Your Gear And You I

Got a new stompbox that you just feel like "curbing"?

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Got a new stompbox that you just feel like curbing? Guitar feeling stringy? Is your new cab painted yellow with the word taxi on it? Fret no more Because Your Gear, and You is here to help. Puns aside article #1 covers one of the most confusing topics for new players, and some veterans alike: Distortion! So you've decided to take up guitar? Or perhaps you've already been playing for a number of years? Either way if you are looking at this guide look no further for this is the place to be! In todays article we will cover the basics of what is commonly known as distortion the act of introducing foreign waveforms into a guitars signal causing that oh-so pleasant sound we have come to know and perhaps even love. There are different type of distortion each with it's own unique elements, some include:
  • Boost
  • Clipping
  • Fuzz
  • Overdrive
  • Tube-Overdrive
  • Gain
  • Distortion I have tried to organize these from the least to most complicated in terms of signal modification, no worries though I'm not going to go into the science, this is a Get started guide, I may write something later if I really feel like it. Now that, that is out of the way. a. Boost Boost as the name implies is simply the act of boosting the input signal of a guitar, this can be done in a number of different ways including but not limited to: Active pickups, turning the guitars volume up, preamps, and separate boost-pedals. Boosting is not a form of distortion rather it is a precursor, without a high enough input signal distortion would never (as far as this article goes) occur naturally. b. Clipping Clipping occurs when an amplifier is unable to amplify a signal any more this creates a waveform that cannot be reproduced by the amplifier, since this signal cannot be reproduced it is clipped (imagine a large truck going under a bridge that is too low for it, the top of the truck is clipped off) and a clipped signal causes... You guessed it, distortion! c. Fuzz Fuzz is most likely the simplest of all distortions, a fuzzboxes (as they are colloquially called) artificially causes clipping in the input signal which causes a distorted and somewhat synthetic sound. Fuzz is typically heard in a lot of 60's music from genres including rock, and blues. Fuzz is also an effect that was relied upon heavily by a certain Hendrix, J. (perhaps you've heard of him?). Fuzz is also quite heavily used in modern rock and metal by a number of stoner rock bands including: Kyuss, Fatso Jettson, and Monster Magnet. Famous Fuzz Tones Created By: Dallas Arbiter FuzzFace (Dunlop), Seymour Duncan TweakFuzz, Octavia, and the Maestro FZ-1A. d.Overdrive Overdrive, the most popular type of distortion found in rock music, it gave birth to an era, and it's echo may well be heard on forever. Poetry aside overdrive is the staple of an incredible list of musicians, it can be obtained naturally (through amplifiers themselves), or through artificial means (stompboxes, and digital reproductions). Overdrive is simply yet another form of clipping it is caused by running amplifiers at super-high volumes adding a certain bite to the sound. Overdrive was originally created by driving (pumping a high input signal into) a tube amp and causing the amp to clip in an overly aggressive fashion. A common misconception of overdrive is that the amp is actually being damaged because it's being overloaded however this is not the case as amplifiers are able to handle the load (clipping anyone?). Overdrive can be heard in almost any form of music imaginable but it is predominant in: rock, blues, country, and sometimes metal. Listen to music by S.R.V (who used two *TS9s in succession to create one of the worlds best tones), The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and nearly every other rock band you can think of!
  • The TS9 (Tube Screamer) is considered by most people to be the best possible external overdrive unit ever created, do a quick search on any guitar site and you will find wealths of information about this famous little green box. Famous Overdrive Tones Prduced By: Ibanez TS-9 Tubescreamer, Fender Amplifiers, Orange Amplifiers, VOX Amplifiers, BOSS OD-3 e. Tube-Overdrive Tube-overdrive is considered to be a special type of overdrive in todays world as more and more tube amps are (slowly) being replaced by inexpensive, low maintenance solid state amplifiers. Tube overdrive is fundamentally the same as regular overdrive with the exception that tube-overdrive equates good tone with high volumes (easily remedied with an attenuator) since the power-amp is being overdriven rather than the preamp (think of that little 10w Solid state amp you got for Christmas). Most people swear by tube tone because the clipping aside from sounding warmer, producing natural harmonics (a separate issue entirely), and introducing a form of *compression into the equation (another entirely seperate issue!).
