An example would be a guitarists on stage with various sounds for his setlist, and he has around 10 pedals.

For solo, he needs to turn on boost, change the channel, a bit of reverb, turn off chorus that was intended the clean channel, and use the wah afterwards.

How is this done without fuss? Do people really have to stomp on their pedals that much?

So far I've only used a footswitch and an equalizer, so I never used any pedals before.

4 Answers 4


There are various solutions to this:

Just doing it

.. by which I mean, just tapping the switches and turning the knobs that get you to the setting you need. With practice, you can get quite speedy at this, but at the same time there are practical limitations on what can be achieved.

If this is the only route available to you, you need to plan your pieces so that you don't have unachievable effects changes in a song. Either have changes you can achieve in 1-3 taps, or find space in the arrangement where you can stop playing and attend to your pedals.

Multi-FX Units

Units with multiple effects integrated into one unit. These have programmable patches, selectable by footswitch, that will set all the parameters at once.

MIDI control

Some pedals and rack FX units, can be controlled by MIDI. There are also small businesses that modify non-MIDI pedals to be MIDI controllable. So you can have banks of settings configured in some software, and use a MIDI footswitch to move between them.

Switch between FX chains

Let's say you want to switch immediately from a dirty riffing sound, to a clean reverb-y solo sound. Set up both of those sounds, each using a completely different set of pedals. They could even each go to separate amps, if you like. Connect the guitar to both of these chains through an A/B switch pedal.

Now, at the tap of a footswitch, you can switch from one set of pedals to another.

Obviously this can mean having to own more pedals.

Programmable FX loop systems

This is effectively the solution above, on steroids. Systems such as GigRig route signals through a number of pedals, programmably.

An assistant

Have someone off-stage (or even on-stage) assist with the FX changes, usually in conjunction with the other techniques. This is what big acts often do. When ZZ Top launch into a solo, Billy Gibbons doesn't step on a stomp-box. An assistant off-stage knows the cue, and switches the effects route at the right moment.

  • FX loop is my way to go. Mar 1, 2015 at 13:49
  • Can also add that for MIDI/Programmable FX Loop systems, the changes can also be made automatically. I.e., somebody runs a MIDI track for the song (which might also have backing tracks or other things, like light cues etc) with preprogrammed MIDI control messages that switches effects, signal routing and amp settings automatically between songs/sections of songs.
    – Johan
    Aug 12, 2020 at 9:16

Ivan Ivkovik' answer (a programmable patch) is certainly a way of doing this withouht fuss, but the programmable stuff is relatively modern (considering how long electric guitars have been around) and it wasn't always the case.

I use a row of 6 individual effects units - there's no patch list or programmable setup, they're all autonomous. The reason I use these is firstly I've settled on a few whcih I really like the sound of, and I like that you change the sound by twiddling a knob, rather than programming using data tap wheels etc.

I use .. in this order (guitar in at top) :

Compression (light for clean sound)
Distortion (crunch for rhythm sound)
Compression (used as boost for solos) 

They all sit in a line.

Common sound changes I use are : Clean to distorted & back = easy just hit the distortion box Clean to distorted with delay = hit distortion at right time and then hit the delay. Probably the trickiest one is a song where I have to switch after a hard rock chorus: distortion off (to clean) , switch on mild compression, phaser and delay.

The way I've gone about this is to "prioritise" & work out which of the effects needs to change "on time" - ie which has the most impact, and do that first. Normally this is the distortion or boost (for solos). Do that one first, and th sound has either quietened or raised as appropriate, in time with the song so the impact is heard. Other swooshy effects like chorus or phaser, or delay generally aren't missed for the quarter second it takes to get my foot to the right pedals.

Another trick is to hit two at once - eg I often switch from distortion to mild compression. the two pedals are next to each other so if I just fat-foot them both, one goes off and the other goes on.

So the answer is yes. . there is a bit of "tap dancing" on the pedal board, but the reality is you rarely want to go from all-on to all-off, and if you prioritise them you can get the impact you want and add the finer stuff as quick as you can afterwards, without any detriment to the overall sound.

  • 1
    Just a thought. Some effects are more effective connected between the pre- and the post- of an amp (send/return). Rather than all in series. You may find your sound is even better with this extra wiring in place
    – Tim
    Jun 11, 2014 at 6:23
  • I agree! except my amp is oooold (1968-1970 Marshall I think) and doesn't have a send/return loop Jun 19, 2014 at 9:01

This is solved by using programmable effects loop devices - you can setup custom presets (amount of presets depend upon the product) that run the desired pedals through the effects loop.

An example: preset 1 runs the signal to and back from the chorus pedal (clean channel), preset 2 runs a chorus and a boost pedal (clean solo) and so on.

  • GigRig is one of the elaborate systems. (My pedals are few, but my amp offers 3 distinct channels plus fx loop, reverb, and more all built-in and foot switchable.)
    – Kirk A
    Jun 5, 2014 at 1:40
  • 3
    Don't confuse "looper" a device that allows you to record and overdub short segments of sound, with and effects loop switcher.
    – Dave
    Jun 5, 2014 at 2:02

A newer solution

BOSS - ES-8 | Effects Switching System

https://www.boss.info/global/products/es-8/ (or the smaller https://www.boss.info/global/products/es-5/)

This type of device connects each external pedal you have to an independent effects send loop. Effects chains can then be created virtually within the effects controller, allowing you to arrange pedals in any order and save that configuration as a preset.

Presets can also be setup to send MIDI commands to pedals that support that, to change the pedal's own preset when you change the main preset.


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