#1
Since I've started guitar, I have heard terms like "gain," "distortion," "drive," and "overdrive" in reference to that grit that we all know and love.

What is the difference between those terms?

I feel like "distortion" is the broad term. Gain is how many decibels are added, and drive/overdrive is how much the sound is peaking over the capabilities of the speaker or whatever.

Any professional corrections?
#2
From my understanding...

gain: has two meanings; in my experience it's usually just the catch-all term for the sound of clipping of an amplifier
distortion: high-gain, for metal and the likes
overdrive: light-gain, used in blues, classic rock, etc.
drive: shorthand for overdrive.
#3
Gain causes distortion, it's another term for amplification. However gain is gain even if no distortion results. It's simply Vout/Vin
Distortion is clipping of the signal
Drive is talking about pushing what comes after it, so "gain" really.
Overdrive is the same too really, it means pushing the circuit past the ability to amplify cleanly.
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Last edited by Cathbard at Sep 4, 2014,
#5
Quote by Cathbard
Gain causes distortion, it's another term for amplification. However gain is gain even if no distortion results. It's simply Vout/Vin
Distortion is clipping of the signal
Drive is talking about pushing what comes after it, so "gain" really.
Overdrive is the same too really, it means pushing the circuit past the ability to amplify cleanly.





with the only addition that overdrive is often used to refer to pedals that 'overdrive' the preamp at the input signal.
#6
From MY understanding.

Gain: How much of the signal is let into the preamp's gain stages or power amp (the latter usually being more overall volume).
Distorion: When so much gain is used, the signal clips all the time at all frequencies, creating a heavily distorted sound from a clean signal.
Overdrive: When the signal going through the gain stages is "goosed". Meaning it is more than what the gain stages can handle and it is compressed in the gain stages. This signal is just clipping and is very full and saturated with the natural drive of the amp.
Drive: The degree to which the signal is being goosed. For instance, a drive/overdrive pedal really just boosts the volume of the guitars signal to get more tone out of the gain stages.

EDIT: Somewhat ninja'd by Cath lol.
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#8
From a technical point of view, in audio, distortion is every process that changes the shape of a waveform.

In common language, though...

Gain, as cath said, means how much you're amplifying something.
It may be positive, it may be negative, or it may be unity, and in guitar amps it's always positive.
If you raise it too much you incur in clipping, which is a form of distortion that basically cuts the crests of the wave what's being amplified.

Drive means fairly little - driving a piece of equipment is a slang meaning to send a signal into said piece of equipment.
You may see reviews of headphones with high impedance inputs stating that "it's hard to drive them properly", meaning that it's hard to send enough signal into them for them to work properly.

In guitar effects, it usually refers to hard clipping distortion.

Overdrive, or overload, means driving something to the point at which it distorts the signal.

I guitar effects, it usually refers to soft clipping distortion.
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#9
the big problem is that there are technical/electronics definitions for these things, and then more laypeople's/guitarists' definitions, which aren't always necessarily the same thing. Cath nailed it for the former.

for the latter, overdrive is normally less extreme distortion.
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#10
Quote by Dave_Mc
the big problem is that there are technical/electronics definitions for these things, and then more laypeople's/guitarists' definitions, which aren't always necessarily the same thing. Cath nailed it for the former.

for the latter, overdrive is normally less extreme distortion.



This and these terms crossover from amps to pedals.

I also produce electronic music and do a lot of wave synthesis and this is probably one of the best ways to learn about actual audio waves while still being creative with music.

It starts with an oscilator, 1 frequency of tone on 1 amplitude at 1 cycle speed. Figuratively the "atom" of sound and it's the combination of many of these waves that create timbres and sounds.

Distortion is included and is in fact not clipping on every frequency but on many different ones, however in % really not that much. That's why modelers come close but there are also tiny different things missing. it's far more complex and also has to do with frequencies clipping in a certain formula if you will.

Distortion is also just one aspect of wave shaping, mainly amplitude, but there are many other ways to manipulate this.

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#11
I get a little confused when people say certsin high gain amp heads are "too compressed". I know what compression is. I understand how it works. And I am pretty sure when you put something in overdrive, you are basically compressing it since the peaks are beig chopped off. So when somebody says a "high gain amp" is "too compressed", arent they really just saying the amp has too much gain? Sort of a redundant statement since they were talking about a high gain amp? Idk
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#12
^ well compression is a consequence of clipping distortion, though while I don't really get how, some amps can actually get you a pretty high gain distortion without sounding much compressed.

The SLO and the VH4 for example.

Anyway, things like that you mentioned are mostly said by people who don't know what they're talking about AFAIK.
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#13
Even though gain is strictly amplification it's associated with distortion because of the location in the internal circuitry. IOW the gain is located where it will drive the circuit to distort. This aspect of the term gain is generally specific to musical applications.
#14
Quote by xxdarrenxx
This and these terms crossover from amps to pedals.


yeah that's also a good point

(probably the rest too but that's way beyond my pay grade )
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