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Boost - overdrive - Distortion - Fuzz
By Anders Bergdahl UGG
When shaping youre tone you will sooner or later want to add some type of pedal to boost leads or add a sound to you're amp. When soma companies market their pedals the sometimes label them quite unlogical. The classification we use will cover most traditional pedals and especially the boutique pedals we hear so much about. Since these are quite expensive stuff we want to help you find the pedals the best suit you're current need so we will try to describe 4 main categories and what you should expect from pedals within these categories. We will also mention some pedals within each category, this will not nessecerely mean that these pedals are the best, but they are pedals that are held in high regard and that we have some experience of.
We hope this will help clearify some of the confusion regarding what a overdrive or boost pedal should do. I have heard people say that the Klon Centaur is a bad overdrive or that Baby Blue Overdrive is not transparent. Comments like this often arise when someone is buying a overdrive when they really should look at a boost pedal or are buying a boost and are disappointed because it doesn't give them the amount or type of distortion they wanted. This might help you when you read reviews, for example on Harmony Central, where sometimes people gives a boost pedal a very bad review since they wanted an overdrive or distortion box. Or they might criticize a overdrive/distortion because it is not as transparent as a boost is.
Boosts are intended to amplify the signal and typically don't and any distortion in them selves. Some boosts are combined with a overdrive circuit, for example Klon Centaur, but to be regarded as boosts the need to be able to add distortion free amplification. When looking for boost pedals you quite often want it to be transparent, that means that the pedal should amplify the signal without changing it harmonically. Some boost do change the signal and are intended to, for example you have treble boosts and fat boosts the should be transparent as well but not completely, a treble boost is made the boost the treble frequencies and a fat boost should emphasize the mids, but you should still here the character of you're amp and guitar
So what should a Clean boost do, a clean boost is like a small pre-amp that should amplify your'e signal so that the amp receives a hotter louder signal. A clean boost could be used to boost leads, raising the volume when needed. Most tube amps that are run so that the produce some amount of distortion delivers more distortion when you use the clean boost but it is important to understand that the pedal itself does not produce the distortion, it's a result of giving the amp a higher in signal which will further the overdrive. Used with some very touch responsive amps, like a Komet, a boost might not raise volume much at all instead the amp will distort more. So basically when used with a super clean amp a clean boost will give a volume boost with a distorted amp it might give a volume boost and a increase of the distortion.
Treble boost are made to amplify the high-mid and high frequencies there are two main uses one is to make a neck pickup (well mostly neck) sing in a amp guitar combination where it sounds a bit dull, för example adding a BJF Little red Treble between a 52 reissue tele and a Toneking Comet made a rather dull sounding neck PU sound fine. It this context the treble boost works a bit like a Bright switch would do on a amp. The other common use is to add treble boost to a distorted sound and it sound a bit like having a Wah in a fixed position. Clapton used a treble boost on the Beano Bluesbrakers album. An other well known guitarist that sometimes uses treble boost with distorted guitar is Brian May.
The typical overdrive adds its own distortion to the signal but is made do blend with the nature of the amp. It will make your clean amp an edga and make sing a little more but if yu want distortion the best result is almost always with a tube amp that is driven to the edge of distortion, an overdrive will overdrive it further. Examples of overdrives are, TS-808, TS-9 (the classic tube screamers), Baby Blue overdrive, Austone millennium; Voodoo Labs -Sparkle Drive, Crowther Hot Cake, Landgraff Dynamic Overdrive Etc. Most overdrives do compress the signal a bit and most have their own sound, it means that it will mot sound exactly like you're amp, the most transparent OD in the world probably is the Klon Centaur, but this also means that you have to like the sound of you're amps natural overdrive if you want anther sound you should choose another OD than the Klon. For example, I didn't like the overdrive sound from a Fender Prosonic so I used Baby Blue Overdrive in the clean channel to give me a more satisfying overdrive sound. Overdrives should always be able to produce a semi clean sound. Most people also agree on that a good overdrive should react like a tube amp on you're picking technique and the setting on you're guitar. Sometimes you want an overdrive to alter the sound, for example make a Fender sound a bit like a Marshall, but quite often a overdrive should be rather transparent.
Distortion will typically have a sound of their own sound and generate the distortion you need even with a clean amp but even here best result is with an overdriven or almost overdriven tube amp. Distortion pedals have a much more radical effect on the signal than overdrives and you quite often want a dist pedal to alter the sound. There are several distortion pedals on the market, some examples are: BJF Dyna Red, Fulltone distortion Pro and Landgraff Mo D.
The next step is Fuzz but even Fuzzes generally needs some amp or another distortion to sound good. Some Fuzzes retain a lot of the original signal while some makes all guitars sound the same. So when it comes to Fuzzes it's sometimes desired that all pickup settings sounds almost the same. There are pedals labeled Fuzz that could be seen as distortion pedals or even overdrives and visa versa. The subject of fuzzes is quite big one thing that is typical for fuzzes is that the sound comes from transistors generating the distortion most of overdrives and distortion use chips to create distortion.
So the lesson to be learned is that you need a good tube amp that's able to produce some distortion or breakup in sound without being to loud. If you like the sound of you're amp but want more "power" add some type of boost. If you only have a small amount of distortion from you're amp or don't like the Gain channel on you're channel switching amp and want another flavor of distortion sound use an overdrive. If an overdrive does not give you all gain you need you should look for a distortion box and for those most extreme sound you will need a fuzz. You should be aware that many pedals are mainly one thing but has some capabilities to work in another context. Klon Centaur is a excellent boost that crossover into overdrive,
My hope is that this will help you to have the right expectations when testing different pedals.
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