Achieving great distortion with boosts

Achieving great distortion with boosts

As a guitarist that has largely used high gain guitar tones the last twenty or so years I've found that my favorite method of achieving gain saturation appropriate to hard rock, metal and punk is to use a boost or overdrive to push your amplifiers pre amp section into hard clipping. 

Now to some people reading this the concept of using multiple gain stages is standard fare. But i'm always meeting new players to whom this is a new concept, so let me explain in plain terms what i'm suggesting players should try in order to create a heavy tone worthy of massive riffage.

Starting with your initial amp sound you should dial in a balanced EQ. I suggest starting with bass mid and treble in the center of their range at 12 o'clock, then make subtle alterations to taste from there. Once you're satisfied bring the available gain up till the amp is just breaking up in a "bluesy" way. From here you should introduce an overdrive to the front input of the amp to boost the signal making it "clip" or distort harder. The overdrive settings used by many high gain aficionados is to put the level or volume on the pedal way up, adjust the tone options to taste and turn the gain right down. The objective of this method is to increase gain by boosting the volume of the input signal, not to introduce excessive amounts of pedal gain. Doing things this way helps to maintain the clarity of your guitar tone so it doesn't become an over distorted mess. It pays to understand that tones which are too gain saturated may sound fun in the bedroom but when introduced to a band scenario basically disappear. Nobody will be able to define what you're actually playing as your EQ becomes redundant in the wake of the over distorted muddy fuzz background mess. And no matter how much volume you use the more defined sounds of your band mates will drown you out. You're looking for power and push, not bass and fizz.
Now having said these things I know there will be some saying what about Death metal and HM2 sounds? Well most brutal death sounds are achieved in the way outlined above but there are some bands that are really pushing the envelope of what can work distortion wise and in another blog I will talk about the tricks used to make those tones usable but for now 99% of players are going to get the heavy sounds they are seeking using the methods described above.
And now for the gear heads who are thinking "well which overdrive do I get?" I'm going to outline a few distinctive types of boost/overdrive that can be utilised to get useful saturation in a variety of different tones.

1 - The Ibanez/Maxon Tubescreamer. The classic mid signal pushing green box we all know and love. There are many variations on the theme but they all essentially do a similar job. It's a bit like which is your favorite Chocolate ice cream, it's all good but everyone has their personal fave. The TS808 or TS9 is a great starting point, and they are great tone shaping tools to have in your arsenal.

2 - The Boss Blues Driver. For mine the Blues Driver never gets the respect it's due as a fantastic boosting tool, I used one for years in my hardcore bands. It works similar to the Tubescreamer but the tonality has a more lower mid feel to it, it can thicken up a tone nicely. Definitely try one out particularly if you have an already trebly guitar and amp situation. Like a strat into a vox ac30.

3 - The Boss Super Overdrive. This pedal will take your tone to searing lead city. An absolute classic that works a little differently from the previous 2. It rounds/cuts off your bass tones and pumps your higher mids. This may be a bit of an auditory shock for younger players that haven't  played in a band situation before or tried to mix a guitar performance but trust me your guitar will sit in your live performance or mix like a beacon of sizzling focus.

4 - The MXR Micro Amp. The term transparent boost is bandied about a lot these days but to me this is the very definition incarnate. This one knob wonder is a simple op amp vol boost with around +26 db of signal boosting power. To put it simply it takes what you got and just makes it bigger and badder. Lots of clones of these about so shop around!

5 - The Boss 7 band EQ. The humble EQ is one of the most powerful and underrated tone sculpting tools around. Able to cleanly boost or cut a signal by up to 15db and shape your signal to accentuate the most desirable frequencies or diminish the undesirable ones. A fantastic addition to the end of any signal chain.
Well i think that's enough to get you started and i've only scratched the surface. Range Masters, Klons, Dumblesque drives, distortions as boosts, led/op amp/silicone clipping options, mosfet pre amps..... The list goes on! Dive into the world of gain and search for the sound you've been dreaming of.

Till next time Stay safe and riff hard
Chris Reanimator 
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