A popular option for finding the ideal guitar tone is using an always-on guitar pedal. This can be a foundational overdrive pedal, a dedicated preamp box with a DI, or practically any effect that helps you achieve the sound in your head. While nothing beats a great amplifier, musicians who want to travel light, use different backlines frequently, or want to get great tone without having to crank their amp or deal with the acoustic variables at each venue may find a particular pedal or pedals to be a superior option.
But what happens when you need a little more out of your foundational pedal but don’t want to mess with your tone too much? For instance, you could love the tone you get out of a particular overdrive but need a little more gain at times to thicken up choruses. You might also need a volume boost to punch through a bit better during solos. If you like the tone you have but just need a little more, a boost pedal can work wonders.
Finding the Right Boost Pedal
Not all boost pedals are created equal. Some are completely transparent and simply raise the volume, while others impart their own tone or color on the sound, which may or may not work with your favorite pedal. Keep in mind that a boost pedal can be another overdrive pedal, so there really are no rules here. Feel free to experiment! You may find that certain combinations of boost pedals and your favorite overdrive may play nice together and complement one another- such as a mid-heavy boost pedal making your mid-shy overdrive a little punchier- but if you want to keep your tone intact you will want to find the most transparent clean boost possible. For the purposes of this article, we will focus on using clean boosts as the purpose is getting the most out of the tone you already like.
There is one simple thing you need to know when it comes to stacking a boost pedal with your always-on overdrive. The placement of the boost pedal can either add more gain or more volume.
Stacking a boost before the overdrive will not add more volume but will add more gain. This is because the overdrive pedal acts as a gate for the boost pedal - think of your always on overdrive or preamp as front end of your amplifier. Your amp settings are going to influence everything that’s before it. If you run a dirt pedal into your amplifier, the master volume on your amplifier is going to dictate how loud the overall setup will go for the most part.
The overdrive pedal level is going to determine the overall volume and running more volume into it is simply going to drive it more into clipping. If you have a pedal that you get your signature tone from, run it last in the chain and engage a boost pedal before it if you need more gain.
Using a boost pedal after your overdrive pedal will add more volume, but not more gain. With this setup, the clean boost is simply raising the overall volume without changing the tone. This is great for passages where you really need to stand out.
If you’d like instant access to both options, two separate boosts placed both before and after your favorite overdrive can provide a great deal of versatility and flexibility, all while leaving your “base tone” intact. Do you use a boost pedal in your rig? Let us know in the comments.
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