) before distortion = "normal" sound, swap them around and you get craziness (which may or may not be a good thing).

Reverb after distortion = "normal" way round, swap them for nastiness.

Delay before reverb = "normal", swap for oddness.


Giving any kind of comprehensive guide to signal chains would be so full of exceptions and caveats as to make it a bit pointless.


Once you know what something does to sound, then you can guess in what order you want that to happen. So, using the stomp-box example above, a question you might ask yourself is: "do I want to distort the wah, or wah the distortion?", if that makes sense?

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