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If you have been playing guitar for any length of time, there is a good chance that you own a guitar pedal or two or have at least spent countless hours browsing online for your dream pedals that you want to buy.
Guitar pedals are often an essential component of a guitar player’s gear. They are versatile, compact pieces of equipment that can add many dimensions to your playing and help develop your unique tone, and they certainly are not going anywhere any time soon, even with many great digital options.
Pedals easily work with all different types of amplifiers making the potential sound combinations endless. Therefore, despite the possible high cost, they are worth considering when building your equipment arsenal.
In the midst of all this guitar pedal searching, buying, and playing, have you ever noticed that guitar pedal signaling almost always runs from right to left?
Why is this?
Could this be a similar case, as written by Jimmy Stamp for the Smithsonian Magazine, to that of the QWERTY keyboard, where old designs are so cemented that there is no going back, even if there are better and more efficient ways?
Perhaps, although I am certainly not saying a left-to-right signaling design is more efficient.
In the end, it seems the answer is actually quite simple.
Guitar pedal signaling typically runs from right to left, which may seem counterintuitive for non-players, but there is one primary reason why this is the case; most players are right-handed. Further, having pedal signals all move from right to left allows for better flow on a pedal board.
Let’s take a closer look below at two of the main reasons why guitar pedal signaling goes from right to left.
1. Most Players Are Right Handed
Browse a guitar store in person or online, and it quickly becomes apparent that guitar playing is catered to right-handed players. The overwhelming majority of guitar and bass options are set up for right-handed players.
Of course, it is well known that Jimi Hendrix usually played right-handed guitars turned upside down and restrung to suit his left-handed playing. If there is a shortage of left-handed options in 2022, there certainly was in the 1960s. However, this also helped provide Hendrix with his groundbreaking tone, as the six string acoustic website states.
While this lack of equipment options is undoubtedly unfair to left-handed players, it makes sense from a business standpoint to have one signal set up for all of your pedals since most players will be right-handed.
The idea is that the cable from the guitar will be to the player’s right, which can then plug into the pedal’s right side and stay out of the player’s way.
Of course, this is great in theory, but if a player moves around a lot, such as in a live performance setting, the cable could still get in the way. However, it wouldn’t matter where the input and outputs are in this case, and a wireless system would likely be the smart alternative.
While I have read about some pedals having a left-to-right signaling pathway on some guitar-related forums, I have never owned a pedal, nor seen one in person, with that configuration.
As you can see from my pedals, all of these use the right-to-left signal setup.
Of course, not all of my pedals feature the set-up of having the input (from the guitar or previous pedal) plug into the pedal’s right side and the output going out the left side.
One of my overdrive bass pedals has both the input and the output on the top of the pedal. However, it should be noted that it still follows a right-to-left signal design.
There does not appear to be a major conspiracy regarding the signaling order of guitar pedals. The fact is that many guitar players are right-handed, and so pedals are set up to be the most optimal for those players.
2. Better Flow On The Pedalboard
Pedalboards are fantastic for players who have multiple pedals and need to access all of them quickly and efficiently, but if pedals were not designed the way they are, it would defeat the purpose of the pedalboard.
Imagine for a moment, if you will, that you have several pedals you wish to put on a pedal board. Suppose there were some with right-to-left and some with left-to-right signaling; it would make for a messy pedal board.
Pedalboards can already get messy with all of the patch cables and power supply cables. Adding pedals with different wiring configurations would make it nearly impossible to operate efficiently.
This might not be a big deal if you are noodling around on your own in your bedroom. However, if you are recording, jamming with a band at practice, or playing live, it is essential that you have a streamlined pedalboard set up. Having the pedal’s signal move from right to left helps to ensure this happens.
To get a better visual idea of what I am talking about, look at the setup on my homemade pedal board below. While this is not an optimal order or setup, it illustrates how having all the pedals operating in right-to-left signaling makes for efficient flow:
Learning to play the guitar is challenging enough. Worrying about configuring pedals on the pedalboard should not be another difficult task for guitarists beyond determining the proper order of chaining their pedals together, which is why pedals utilize that right-to-left design.
Similar to the idea that most guitarists are right-handed, it makes sense to have the output from the guitar (lower right side) plug into a pedal on a pedalboard that uses a right-to-left signal.
However, several online forums argue that a left-to-right design might be more advantageous for left- and right-handed players and express their annoyance with the current design. While I can see their point, I have never had an issue with the right-to-left setup.
Right-to-left guitar pedals are the rule, not the exception, and that doesn’t seem to be changing anytime soon.
Perhaps there is a niche market that would buy left-to-right signaling guitar pedals, but until someone starts producing those types of pedals in significant quantities, we are stuck with the right-to-left design.
I hope you found this article useful as to why guitar pedals go from right to left.
Hi everyone! I have been involved with music most of my life, beginning in grade school with the trumpet. I am a largely self-taught multi-instrumentalist (drums, guitar, bass, and starting the piano and violin). I currently play drums in two bands and write and produce many genres of music in my home recording studio. I am also an avid guitar and drum collector.