Assembling a pedalboard can be a daunting task. To begin to put order to this chaos and achieve the cleanest possible sound you need to consider your signal chain, and what is happening to your guitar signal in what order. Your signal chain starts with your guitar and ends with your amplifier, and for everything in between there are a few tips to pedal placement that will help you find your sound.
Tuner - Tuner first means your tuner is reading the cleanest possible signal straight from your guitars pickups, placement after other pedals which alter your signal can result in inaccurate tuning.
Compression - A compressor evens out the peaks and dips in ones signal, reducing the volume highs and bolstering the lows, resulting in a much more consistent and even sound. Compressors are best utilised at the start of a signal chain, sending a much smoother and more consistent signal to pedals further down your chain.
Filters - Filter Pedals, like Wahs and phasers boost certain frequencies in your signal whilst dampening all others , resulting in a more restricted but “biting” tone placement is subjective, Wah/Phaser placed before the overdrive is thinner but more expressive, filtering through and boosting a narrow range of frequencies leaving the guitars natural harmonics intact(think Hendrix or Steve Vai’s use. Wah after the overdrive is far more full sounding, but has less of a dynamic range, as harmonics added by a distortion pedal will be added to the frequencies the Wah is cycling through
Dirt - Distortion pedals come in several forms: Overdrive, Fuzz, Boosts etc. but all serve a similar function-to “clip” your signal by pushing it past its maximum threshold thus adding sustain and overtones to your signal. Distortion on a pedalboard is best placed before Time and Modulation based effects to grant a clearer signal to your amplifier. I would recommend running your distortion pedals from lightest to heaviest, as the distortion pedal closest to your amp in the signal chain will have the most pronounced effect on your sound whilst “stacking” multiple pedals.
Pitch Shifting - Pitch shifting pedals replicate the signal being passed through them and raise or lower it by predetermined intervals, usually 1-2 octaves below or above the original signal. Pitch shifters like the POG2 or Digitech Whammy sound glitchier and more robotic when placed after distortion, and track cleaner when placed before, so placement is dependent on its intended use.
Volume - Volume Pedals, noise gates and Tremolos come next, these pedals alter your signal by manipulating your signals output level. Placing them before your Time based effects allows your reverb/delay to continue to swell and taper out after you have cut your signal with your volume pedal instead of coming to a dead stop.
Modulation - “Wet” effects like Chorus and Flangers disturb your guitar signals pitch , splitting your signal and playing both back at different wavelengths. These are best placed before your time based effects to have a much more pronounced effect on your live signal.
Time - Delay pedals, reverb pedals and loopers come last in your chain, as you want them to affect your full signal, adding repeats to a fully distorted signal rather than distorting a delayed signal, which creates a much noisier and cluttered sound. Loopers are best placed last in your signal chain so that they record and reproduce your entire signal, allowing you to change your sound when inputting a new layer to your loops.
With all of this in mind, there is no real right and wrong when it comes to pedal placement, just some guidelines to start you off. Experimenting with Delay before distortion or a Phaser placed at the end of your signal chain can produce some interesting results.