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Effects Loops Basics, What Are They For?

Brian Wampler (265) · [archive]
Style: Theory/Reference · Level: Beginner · Tempo: 120
Pages: 1

What is an effect loop? 
Most amps today have more jacks than the one labeled "input". Chances are, your amp also has two additional jacks labeled "send" and "return". These are the effect loop. What, you may ask, is the purpose of an effects loop? Normally, you just run you effects between the guitar and the amp, right? Well, some effects work and sound better if they come after any distortion or gain that is applied to your guitar signal. Why? For example, it would not sound too good if you put the reverb before the overdrive. You want a reverb on your overdriven signal, not an overdriven reverb. The signal that "travels" through your amplifier normally takes the following way: INPUT > PRE-AMP(responsible for your sound and if you are adding it, overdrive) > POWER AMP (usually responsible for the volume of the amp). The effect loop is situated in your amp AFTER the pre-amp, so if you are using the overdrive in your amp, or from a pedal that boosts the input of your amp, all this is done and the tone is set before it hits your effects loop.

Basic effect loop rules:
1.If the effect modulates the signal, put it behind any pre-amps or overdrive/distortion boxes.
2.It the effect boosts the signal, put it before overdrive.
3.There are no absolute rules! Break them! Experiment! 

As stated above, you'd normally put all your stomp boxes between your guitar and the input of the amp, but sometimes when you want to use your amp's overdrive channel, you get the problems described above. This is where the effect loop comes in. The guitar signal comes from your amp's preamp and through the "send" jack, goes into those effects that should be put behind any overdrive. The signal then comes back into your amp through the "return" socket. Therefore, you should have all the stomp boxes that should come before overdrive between your guitar and the amp's input, and all the boxes that should come after overdrive after your amp's preamp in the effect loop. 

Some amps have a series, and others have a parallel effect loop. With a series effect loop, the guitar signal (your sound) comes from the preamp of your amp, "leaves" your amp through the send jack, runs through the inserted effect and comes back through the return jack. 100% of your signal goes through the effect, with no blend control. The solution was the parallel loop. With the blend or effect level control, you can control how much of your original signal leaves the amp and passes through the effect. The "remaining" signal stays in your amp, preserving much of your sound, and is "joined" again by the signal coming back from the effect, now with effects on it. So, you can mix the dry (without effect) and the wet (with effects) signals, but keep in mind that you won't hear much of the effects if you only put a tiny part of your signal through the effect box. 

In a parallel loop situation, the effects in the loop should be set so that they let out no original signal but 100% effect signal. This will allow you to decide, with the parallel effect control, how much effect you want mixed in with your original tone.

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