What is an Effects Loop: How to Connect Pedals to an Effects Loop

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Guitarists have been using effects since they first existed. It’s easy to get great sound from amplifiers from the turn of the century when most of them are pedals-based amplifiers with no loop.

It was a gradual process, but we started to move away from using guitars without preamps to get the true sound of an electric guitar. Slowly, as preamps began to provide break up or distortion, things began to change. After you’ve been through the process of clipping, the effects you have aren’t that impressive!

I’m sorry to say that the processing time for the delays has been increasing dramatically. This is a normal issue for most instruments and can’t be bypassed at this time. I hope this doesn’t put a damper on your playing, but rather helps you find another pleasing texture to add periodically to your tone.

Today, you will find one or more effects loops on most amplifiers, but most people do not understand how they work.

What is an Effects Loop?

To help understand what an effects loop (aka FX Loop) is and what it does. Do you know how amplifiers work? This is a good question!

This may be hard to visualize, but when you plug the guitar into the amplifier, one of the speakers produces sound waves. A device called a pickup is attached to this speaker so that it can “pick up” these vibrations and send them through an electric cable to a box called a preamp. This box then changes these vibrations from an electrical signal into sound waves.

These two sections work together to send your amplified signal through the speaker.

The effects loop sits between the preamp and the power amp sections of your amplifier, to place effects in this part of the amplifier.

Why an Effects Loop is Important

Guitar players seem to find great things that make their sound amazing through pedal processors. They don’t always need this equipment, but some of the effects they achieve can be incredible what they’re able to offer.

But have you ever noticed that when you run delay, reverb, or chorusers through your drive or high gain channel on an amp, it doesn’t sound right?

If you run the same effect through your clean channel, it will sound great just the way it was designed to. What you are hearing through your distorted channel is the modified version of that effect.

Many effects often sound strange through distorted amplifiers, but the optimal sound can only be achieved with a clean signal. That is where your effects loop becomes essential.

Different Types of Effects Loops

Once amp manufacturers began including effects loops on their products the players could then have a chance to use their hands on the sensitive devices

With this new functionality built into the app, the sound quality and original design nature can focus while distortion can provide a similar but novel experience.

But there are two types of loops and I feel it’s worth exploring them so that you understand how they work. One type is a series loop and one type is parallel.

Mono/Stereo

Your effects loop is a Mono signal if you’re using a tube amplifier, make sure your effects are on the mono side.

However, if you are using an amp modeler in the Effects Loop, you can use effects in stereo.

If you’re using multiple amps or effects pedals, these different settings can give you a variety of tones to play with.

Parallel/Series

The parallel effects loop is the less common circuit design but shows up enough to justify looking at. This is a way to combine the reactive components of your guitar amp with a microphone output (a basic example of what is called “signal processing”).

When you mix your effects back into the amplifier, there’s normal control that lets you balance the dry and wet tones. This control can also help you with a more liquid sound, or one that’s more traditional as well.

The only issue with the parallel effects loop and some devices is phase issues. But this can also turn out to be a great sound depending on what you are running.

Effects such as EQ, tremolo, and noise reduction don’t work as well in this type of loop unless set for 100 percent wet, but even if they are MIDI effects and the dry signal is “problematic”.

Now that is not to say the parallel effects loop is a bad idea, it has its place!

If you’re looking to run audio into your amp, it might be better to use a serial loop. But this will depend on what type of setup you have.

With a serial effects loop, your entire signal is being changed by the device you are running it through.

So when you send your signal from your amp to your effect pedal, the preamp is running in series with the connected device.

It is then sent back to the amp from the device as one path from send to return. One thing that serial loops have going for them is the ability to add effects which you can configure in any order you want.

The device chain has its own protections in the form of micro fuse blows and other safety features in case of a short, but the signal is fully wet when it reaches the amp. It is a very versatile circuit design and is really all you will need for an effects loop.

How to Use an Effects Loop on a Guitar Amp

At the back of an amplifier is a set of jacks called FX Send and FX Return. These are used to send the signal from the guitar, microphone, or bass straight into your mixer or recording console while altering some of its levels.

This means that your amplifier has an Effects Loop, and it can be an incredibly useful tool once you know what it does.

In this article, we’re going to explain how to use an effects loop on a guitar amplifier and help you decide if it’s a necessary feature for your sound.

Buffered Effects Loop

You probably didn’t know this, but “buffers” are still highly important in modern signal design. When designing and engineering circuits for a product or service, we need to consider the impact of buffer design.