  • Compression, to put is simply compression is the act of compressing the input signal so that clipping occurs later (at higher input levels); basically loud sounds seem normal while quiet sounds seem louder. f. Gain Gain, is another way to boost the input signal, however instead of modifying the amount of signal reaching the (for all intensive purposes) the input jack on the amplifier, it modifies the signal level that reaches the actual amplification stage. (I suggest reading up more on gain, for the purpose of this article I really limited my discussion on it.) g. Distortion Finally, the holy grail, the big kahuna, the main course, the rueben sandwich, the.. Rambling aside distortion is what you are reading this article for. Distortion is really a misconception, since it only exists as a concept (sorry, had you going there for a while though huh?) classic examples of distortion in reality are just extreme version of overdrive (see why I waited on this one?). Distortion is classically seen as a very thick, heavy, and manly sound emphasizing bass, and treble frequencies... While cutting out the unimportant midrange (*one scoop or two?) this leads to that heavy metal sound that makes babies grow beards, and vikings pillage space-villages! For examples of distortion listen to bands like: Metallica, Slayer, Anthrax, and Megadeth.
  • Please do not scoop your mids, you liked this article so much that mids will never go below 4... Please? Famous Distortion Sounds Come From: BOSS MT2 Metalzone, Mesa Amplifiers, Peavy Amplifiers, and ElectroHarmonix Big Muffs.
  • 82 comments sorted by best / new / date

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      axe_man
      1339 wrote: My Marshall's distortion pisses me off. I'm buying a nice Line 6 as soon as i have enough money, and then selling this goddamn Marshall stack.
      line 6 amps for the win!!
      1339
      led_zep_00 wrote When I think Rolling Stones guitar sounds I'd say its more fuzz than overdrive. And I think maybe Marshall ought to be added to your famous overdrives section?
      My Marshall's distortion pisses me off. I'm buying a nice Line 6 as soon as i have enough money, and then selling this goddamn Marshall stack.
      Creative-Noise
      I might not have this 100% but i think i'm right... An attenuator soaks up an adjustable amount of the power your amp puts out... after your amps done amplifying but before the signal hits the speakers. You use it so you can run your amp really hard (for tonal purposes) without breaking your ear drums and pissing off everyone within 100 meters.
      shwilly
      Creative-Noise wrote: I might not have this 100% but i think i'm right... An attenuator soaks up an adjustable amount of the power your amp puts out... after your amps done amplifying but before the signal hits the speakers. You use it so you can run your amp really hard (for tonal purposes) without breaking your ear drums and pissing off everyone within 100 meters.
      Kay, that sounds pretty neat because most high end tube amps only sound good after you crank the volume up to, say, 3 or 4 or something, which is too loud for me. But anyway, thanks for explaining man, I think I might get one with my new amp. I just found this thing called the THD Hot Plate which seems really popular, probably because it's not an amp mod but a neat little box
      grunge_kid
      haha i love having my low at 7 high at 8 and mids at 4 that gives me beautiful sound..... although i do use a behringer. lol so its nothing crash hot still
      f1sk
      I thought the opposite, I think tube amps are starting to become more popular again, but even if they weren't I don't think I'd trade my mark IV for a solid state.....
      led_zep_00
      When I think Rolling Stones guitar sounds I'd say its more fuzz than overdrive. And I think maybe Marshall ought to be added to your famous overdrives section?
      playmetal5150
      rojomeansred wrote: joshjebl wrote: no mids??? have we all forgotten nirvana. they changed everything We should all just forget about Nirvana. Kurt is not the guitar god he's made up to be. Anywhoo, great article, very informative.
      haha woo im not the only person that hates nirvana hurray for you!
      wozzsta
      all these peep saying it was rubbish or what ever, or bad gramma and stuff. who cares he/she at least took the time to try and help someone like my self, so lets stop hateing and start loving.
      DOMR28
      Leedostar wrote: when i was a guitar greenhorn i picked up a Roland CUBE15 very cheaply off a mate. i never touched the EQ then one day a neighbour dropped in and being the metal head that he is scooped the mids and what i got was the killer sound i had heard in the music i was trying to reproduce. since have upgraded to a 50W Marshall and have never really found the sweet spot on it
      I picked up a 7 band EQ about a month ago and have solved almost all of my tone shortcomings. Play around a little, you may find it best to run it through the amps loop effects as it is best used post-distortion. for the less informed crowd, most amps over 35 watts have a loop station in the rear of the amp. In an Out jacks, this is what I am referring to.
