July 24, 2019
Today we continue our journey to find out how ANY guitar amplifier can be pedal friendly. If you missed part one, where we discussed popular “American” style amps, click here to get caught up. Here we go across the “pond” and visit our friends in England to explore the ever popular “British” style amplifiers.
Whether they come with gold plexiglass control panels or diamond-patterned speaker grilles, there is no denying that the “British”-style amp (in its many forms) has paved the path of rock and roll. From the British invasion to today those amps are still in use and continue to inspire. And it’s hard to argue with their tones: tight low end combined with a sweet midrange and cutting highs that can be softened with your guitar’s Tone knob. But these amps haven’t gained the “pedal friendly” reputation of their “American” counterparts. After all, if the tones they produce on their own are so good why bother coloring them with effects? It’s a fair question to ask but let’s think about how these tones are achieved…
The classic “British crunch” is achieved by cranking the amps up LOUD! These amps can be 30 watts or 100 watts and it isn’t always possible to get these tones in your average home studio or practice space. So why does it take such levels to get that sound? It’s all in the HEADROOM! Headroom is a kind of “safe operating zone “that allows audio to go over a certain level without clipping or distorting your signal (or even damaging your equipment). Since these amps can have quite a bit of headroom, that means distortion and overloading can only happen by turning up the volume. So that must be the end of it? Not at all! Have you ever tried a “plexi” amp at lower volumes? The tone is not only clean but it’s loud, warm and full of highs that don’t split ear drums. And it might surprise you to learn that several guitar greats have run these amps in that way at some point in their careers. So, with this tone in mind, what are some of the best pedal options for these amps?
British amps love dirt pedals! On clean tones, full range overdrive and distortion pedals (think Fulltone OCD or RAT-style distortion) sound huge and if you like your British tones crunchy, find yourself a good Screamer or treble booster for more gain and sustain and finally, don’t forget the often misunderstood TREBLE BOOSTER! But the pedals that REALLY bond with British amps are fuzzes. Though the Fuzz Face is considered the “first choice”, take a cue from David Gilmour and run a Muff fuzz into that loud tone! The warmth from the mids helps fill out the “hollow” sounding scooped midrange tone of the Muff. When it comes to modulation effects most options are going to work out great. But these effects have a tendency to meld more with the tone rather than have their details shine through. In some cases this tone is desirable but to other players it can sound too dark.
Time-based effects (such as echo and reverbs) can present a bit of a challenge to get the tone you want. Too much of the effect can overload the preamp very quickly, even on a clean tone, and on crunchier tones you not only distort your original guitar tone but the echoes and reverb tails as well. Some players like this tone and have used it to great effect over the years but it comes with a lot of work in fine tuning the balance between your guitar sound and the effect. Modern British-inspired amps often come equipped with effects loops as a means of providing more control in these scenarios. However, not all effects loops are created equal and some can even color your tone in less desirable ways. So which pedals should you start out with? We’d recommend a good digital delay. Lots of modern digital delay pedals feature Tone controls that allow you to shape the EQ curve of the echo repeats. This will help you find the echo tone that works best with your amp. Another bonus of these pedals are OPTIONS. Even simpler digital delays (from the likes of Boss or Walrus Audio) feature multiple delay types, each with their own unique characteristics of tone. This means more sounds to explore and a better chance of finding one that works for you.
British amps can very easily stand on their own and they have done so for many years. But a few choice effects added onto that already great tone can create rock and roll magic! Next time we’ll go deeper down the rabbit hole of pedal friendly amps and decide once and for all: tube or solid state!
See you next time! Wishing you great tone.
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