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I want to upgrade my sound. I have two medium combo amps for my electric guitar. I saw that there is a "combined" way to get the most out of a guitar - multi effects processors like the Axe-FX and BOSS ME. But I don't know a lot about how to setup a correct signal chain, for example I don't understand why I can't use my home stereo and speakers. Can someone clarify things a bit for me? What is the correct way to setup a guitar signal chain?

Also, is a multi effects processor a good investment for a beginner? (I want a more "brutal" sound out of my guitar).

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The guitar amps you have most likely have some "effects" on them already. Most guitar amps allow you to select either a clean signal or a distorted overdrive signal (at living room levels). Also, many have built in reverb or delays or other effects that can be selected.

But eventually, most guitar players end up wanting a sound they just can't get out of their amp. So they buy a "stomp box" or pedal to add a different effect. You can get individual boxes (aka pedals) to add things such as tremolo, chorus, delay, octaves, volume boost, fuzz and many others.

Many performing guitarist will connect several of these pedals together with short cables (chaining one to the other) and attach them to what they call a "pedal board". Sometimes you can use more than one effect at the same time.

With a pedal board loaded with multiple effects pedals, you would plug your guitar into the first one and the signal would go through each of the other boxes in the chain and a different instrument cable will run from the last box in the chain into the guitar amplifier.

If you want to use many different effects to play at home for yourself and your friends, a multi-effects processor may be the more economical way to go. There are many such processors on the market and for home use, you could use either a rack mount processor such as the Fractal Audio AXE FX (expensive) or a pedal/foot-switch controlled unit such as the Boss ME.

A digital multi-effects processor will allow you to plug your guitar into the unit and then run a cable from the processor to a PA (public address) system and whatever effects you select (overdrive, reverb, flanger etc.) will come through the PA speakers. Many of these processing units should be capable of allowing you to play your guitar through your home stereo as well but I would check with tech support from the manufacturer if it is not clear from the owners manual what type of signal the unit sends.

The disadvantage of many multi-effects processors, is that to get to a certain effect, you must bank up or down (tap the up or down button or turn a knob to scroll through a menu on a tiny screen) to find the effect you want. With a pedal board that consist of multiple single effects pedals, you just stomp the one you want and get it when you want it without scrolling through all the selections.

The biggest advantage of a multi-effects processor, is that you might get 30 or more different select-able effects. Also, many of these units offer amp cabinet emulation to make your guitar sound like you are playing through a 1965 Fender Twin Reverb or a Blues Junior or a Mesa Boogie guitar amp - only the sound is coming out of your PA speakers.

You can plug these multi effects processors into your guitar amp using a standard instrument cable and you should get excellent results. Use your clean channel setting and play around with the EQ controls on your amp and the adjustable parameters on the effects processor to tweak the sound the way you like it. Most units allow you to save your adjustments as a preset and then call up the preset on the menu later.

You can also plug the multi effects processor into your PA system and many of them allow you to send the signal to both a mixer to run into your PA as well as a guitar amp at the same time.

One thing that you might find extremely useful for what you want to do, is the new iRig Stomp iRig Stomp multi effects pedal This processor is a stage ready stompbox multi effects guitar interface that works with iPod, iPhone, or iPad and most iOS guitar apps including the popular AmpliTube App. It is inexpensive, has good reviews, and you can plug it into your guitar amp, a PA OR even your home stereo. You might need to buy an iPod to go with it if you don't have an iPhone or iPad.

To plug the iRig Stomp into your stereo, you need a cable like the dual quarter inch L/R to dual RCA L/R pictured below. Plug the 1/4 inch plugs into the left and right output on the pedal and the RCA left and right jacks into your auxiliary input jacks on your home stereo. Hope this helps and good luck.

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Who told you you can't use you home PA? Sure enough, if you just plug the guitar right in a PA, it'll sound somewhat boring, but there's no reason you could not do it anyway. In fact, such a “super-clean” sound can IMO sometimes be a pleasant alternative.

The thing is, guitar amps aren't designed to sound “good” in a HiFi sense, at all. On the contrary, they have both circuitry with strong nonlinear properties, and speakers that have a very uneven response. Depending on the details, both together form what we know as either “classic-warm”, or “modern-brutal” sounds (or something in between).

With a multi-FX processor, those properties are simulated digitally. If you then plug the output into a guitar amp, you'll actually get double processing – that's normally not really desirable. So with such an FX processor, it makes in fact a lot of sense to just go directly into a PA, rather than a guitar amp. (As Matt L. remarks, digital multiprocessors usually allow you to turn off the amp&cab simulation, but that really only makes sense if you like the amp's sound as it is without extra effects.)

As to whether a multi-FX processor is a good investment – that depends strongly on what you hope to do with it. If you really say “I just want to have some fun with brutal sounds” then, yes, a digital processor is probably the most effective way to get there.

If you actually plan to play in a band, and are serious about learning guitar, then I would tend to recommend you stick with a simple analogue guitar amp. That makes it harder to get an “impressive” sound, but at least you'll properly hear what you're doing on the guitar, and you'll have an actual speaker to make it audible over a drum set (with a badly set up digital FX into a PA, you'll more likely end up with some unidentifiable muddy noise disaster).

