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Unity Gain & Effects

Unity Gain & Effects

Every effect device, mixer, preamp, amp or audio device has a signal-to-noise ratio. Think of it in these terms. When you add volume to any device there is a limit to how much volume that device can handle. Let’s say the device holds a gallon of volume and you try and put two gallons in it. The device cannot handle the extra volume. The extra gallon will spill out or distort. Now let’s say you put a quart of volume in a device that holds a gallon. You might think that this is okay but there is a negative side to this. Because you are not utilizing as much of the gallon as possible, noise is actually increased. It’s best to fill up that gallon as much as possible without over-filling. By doing so you will be maximizing the Signal-to-Noise Ratio and keeping noise to a minimum throughout the signal path. Some like to use their effects pedals as a boost and to some extent this is okay. Just remember that by overloading the device you will be increasing the noise of that device. If you do this on 3 or 4 pedals at once and you will end up with one noisy mess.

So here’s what I recommend. Play your instrument through your effects device with the effect disengaged. Now engage the effect and try and match the effect volume to the unaffected signal. Once you have the levels matched you have achieved Unity Gain. Finding the Unity Gain with a mixer is a little trickier. When running through a mixer I always try and find the maximum amount of signal the mixer can handle before it distorts and then back off the trim control just enough so that the signal doesn’t distort when playing your loudest passage. Do this through your entire signal path and you will have obtained Unity Gain. And by doing so you will have the absolute best Signal-to-Noise Ratio which will render the best possible tone you can achieve from your rig. This becomes especially important when recording. Recording devices are far less forgiving than your live rig. Over saturating a recorded digital track can sound especially bad, and by not maximizing your Signal-to-Noise Ratio you will be introducing excess noise into your recordings.

Some Dos, Dont's & Maybes of the Effects Chain

The order you place your effects devices within your signal chain has an affect on the quality of the effect and your tone. While some effects may be placed before and after others, there are some that do not sound very good when used this way. Generally I like to place my effects in this order:

Volume Pedal
Modulation Type Effects (Chorus, Tremolo, Flange, Phase, UniVibe, etc.)
Overdrive or Distortion

EQ—Now EQ can be placed just about any place in the chain. Sometimes you may want to shape the tone of a particular effect like a distortion. Placing an EQ before an effect can actually be used to increase the gain or distortion by setting the EQ to boost the volume going into the distortion pedal thus slamming the circuit and creating more gain. Let's say you have a gain pedal that's just not giving you enough distortion or gain. Try placing a boost or EQ pedal before the pedal and boosting the volume into the gain pedal. By doing so you can actually increase the distortion and gain of that pedal. Be careful not to hit it too hard though or you may over saturate the inputcausing unwanted distortion. So you can place an EQ at the the beginning, in the middle or even at the end.

Some prefer the compressor to be placed after overdrive or distortion or even before the wah. Modulation effects may also be placed after overdrive and distortion. Some like the wah after the overdrive or distortion. I suggest you try both and see which one you prefer. Delay and Reverb should always be last in the effects chain. If you have an effects loop in your amp I suggest the delay and modulation effects be inserted there. But, sometimes I throw all the rules out the door and experiment. Try different things just to spice things up a bit. Sometimes the best rule is “there are no rules”. Just experiment and have fun.

Here’s a trick that I’ll share with all of you. I just discovered it so it’s new to me also. I have a Boss GE-7 that I have modded with one of my kits. I used to place it right after my Boss compressor, which is the first pedal in my signal chain. The other night I decided to place it last in my pedal chain right before my Line 6 DL4 delay. This is where it will remain and here’s why. By placing the GE-7 7-band pedal EQ at the end I can use it as a volume boost or a volume cut without affecting the gain and volume of the other pedals. The reason this is important is because the GE-7 is used to boost or cut volume, and this has a direct affect on the gain and tone of the pedal you are feeding a signal into. By placing the GE-7 EQ after my over drive effects; the gain, volume and tone of all my over drive pedals are unaffected. Placing the GE-7 last, it becomes not only a tone-shaping tool but an overall volume control also.

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Correct Pro Sound Gain Structure

Effects Placement

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