We investigate the properties of high-amplitude stress waves propagating through chains of elastic–plastic particles using experiments and simulations. We model the system after impact using discrete element method (DEM) with strain-rate dependent contact interactions. Experiments are performed on a Hopkinson bar coupled with a laser vibrometer. The bar excites chains of 50 identical particles and dimer chains of two alternating materials. After investigating how the speed of the initial stress wave varies with particle properties and loading amplitude, we provide an upper bound for the leading pulse velocity that can be used to design materials with tailored wave propagation.