January 11, 2019
Have you ever heard a demo of an overdrive pedal that sounded so good that you immediately purchased the pedal, only to find that it sounded nothing like the clip you heard or the musician you heard playing through it? In cases like these, it’s oftentimes not the fault of the pedal demo that the sound coming out of your amp is so different, and has to do more with the fact that your amplifier, guitar, strings, and playing style are also different. An overdrive pedal is just one link in your tone chain, so it goes without saying that simply purchasing a pedal in hopes of instantly sounding like your favorite rock star is an unrealistic expectation.
However, understanding the type of overdrive pedal you are working with as well as how it interacts with your choice in guitar amplifier can help you find the ideal balance when you are trying to dial the pedal in. Generally speaking, some pedals excel at simulating the tone of an amplifier, while others work well to supplement your existing tone. It all depends on the sound of your amp and what you’re going for.
If you’re digging the tone of your amp but just need a little extra something, using a pedal to supplement it can be the key to great tone. First, set up your amp as you usually would for your overdrive sound, with perhaps a bit less gain than you normally use. Then engage the pedal with the level knob around noon and the drive at minimum. While playing an open note or chord on your guitar or bass, raise the drive up to the optimal level where you have the right combination of pedal overdrive and amp overdrive. Then set the pedal level for unity gain (keep in mind this will not always be 12-o’clock). If the pedal has tone controls, you can use them to further fine tune your sound just like you would with the tone controls on your guitar or amp. With this method, your pedal is serving as supplementary tone tool to an amp sound that you already like.
On the other hand, there are overdrive pedals that work better to simulate the tone of a certain amp and are best used with clean, flat settings on your amplifier or with amps that are inherently more neutral. If you don’t like the drive sound of your amp or it’s not flexible enough for your taste, dialing in an overdrive pedal as an amp simulator can work well for you, given that you have found an overdrive pedal that you like! Notice that there is no consensus on what pedals work well as amp simulators, as everyone’s set up is different! A pedal that is supplementary with one amp might work better as an amp simulator into another one. As with anything, you will have to use your ears to decide which works better for you.
When dialing in a pedal as an amp simulator, set your amp for the cleanest possible sound. Set the EQ to where you like it before engaging the pedal. Once the pedal is engaged, set the desired amount of distortion/grit and then adjust the level to unity. Ideally the overdrive should be set so that you get a little overdrive while playing lightly, and more overdrive while digging in, just as you would with a tube amp’s overdrive. This setup method is very similar to using a supplemental overdrive pedal, except that the amp is set clean, so that in this instance more of your overdrive comes from the pedal, rather than pushing a combination of your pedal/amp overdrive.
Preference aside, using an overdrive pedal as an amp simulator as opposed to a supplemental tone tool may arise from necessity. If you gig with different amps or with a provided backline often, relying on a particular pedal for amp-like tone will result in a more consistent live sound and minimize the amount of knob tweaking you have to do on the gig. You can simply set each amplifier fairly flat and then use your pedal as your main tone shaper. This can be preferable to having to balance your pedal and amp overdrive at each gig.
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One of the most misunderstood things in mixing is bass – whether it’s getting the low end right in general, letting the bass guitar cut through without overpowering everything else, or just making the bass interesting and cool. It can be tricky to get it right, but there are plenty of tried-and-true tricks for getting there quickly. Let’s go over a few of those.
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