      Thefallofman
      SRV used TS-808s, not TS-9s. And the Seymour Duncan Tweak Fuzz is hardly a famous fuzz pedal. Nice article, though.
      mr_hankey
      You seem to have managed to change one thing into many: clipping, overdrive, distortion and gain are all the same. Fuzz is really just an extreme version of clipping too(square-wave). The 'famous tones created by' seem pretty random/strange too. For example; in which famous recording can I hear a Tweakfuzz? Since when is the Big Muff a distortion pedal? That definitely isn't all, but I don't want to have to rewrite the whole article (which is almost needed). Please, research more before you submit articles; because you're just spreading false information.
      no. 1 maggot
      qotsa1998 wrote: On some amps, like my crappy one, mids do make a distorted guitar sound aweful. And for your list of famous Distortion pedals, id add the Boss DS-1. Not only is it a good coice for starters, but some famous guitar players like John Frusciante(i think), Steve Vai(modded i think), and Kurt Cobain used em. And when you give examples of famous OD and distortion tones from amps, how could you forget Marshall amps? Marshall and co. made some of the best-sounding amps for distortion and od tones pretty much ever. Marshall had a big part in the defining sound of the sixties, seventies, and even into the 80's, with EVH's Plexi setup. Everyone and there cousin uses Marshall tubes, if they can afford it.
      Ml-2 should be in there instead of the mt-2 i have an ml-2 and my friend has an ml-2 - there is no comparison in the sound. also, to all of you who buy marshall amps, for what it's worth i think they're overestimated and overpriced. to those of you in the market for marshall amps look at roland cubes and peavey valve kings(valve kings have a beautiful sound but steer clear of peavey windsor[shudder]) but the most important thing i can tell you is... dont take my word for it.
      Gundam pilota09
      joshjebl wrote: no mids??? have we all forgotten nirvana. they changed everything
      yes now shut up before anyone remmebers. and i use treble@10 bass@6 mid@8 give a very punchy clear sound just estimates and i vary alot so but i almost always put emphasis on treble so solos stand out better i think the lowest i've ever had my mids was 5
      Gundam pilota09
      1339 wrote: led_zep_00 wrote When I think Rolling Stones guitar sounds I'd say its more fuzz than overdrive. And I think maybe Marshall ought to be added to your famous overdrives section? My Marshall's distortion pisses me off. I'm buying a nice Line 6 as soon as i have enough money, and then selling this goddamn Marshall stack.
      you fail at life if your trading in ANY marshal solid state or tube for a line 6. at least get something useful like a Vox and orange or a mesa or randall. line 6 was my first practice amp and its good for maybe a week then you start to get major issues. it is the only amp i can think of that does get dammaged by overdrive. its responds to pedals like shit line six you get convienience but you sacrifice so much the clean sound gets distorted at 3 the distortion channels actually loose volume when you crank the amp up past ten. you sir need to kill yourself i've used bassically every marshall variant even the MGs and every line 6 variant and the wrost marshall beats the best line six.
      JonasStevens
      Good "article." But, there is a lot of "unnecessary" quotation "marks." Otherwise it was "nice."
      grapedrink
      rojomeansred wrote: joshjebl wrote: no mids??? have we all forgotten nirvana. they changed everything We should all just forget about Nirvana. Kurt is not the guitar god he's made up to be. Anywhoo, great article, very informative. Who said he was a guitar god? I think you are completely missing what that guy stood for and what he did.
      shreddymurphy
      No its not. Its mostly heard in everything but heavy metal. Metal bands mostly depend on distortion for their amps.
      Hey huggy, Obviously you haven't researched very many metal guitarists rigs. Just check out the very end of any Guitar World magazine. There are thousands of guitar players that use stomp boxes for distortion. Sure there are thousands of guys that use the distortion on there amps, but I know of a lot that use boxes...