Effects loop buffering is done by designing a circuit that provides the most optimal conditions to send a strong signal from one device to another. The lowest impedance and strongest signals are important for effective data transmission.

Most amplifier manufacturers typically include buffered loops in their products; but some techs might elect to damage this circuitry, which represents a potential risk.

All of these elements buffer the signal in ways that can be described, they are typically all analog.

Your personal audio quality when listening to your music can be greatly impacted by the characteristics of your headphones. We can help you determine these characteristics so you know what you should spend the money on.

There are many things that can affect sound quality, such as a weak signal, noise, or even buzzing. But by creating a circuit that buffers the signal, you get the best sound when it is transferred between your equipment.

Effects Loop Controls

Many amplifiers have effects loops that do not have any controls associated with it. Simply plug in your pedals or devices and adjust the master volume to taste.

Other amps come with loop controls. These can be terms like:

  • Send level control
  • Return level control
  • Foot switchable control
  • MIDI controllable loop

Send Level Control

The send level knob on the amplifier allows you to set the sound coming out. It can be used for amplifiers that have effect pedals or preamps, but only if you’re careful and don’t turn it up too high with your instruments.

Like some processors, you can supply a mic preamp with the option of sending it both to a PA system and to a recording console. The send control allows you to regulate the volume on that input so you’re able to adjust it accordingly.

If you’re having issues with your pedal, try turning the gain down until it’s no longer an issue.

Return Level Control

Your return level control simply sets the signal intensity coming back to your pedals or processors. This control can be seen not very often on pedals, as the master volume takes care of this.

But if you ever found an amplifier, it would be able to tell you if a signal is stronger or weaker.

Foot Control Or MIDI

Foot or MIDI-controlled effects loops on amplifiers allow you to turn them on or off. This is very helpful if you use MIDI controllers and don’t need to adjust your effects manually.

Turning the effects loop on or off can take care of all the devices at the same time and can be a handy feature.

Why Would You Use an Effects Loop?

When tube amps first became popular in the 1960s, guitarists began putting all of their effects on top of the amplifiers. This meant that they were piling their effects pedal and amp on top of one another. It seemed to work for most applications, but there was still a problem…

Guitarists have been combining heavy gain tones with atmospheric effects like delay, reverb, and modulation to create a unique sound. As technology has evolved, so have these methods.

The issue is that some effects may sound chaotic and muddy when they are used in front of a dirty amp. Effects loops help to solve this issue.

This idea is prompted by the basic pedal order rule, where time-based effects come after distortion. If you’re using a high-gain amp setting, most of the settings will come from your preamp. It’s like having another overdrive pedal in your tone.

The effects loop lets you place your time-based effects after the distorted signal.

Which Effects Go Into the Effects Loop?

Usually speaking, any time-based effects like Delay, Reverb, and Modulation go into your effects loop. Multi-effects pedals are also great for placing in your effects loop.

But this isn’t a hard rule. You can place any effect into the effects loop, but you are more than likely not going to like the sounds that come from placing an overdrive or fuzz in a loop.

While most speaker cabinets will likely be very difficult to compress and make louder, it is possible to use speakers in parallel or with a compressor. You can also install amplifier thumps in the loop of your guitar amp

How Do Effects Loops Change Your Sound?

Effects Loops should be really transparent and preserve your sound, they can save a lot of time and effort, with minimal changes in the finished product. They even come with volume knobs & other effects settings.

With that in mind, effects loops don’t change your sound. What’s really happening is a result of the pedal order, and how the signal passes through all effects.

For instance, if you distort a sound in front of a delay pedal, it can be picked up and repeated again.

However, when the delayed signals are depicted in a graph and the forward signal is not shown, it can cause your reading to get confused. This sometimes creates unwanted effects.

Putting all of your effects in front of your amp means that your preamp and power amp are uninterrupted, and the compression and EQ of your amp are preserved for when you’re using time-based effects. This is especially true if you have clean am, which would give you a softer sound.

Benefits of Using Delay In a Distorted Amplifier

There are times when using a delay pedal into your amp can not only sound great, but it can actually sound better than how it would sound in an effects loop.

Youtuber/Guitar Nerd, Pete Thorn, does a great video explaining how Eddie Van Halen used an EchoPlex Tape Delay into a cranked Marshall back before effects loops were invented and it sounded amazing! (See below)

The key to pulling off the sound comes down to low settings on your Analog or Tape Delay pedal, which can be set high – giving you more room for delay time.

