If you’re looking for the perfect tone, you’ve probably wondered if you can use a chorus pedal with distortion. Today we’ll explain if you can use pedals this way and how.
Modulation effects have a complicated history marked by serendipitous discoveries and muddled language. Many of these effects evolved from attempts to miniaturize a Leslie rotor cabinet’s sweeping, ethereal tones into a convenient footswitch. There are so many unique variations of modulation pedals today that it would be impossible to name them all or logically categorize them.
The concept of a “chorus effect” goes back a long time. Hymns were often sung in churches by large groups singing together to create a fuller, more powerful sound. Nowadays, people frequently use chorus pedals in conjunction with other pedals. But can a lot of gains be safely applied to the chorus? In the presence of a distortion pedal, is it an effective complement?
Let’s track whether or not chorus pedals are capable of handling a large amount of distortion.
Can You Use A Chorus Pedal With Distortion?
Yes, you can use a chorus effect combined with a distortion pedal. But you have to be careful about the amount of gain the distortion pedal provides because it is very easy to have a messy sound if you don’t take care of the gain levels and place the chorus pedal in the right place in the effect chain.
Chorus is a clean effect since it is not highly harsh and works best when it does not significantly affect your guitar’s natural tone. On the other hand, distortion alters the character of your sound, making it louder and more forceful than it originally was. In addition, you can hear the sound moving on top of your amp’s raw signal in the chorus effect, highlighting the wave variation.
Simply put, it’s a saturation effect that alters the tone’s character. This also holds for distortion, which is why combining them presents such a challenge. However, with some practice and knowledge of excellent techniques, the result can be very pleasing to the ear. Now that we have a working definition of chorus or other modulation pedals, we can examine the optimal way to combine these two effects.
- Using EQ
While a thick, bass-heavy tone from your amp isn’t always required, adding distortion and chorus to a loud, piercing tone will cause listening fatigue. Also, as a rule of thumb, you shouldn’t use two effects at once; thus, a “garden variety” amp setup is what you should shoot for.
- Using Only The Amp’s Gain
Because distortion is merely an increase in gain, it’s best to adjust your amp’s gain as a standalone effect before adding other effects. Most pros use an amplifier rather than a distortion pedal.
Avoid using a distortion pedal and adjust the gain on your amplifier if you have one that produces a satisfying amount of distortion. If you must use a pedal or prefer your pedal’s sound, remember to put it in the effect chain after your chorus effect.
- Take Care Of Gain Levels
As a rule of thumb, once you’ve settled on a comfortable distortion level (gain level), you should reduce the distortion level by a factor of three for each effect you apply. It makes sense to tone down the distortion to accommodate the presence of the chorus, phaser, or another modulation effect you’ve chosen to utilize in conjunction with it. Due to the lack of space, highly saturated distortion can be a hard sell.
Imagine your tone as a property with a finite amount of space that must be divided and allotted among your instrument, amp, and effects. Your effects should never overpower your amp’s or guitar’s natural tone. In other words, you should play at the same volume as your amplifier is set to, so you could up the volume a touch.
It is important to remember that we still want the amplifier to play a significant role in shaping and dictating our tone. The modulation will have some breathing room if the gain isn’t cranked up to 11. The distortion and modulation you’re using should complement one another and provide a uniformly dull foundation for the rest of the track.
- Slow Chorus Speed
Speed knobs are a standard feature of chorus and other modulation devices. It goes by other names from time to time. Take the Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble, whose label reads “RATE,” as an example. It usually refers to how quickly the effect completes its entire cycle via each wave. A high tempo might result in a messy sound, especially with effects like chorus and phaser.
It doesn’t take long for someone to accuse you of “hiding behind effects” if you use distortion. There are many leeways for modulation, but keeping the speed low is recommended so that it is difficult to detect how often the effect is cycling through and that there are no beat or time conflicts.
Put that knob anywhere between 9 and 10 o’clock. That will provide a subtle layer of flavor beneath the distortion and the guitar’s natural tone.
Where Does Chorus Pedal Go In Chain?
Because of its modulation effects, you should use the chorus late in your pedal chain. Place it after your amp’s wah, compression, overdrive, and distortion effects but before your reverb, delay, and tremolo units. Chorus and vibrato are so similar that you can use them interchangeably in any order.
Some chorus pedals have a small buffer to increase the volume of an electric guitar’s signal, while others are “full bypass” and have no such component. A true bypass tuner may be all you need if you only have a couple of effects pedals before your amp.
Guitarists who use a lot of effects pedals should probably invest in a small buffer; without one, the audio signal would have degraded noticeably by the time it reached the amplifier.
Also, the chorus pedal is often connected to the effects loop of your guitar amplifier. However, doing so can increase volume whenever the pedal is used, which is bothersome if you’re looking for a constant and even signal. By inserting your signal into the effects loop, you can avoid this problem and provide a more transparent sound, allowing you to preserve part of your natural tone.
How Does A Chorus Pedal Sounds?
With a chorus effect, your sound will have a great full and fuller depth, as if it were being played twice. You can compare a chorus effect to the sound of a 12-string guitar. Chorus pedals impart a synthetic, ethereal quality, perfect for clean tones and arpeggiated chord progressions.
When the pace turns eleven, a chorus can mimic a vibrato or tremolo effect. This is because a chorus pedal will duplicate your instrument’s signal. One of the signals will be left untouched so that some of your natural tones are preserved, while the other will be delayed and have its pitch modified or detuned significantly.
This is accomplished using an LFO, the same component that flanger pedals use to create their effects. Because they have various controls, you can get various sounds from several chorus pedals. Yet there are several early examples with only two controls, or even one! Typically, though, a chorus pedal will have three controls: volume, speed, and depth.
The level controls the ratio of the affected sound to the original one. When pushed up, you get a dense, full sound; when dialed back, you get a thinner, more subtle one. The depth knob functions similarly, except it modifies the effect’s ferocity and the volume of the chorus warble. Consider it a form of “subtlety” regulation.
Rate control determines how quickly the LFO cycles and, thus, how rapidly the chorus effect occurs. Increasing the volume produces a vibrating effect, which can be eerie and otherworldly, depending on how you use it. Soundgarden’s “Black Hole Sun” is an excellent example of this effect, as the verses have an arpeggiated riff in a high register, and the chorus is set to a speedy tempo.
Also, in the ’80s, people widely used chorus pedals in radio-friendly rock and harsher styles. In stark contrast to their mid-scooped high-gain tones, metal bands like Metallica and Testament often relied heavily on the chorus in their clean tones.
It’s encouraging to see that many established norms are still being shunned, and it’s common to discover a novel and energizing tone by veering away from the tried and true, so feel free to experiment and have some fun with your music.
The secret to creating a unique sound is in the combinations the player chooses. Some well-known musicians employ many effects in their performances without ever sounding manipulated.
A solid, multifaceted foundational sound is crucial to your long-term success, even if careful preparation is ultimately more important. Although You can use the chorus effect in any setting, heavy distortion is not its strong suit; with little practice and attention to detail, you can achieve fantastic tones like those achieved by Zakk Wylde.
Death metal enthusiast here. I am a Romanian musician and producer with over 13 years of experience in the music industry. I’ve experienced all types of Metal up until now, playing Melodic Death Metal, Brutal Death Metal, and Black Metal with different bands. Learning by doing is my base principle, which is why I’ve been drawn to sound design from an early age. Read more…