Your Gear, And You! (I)
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:
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.
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.
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!
Fuzz is most likely the simplest of all
distortions, a fuzzbboxes (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
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 muscians, 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” agressive fashion.
A common misconception of overdrive is
that the amp is actually being damaged because it's being
“over”loaded 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 msuic 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
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 fundementally the same as regular
overdrive with the exception that tube-overdrive equates good tone
with high volumes (easily remedied with an atteunuator) 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 seperate 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”.
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
(I suggest reading up more on gain, for
the purpose of this article I really limited my discussion on it.)
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,
*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, Peavey Amplifiers, and
ElectroHarmonix Big Muffs.