  • A comment to your last paragraph to avoid misunderstandings: this is true if you use an amp and cab simulation in your multi-FX unit, which is usually optional. You can use a multi-effects processor just as a collection of effects (pretty much like individual pedals) in combination with a guitar amp, and there will not be any double processing. This is a very common usage of a multi-FX processor, and many of them are designed to be used in this way. – Matt L. Mar 1 '15 at 12:48
  • @MattL.: right, but then you need to start with a good guitar amp for the “basic sound”. – leftaroundabout Mar 1 '15 at 12:53
  • I'm still confused about what is the correct way to connect a device like AXE-FX or Digitech GSP. What is the most straightforward way of connecting a guitar to a multi-fx processor, what do I need to buy? – acerbus Mar 1 '15 at 13:05
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    Use a simple 1/4" instrument cable from the guitar to the FX processor, and then a pair of such cables from the processor to the PA. – leftaroundabout Mar 1 '15 at 13:14
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    If you mean a consumer stereo system (I wouldn't really call that a PA) then it'll probably have only RCA inputs. But, yes, you can still use those, get a twin 1/4" to RCA cable, plug it into the stereo line-out of the FX processor and the AUX in of the stereo system (or whatever it's called). – leftaroundabout Mar 1 '15 at 13:21
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You can use a stereo and speakers. The reasons people tend to use instrument amps for practice is because they are (hopefully) built to cope with an uncompressed/unEQ'd instrument signal, which will have more big level spikes at particular frequencies, in contrast to recorded music which tends to be more smoothed out (making it more obvious when you're driving the speakers way too hard), and because often the speaker has a band-limiting effect which works well with the instrument in question. (And also because you can use the same amp to play live!).

If you are emulating the amp sound using a digital processor, you can plug into a full-range monitoring system such as your home stereo, but you may also find it works well through instrument amps (with the amps set to 'clean' settings).

The general opinion is that the latest multi-fx are a good investment but you might want to canvas opinion on some sites specific to your instrument (e.g. thegearpage) explaining exactly what you want.

  • You mentioned a "full-range monitoring system", do you mean FRFR speakers? So I can use a home PA system but I need to use FR speakers with it? (are guitar cabs/speakers needed?) – acerbus Mar 1 '15 at 12:58
  • As with the other comment thread i'm a bit confused what you mean by 'Home PA' - PA is public address, so by definition not really a home system. – topo morto Mar 1 '15 at 13:56
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    @acerbus "Full range monitoring system" means any system designed to cover the full audio frequency range (like your home stereo) instead of just the limited bandwidth for a certain instrument (such as your guitar amps). Home stereo is optimized to play recording of the entire band to include the bass, guitar, vocals all the way up to the cymbals on the drum. – Rockin Cowboy Mar 1 '15 at 15:51
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I would say there is no right or wrong way, its just what you are trying to achieve. Some ways, eg using the AXE-FX2 would be complex, but there are other easier ways.

For example, steve vai uses a boss chorus pedal which has a stereo output, and passes one digital delay pedal and one amp etc in both of the outputs. He gives different delay times in the two lines and combined with the chorus this give a unique sound.

Another idea might be to split the signal and pass it through the two different chains of effects, EQs and amps giving you a stereo sound where each side is uniquely different. And when switching to solos you could add a slight msec delay between channels giving it a chorus effect. For these you dont need anything too expensive. I would say keep your money and dont buy anything extremely expensive like an AXE-FX2 until you are sure you need it. Cheers!

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This tech video might help, you:

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    Could you summarize the video contents? – Karen Dec 19 '15 at 0:05
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Running a guitar through an effect processor and a home stereo is unlikely to make you overly happy.

Particularly guitar with overdrive has high frequency content way above what a home stereo is built to deal with. It may be defused somewhat by an amp simulator and room acoustic simulator, but then the results will lean towards the mushy.

Driving a home stereo with the same signal you would feed in a normal amp will smoke your tweeters pretty fast, at volume levels you consider surprisingly low.

Basically, you can expect to get more volume out of a 5W guitar amplifier than out of a 50W home stereo if you value your tweeters. And of course, the typical "1200W music power" (rating for spontaneous combustion) setup will blow out quite earlier.

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    Ahem. So you're arguing that any music with electric guitars can not be listened to over a home stereo? — What's correct is: if you apply power stage overdrive to a home stereo amplifier, it would likely not end well for the tweeters, perhaps even overheat the woofers and/or circuitry, and definitely sound horrible. But, you'd probably have to mod the amp circuit to even get there: modern amplifiers, at least professional ones, should have a limiter built-in, precisely because power-amp overload is so disastrous. OTOH, unfiltered preamp distortion sounds not nice, but it's pretty harmless. – leftaroundabout Mar 1 '15 at 18:37
  • user19186 - this is actually incorrect in so many ways. 1st - there is no high frequency content from a guitar that you can't listen to on your stereo. This is why you can listen to your favourite heavy metal bands on your stereo 2nd - a 50W home stereo is an awful lot louder than a 5W guitar amp. It may not sound as good for guitar (unless you have an amp sim) but it is much louder. – Doktor Mayhem Mar 2 '15 at 9:31
  • Is there not some truth in the idea that a 5W-rated amp could be usable at a louder volume than another amp with a much higher rated power? I've read that some amps - e.g. valve amps - can pump out a lot more than their rating (which will have been given at a certain nominal % total harmonic distortion) without sounding subjectively nasty, at least when fed with a certain type of signal... – topo morto Mar 2 '15 at 18:08

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