I part to a chain of sound with a mild but noticeable lag. This is added to make it sound more natural and fit my surroundings better. It rounds out the tone and provides a tight spectrum between lows, mids, and highs. To learn more you should read my article about gain on guitar amps.

Do You Need an Effects Loop?

Now that we know how to use an effects loop on a guitar amp, the question remains: Do you need an Effects Loop?

In general, personally, I think you can use this as a guideline:

  • If you like to use high-gain amp tones, and want to play with effects, an Effects Loop can be beneficial.
  • If you like mainstream sounds, a huge percentage of the time they will be clean and upbeat, then I don’t think an Effects Loop is necessary.
  • If you want to mix and match clean dirty amp tones through a multi-channel amplifier, an Effects Loop is the best way to manage your time-based effects across multiple styles of gain.

Setting Up Your Effects Loop

Setting up your effects loop is generally quite easy. If this is your first loop, you will see that it has two jacks on the back. The label might be labeled “in” or “out”, or “preamp” and “power amp”.

Make sure to use high-quality cables when connecting your effects or processor. Our recommendation is that you use assemblies with twisted pair conductors, like D’Addario Custom Series Twisted Pair Cables.

This will help you prevent your input from being overwhelmed by noise.

Connect the “Send” jack to any effects pedals or processors, and then plug your amplifier into the output. If your amp has any send or return level controls, you will want to adjust these while playing.

It’s important to set send levels after you adjust your levels on the preamps. This way, you’ll have a consistent signal level when you adjust your channels’ outputs. Be aware of your modulation settings that may be too sensitive. Engage in a lower percentage & you might not hear them very well.

When trying to find a clipping problem listen for definition in your sound. Turn the send level down until you can hear everything you need to. Once you have this set, any volume level controls on your amplifier can be turned up in conjunction with the master rotary switch to get the desired output volume.

You’ll find a lot of info about connecting your Google Home to your Amp in your amp’s online manual, so you can also check that out if you do get stuck!

What Pedals Should I Run in the Effects Loop

The types of pedals you want in your effects loop are the same as those you would have downline from your distortion. Pedals like:

  • Phaser
  • Flanger
  • Chorus
  • Tremolo
  • Pitch Shifting / Octave
  • Delay
  • Reverb
  • EQ
  • Noise Gates

EQ pedal in Effects Loop

Can you put an EQ in the effects loop? EQs were created as a corrective tool to eliminate or compensate for unwanted frequencies, typically in audio processing.

For example, an EQ can be placed at the end of the audio chain to help with some specific areas— one common example of this would be the bass response.

If you want to get rid of low-end rumble and presence in a signal chain before dialing in any effects, then placing an EQ at the beginning of the signal chain is advised. This helps you shape the sound of your pickups, giving you more options for the tone controls through effect pedals and amps.

Placing an EQ after distortion is really useful if the distortion creates harshness at certain frequencies and you wanted to dial them back a little.

An EQ in the effects loop will shape the tone and can also give you a little bit of a volume boost if needed.

Can I Put a Noise Gate in the Effects Loop

Even if you plan on processing your audio after a delay or reverb effects, make sure to do those activities before noise reduction. Otherwise, you may end up losing the tails from your reverbs and echoes.

What Cables Can I Use to Connect to an Effects Loop

Use standard instrument cables to connect your pedals to your effects loop, the same type used to connect your guitar to your amplifier. If all you’re going to do is connect a reverb pedal or an EQ and leave it on all the time, then short patch cables will do the trick. If you’d like to leave a pedal sitting in or next to your amplifier, a short cable can help.

If you’re having a lot of pedals, I would suggest getting another set of instrument cables.

What Else Can you do With an Effects Loop

There are other handy uses for an effects loop besides running pedals. You can bypass the effects strip for a pure signal when you plug your guitar directly into the effects return. It will give you a cleaner, unaltered sound that is much easier to work with.

So, you want a small tone with a higher power? Well, if you use the send effects on one amp and the return effects on another then you take the preamp tones from the smaller amp and put them through its more powerful section.

Place an amp on the ground. This can produce a solid, crunchy sound that some guitarists prefer, but it must always be connected to a speaker cabinet in order to emit sound.

Effects Loop vs Front of Amp

Unfortunately, as a lot of players have discovered, today’s amplifiers are capable of producing incredible sound and giving players the proper drive feel. But most make the mistake of putting all their pedal effects into the front of the amp.

