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As the title says, should a chorus pedal for guitar go before or after the distortion pedal?

I have read about both options, and there are people using it both ways.

What makes sense for me is to go before distortion, as it is supposed to create multiple voices, so each one should pass through the pedal chain from the start, right?

In a multieffects processor, a very cheap zoom I have, the option for chorus is after the distortion. I also have an individual chorus pedal, but I can't tell any difference now since I can only play with a really low volume due to lousy sound insulation and terrible neighbors.

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Of course, it is a matter of taste.

You're correct that a chorus creates multiple “voices”, but actually that's a good reason to put it after distortion! For distortion is nonlinear, which means that if you put in a combination of multiple voices, the result will be different from when you put each voice individually through distortion and mix them afterwards. In particular, you get intermodulation artifacts, which is what's often considered a muddy sound. However, intermodulation isn't necessarily bad – for instance, powerchords wouldn't sound nearly as powerful without it! Likewise, a gentle chorus before not-too-brutal distortion gives a thickened-up sound without too much artifacts. Also, the distortion will somewhat “obscure” the character of the chorus itself, so it won't sound too obvious, artificial, or “80's”.

OTOH, a chorus is actually linear (or approximately linear), so technically it really makes sense to put it after distortion: chorus after distortion actually gives almost the same result as you'd get by putting each individual chorus voice through a seperate distortion unit.

But again, “technically correct” doesn't means it's musically the best thing. I personally tend to default to chorus-last order, but I like occasionally trying how the chorus-first sounds in a particular context.

  • Thanks for your answer, interesting would be to create a different chain for a stereo out of a chorus, like vai has in one of his setups! I think he passes the stereo signal out and through two different digital delays in two different amps! I think for me the use of the chorus would be to add some character to the clean sound, so no matter where the pedal is in regard to dist, and some thickness to the solos so probably after the dist. I mostly play hard rock and metal with a preference to 80s – thahgr Mar 4 '15 at 11:02
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The standard advice is: all modulation and delay based effects after distortion. The reason is that the distortion makes the created effect muddy and too dirty. If you talk about "multiple voices" then these would get mixed up in a rather dissonant way by the harmonics added by the distortion. In this case most people would prefer to have the distortion early in the signal chain, and make multiple voices out of the original distortion sound. You can see it like this: distortion/overdrive is considered your "basic" sound, and only after that basic sound has been established should it be modified by modulation and delay effects. All multi-effect units I've seen would place chorus, flanger, phaser, reverb and delay after the distortion. However, this is not to say that you shouldn't experiment with the sequence of effects, and if you find something you like which does not correspond to conventional wisdom, who cares?

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If you're into early 80s wall of flange/chorus sound (The Cure, Siouxsie & the Banshees, etc), they were playing a flanger or chorus into their amp's distortion. If you have a clean amp, you could put an overdrive after it to achieve a similar effect.

But it's not subtle, and is potentially overwhelming or muddy.

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It really is down to taste, personally I find that it works better after distortion, I'd usually have an effect such as chorus early on in the chain, purely out of the habit of having the effects I turn off less earlier on in my chain (again, it's just a preference, and I use a lot more "clean" tones than you might.) The only correct answer is to what you prefer!

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