      H, Omitted
      to answer schleimwurm, boss or mxr if you like pedals. if you want to try rack gear..look for a used furman pq-3 or a pq-4..i want to get one of those
      Schleimwurm1
      jack white uses a big muff, Pink Floyd do, smashing pumpkins do, wolfmother do, Sonic Youth do, I do.... but the only metal bands who do use one are KoRn and Metallica, and they use bass-Muffs.. But i have a question, i have a Big Muff, a Hagstrm F20T, Dunlop CryBaby, and a little Vox DA5, and have been playing for 6 months, and now i'm looking into buying an EQ, what's a good one?
      Woogles
      Kayfan wrote: pos69sum wrote: the big muff is a fuzz pedal But it's heard mostly in heavy metal music, compared to say an arbiter ...Just thought I'd justify my classification
      It's not used in metal...
      doomed1
      this artical was very good, and certainly woruld clear up any questions someone might have, and for me it pushed away the slight 'fog' i had about the different levels of distortion
      phenom1991
      Boss MT2...i wish it wasn't mentioned there. Now more unlucky people will get it. Shit pedal with shit distortion. Really good distortion comes from a overdrive tube amp with overdrive kicked in to get that wonderful bite and attack.
      vjferrara
      finally i wont have to try and explain the differences to my friends anymore!! i'll just send them here... should've thought of it myself
      rhcp_freak
      Alright, the the asshats hating on Nirvana, what the original guy meant about not forgetting about them was that Kurt had his mids dimed.
      SL!!!
      Kayfan wrote: zeroyon wrote: Seems like most pedal designs make the distinction between Overdrive and Distortion based on what type of diode clipping it uses. Most "overdrive" designs have soft clipping diodes in the feedback loops for the transistors or opamps. Most "distortion" designs have hard clipping diodes that pull the signal right to ground. This isn't the rule, just speaking from what I've seen in schematics. damn... where were you when I was writing this?
      Haha, yes, i want to learn more about what is actually going on when this stuff is happening. i already knew the thing about hard and soft clipping, but there's more to know, i think you should do another article that goes
      Gundam pilota09 wrote: 1339 wrote: led_zep_00 wrote When I think Rolling Stones guitar sounds I'd say its more fuzz than overdrive. And I think maybe Marshall ought to be added to your famous overdrives section? My Marshall's distortion pisses me off. I'm buying a nice Line 6 as soon as i have enough money, and then selling this goddamn Marshall stack. you fail at life if your trading in ANY marshal solid state or tube for a line 6. at least get something useful like a Vox and orange or a mesa or randall. line 6 was my first practice amp and its good for maybe a week then you start to get major issues. it is the only amp i can think of that does get dammaged by overdrive. its responds to pedals like shit line six you get convienience but you sacrifice so much the clean sound gets distorted at 3 the distortion channels actually loose volume when you crank the amp up past ten. you sir need to kill yourself i've used bassically every marshall variant even the MGs and every line 6 variant and the wrost marshall beats the best line six.
      Haha, truth. Line 6 makes nice pedals though. They need to stay away from amps however.
      SL!!!
      So, i haven't read this yet, but i just had to say, i really like that there are articles about gear like this to help clear up stuff for beginners, and veterans alike. Okay, i'm going to read this now. Haha.
      Leedostar
      when i was a guitar greenhorn i picked up a Roland CUBE15 very cheaply off a mate. i never touched the EQ then one day a neighbour dropped in and being the metal head that he is scooped the mids and what i got was the killer sound i had heard in the music i was trying to reproduce. since have upgraded to a 50W Marshall and have never really found the sweet spot on it
      Thrall
      Yeah, on my tube amp I have the highs at about 9 of 12, lows at about 10 of 12, and my mids are at FULL BLAST!!! lol But this was an excellent article that every electric player should read, even if they already know it. The grammar was annoying though.
      E V H 5150
      I was planning on learning this eventually. Nice brief explanation on things, I was thinking of doing something like this, explaining all the different effects, but you seem to actually know HOW they work, not just WHAT they do. About the mids... on my Marshall MG I scooped the mids, because they made it sound like crap. It's an MG, what more should I say? I have a Fender Blues Jr. now, and I use the mids a lot more... not an EQ expert, but I like what I sound. I keep mine at about 4 or 5. I take it you're gonna do another on modulation and delay effects too?
      Td_Nights
      joshjebl wrote: no mids??? have we all forgotten nirvana. they changed everything
      Not really, please elaborate.