Some effects compliment each other while still yet other combinations of effects only work in a certain order or they would otherwise cause excessive noise and unwanted transients. Now if you are simply going for a wild and never-before-heard sound sculpture then experiment as needed. Just watch for clipping. Combined output levels will sum to a higher volume and cause clipping so use caution when editing effect chains. Trimming everything back helps tame the final effects chain output for live or studio scenarios.
These techniques can be applied to hardware (stomp boxes), software (think Guitar Rig by Native Instruments) and are commonly used in live and studio environments. Lets take a look at two commonly used effects. A distortion effect and a reverberation effect. The distortion is placed first in the chain and the reverberation is placed after the distortion effect. This produces a smooth distortion effect for the instrument while the reverberation creates an audible space effect giving the final signal a big rock guitar sound that “feels” like it is being played in a concert hall or arena. Most people have heard this type of effect on countless albums that are released by popular artists.
What if we reversed the order and placed the reverberation first and then placed the distortion effect second in the effects chain? Now we have a truck-load of distorted reverberation. The effects chain can be set up this way but the end result is a lot of noise and convoluted audio material that can’t be used for much. The sound isn’t pleasing and is difficult to find a use for in the overall mix. Some equalizer adjustments and careful volume adjustments might salvage a waveform like this to be used as an artificial noise floor. But who puts an artificial noise floor into their recordings? Few engineers would do that. In fact, the main part of their job is to remove noise and unwanted audio program material.
Now think about ordering four of five effects in one chain. A common practice is to order a guitar chain as follows:
>Guitar Amp input/recording console/DAW
In the example above we can swap out two and three with good results but number one would be difficult to move into any other position other than first in the chain. It all comes down to what the effect design is intended for. Reverberation creates an audible space and is usually last in any effects chain. Putting it before other effects can “smear” or ‘cloud” up the audio program. The best practice is to know your equipment and know what it was designed to do before you experiment with uncommon or improper effect chain order. Knowing how to operate each effect and how set proper levels also helps to enhance your sum of the effects chain at the amp or at the input track for recording. Producing too much input gain on a poorly ordered effect chain can damage sensitive electronics.