The main difference between the effects loop and the front of the amp is that not all pedals work the same with either connection method. Some time-based pedals will sound better in the effects loop, in front of the amp for some types of sound like distortion or overdrive.

If you’re running a lot of high-gain pedals, try changing your amplifier’s settings to soften their harsh signals. It’ll transform the distortion!

It also distorts the original guitar signal, as well as filters some of the frequencies.

This would be disastrous if you were running clean and distorted pedals on the same amp. Your chorus pedal won’t sound as good because it’s been affected by the distorting effect of your distortion pedal.

Here, you can see what the electrical signals look like. On the left is a clean signal, which is normal for instruments, but the more dynamic one on the right is an artifact.

Clipping or distortion can be seen on a signal. When the input is clipped at either the top or bottom of a wave, the part of it that was clipped is effectively gone, as shown in this case.

So if the effects go into the overdriven channel past the preamp, it will cause them to be distorted beyond recognition.

Conclusion

Well, hopefully, that demystified the effects loop for you. If your amp has an effects loop, and you have a few extra instrument cables lying around, plug in and experiment! Find what works best for the sound you’re going for & the setup you prefer.

FAQ for How to use your Effects Loop

What is an Effects Loop?

An effects loop is a circuit that allows you to apply effects in real-time. It’s also known as a “effects send and return,” and it’s typically found on most amplifiers.

How do I use an Effects Loop?

An effects loop is a term used in electronic music production to describe a single or multiple effects units that are patched together.

The most common types of effects loops include:

  • A send/return loop sends the input signal to the effect and returns the output signal from the effect.
  • A patch bay, allows you to connect multiple pedals and other devices into one unit.
  • An effects loop splits an input signal into two outputs, one of which is sent to an effective device, and the other is returned as a dry signal with no effect applied.

What are the different types of Effects Loops?

The use of effects loops in electronic music has been around since the early 1980s. It is a type of loop pedal that creates sound effects. The most common types of effects loops are the “wah” effect and the “chorus” effect.

When you want to add some high energy to your song, you can use an effects loop to add a “wah” or “chorus” effect. These two types of loops are typically used by guitarists who want to play a solo with vibrato sounds or by drummers who want to play fast beats with echoing sounds.

Effects Loops are a vital part of the production pipeline in any VFX studio. They allow artists to create and edit sequences of effects, which makes it easier for them to create believable and compelling shots.

There are three types of effects loops:

  • The first type is the timeline loop, where the effect is applied to a timeline. This type is mainly used for simple effects such as color correction or exposure adjustments.
  • The second type is the layered loop, where the effect is applied to layers or groups of layers. This type can be used for more complex effects such as compositing or motion tracking.
  • The third type is the render loop, which allows artists to preview their work while they’re editing it in order to make final tweaks before rendering it out.

How do I know if I have a good enough computer to use an Effects Loop?

If you are thinking about buying a new computer and want to use an effects loop, you need to make sure that your computer has the necessary hardware. You are going to need a powerful processor, ample RAM, and a dedicated graphics card.

If you already have these things in place, then it is time to start checking if your computer has enough power for effects loops. You can try out different software like Reaper or FL Studio and see if it works for you. If not, then it might be time for an upgrade!

What are the best effects for video editing and music production

The best effects for video editing and music production are often subjective. Some people prefer to use more natural and subtle effects, while others like to use more flashy effects. The best way to decide which effect is right for you is by experimenting with different ones until you find one that fits your style.

What is the difference between effects send and effects return?

In the world of sound design, the difference between effects send and an effects return is often a source of confusion. When you are mixing your audio, you need to decide whether you want to send your audio out to a location where it will be processed or if you want to bring that processed audio back into your mix.

Effects send is when the sound from your mix is sent out into another location for processing. This can be done in many ways such as recording in a studio or sending it through digital interfaces like USB or FireWire.

An effects return is when the processed audio comes back into your mix and there are many ways this can happen too such as recording in a studio and then sending the final product back over FireWire or USB, or even just sending it over Wi-Fi so that

What are the benefits of using an Effects Loop?

Effects Loops are a type of audio processing plugin that allows you to apply effects to your music. They are also called “EQs” or “effects processors”.

The benefits of using an Effects Loop include the:

  • The ability to use it with any instrument, including vocals
  • Able to boost and attenuate certain frequencies
  • Able to process the sound in real-time
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