Author Topic: Distortion pedal = high gain overdrive pedal?  (Read 735 times)

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Offline SFDonovan

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Distortion pedal = high gain overdrive pedal?
« on: July 02, 2018, 09:44:16 pm »
I thought overdrive pedals has three flavors and were different than distortion pedals.  Boost, mid range, and high gain.  I ran into a Youtube video for Guitarist magazine that had a bunch of distortion pedals being described as overdrive pedals with high gain.  Now I'm confused.
I'm still  using a multi effect unit but want to buy my first pedal.  I was gonna start with an overdrive pedal and buy an OCD Fulltone.  Is this an overdrive pedal or with its high gain ability is it a distortion pedal?
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Offline DarrellW

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Re: Distortion pedal = high gain overdrive pedal?
« Reply #2 on: July 02, 2018, 10:10:49 pm »
The Boss OS-2 is a combo OD and distortion pedal. If you want the choice between both in the same box it's adequate.
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Offline LievenDV

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Re: Distortion pedal = high gain overdrive pedal?
« Reply #3 on: July 02, 2018, 11:34:16 pm »
about once every 2y I post this image because it is one of the best questions you can ask.



You can put a label on a pedal but what it does is what matters.
You need to figure out the difference between overdrive and distortion.

It all started with amps. tube amps especially
every amp has a certain amount of "headroom"; the amount of power of signal it can handle before it reaches it limit. the incoming signal gets flattened. Distortion is the hard clipping, the red line but overdrive is the soft clipping. notice how the signal remains "rounded".

thought of people using signal boosters to "push their amps"? well it's just that.
A typical,simple, solid state amp just cuts off the signal. hard clipping while it is considered easier to the ear that the signal is "soft clipped". These days digital modelling makes it of course possible to imitate the sound in the preamp section and amplify it in a solid state power amp
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Offline Majik

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Re: Distortion pedal = high gain overdrive pedal?
« Reply #4 on: July 03, 2018, 10:41:20 am »
Building on this... it's worth understanding what "gain" actually means, as a lot of people don't really know, or misunderstand. This requires a basic understanding of how guitar amps work.

Traditional guitar amps have two stages: a "pre-amp" and a power amp.

The low level signal from the guitar is fed into the pre-amp which is an amplifier that (amongst other things) boosts the signal up to a level that the power amp can deal with.

The power amp then deals with driving the speakers, which are mechanical devices and which require quite a bit of power to move them.

Gain is simply a measure of how much a signal is amplified.

On a guitar amp, the pre-amp has a gain control that impacts how much the low-level signal from the guitar is amplified by the pre-amp. All amplifiers have a physical limit on the signal they can output. This is primarily set by the power supply for the amplifier: for instance if an amplifier has a 12V power supply, then it cannot output a signal greater than 12V peak. If it tries to, say, output a signal of 15V, then anything above 12V will be limited to 12V.

So, if you turn an amplifier circuit's gain up to the point that the amplified signal is greater than the amplifier itself can handle, this will  cause "clipping".

This is the "clipping" in LievenDV's image. In most types of amplifier applications, such as home stereos and PAs, this sort of clipping is highly undesirable. In guitar amps, it's very desirable and so they are designed so that they clip easily.

Different types of circuit will clip in different ways. Roughly, tube circuits will soft clip and transistors will hard clip. However, transistor circuits can be designed such that they soft-clip as well.

So "overdrive" is where the amplifier circuits are "driven over" what they are capable of. This causes the signal to be distorted. Any change to the signal is "distortion".

Thus overdrive is, itself, a form of distortion. In the guitar world it's taken to mean a milder, less heavily clipped form of distortion. There's no distinct line separating overdrive and distortion caused by clipping.

On a guitar amp the degree to which the signal is distorted is controlled by how much the original guitar signal is amplified by the pre-amp, aka "gain" (it's also dependant on the output level of your guitar pickups, guitar "volume" knob, and how hard you pick or strum the strings). The higher the gain control is set, the higher the signal is amplified by the pre-amp and the more the signal is pushed beyond the amp's  limits and distorted, which is where we get the term "high-gain" from.

This video demonstrates clipping distortion using a limiter:




A "boost" pedal will help the guitar amp push into overdrive by providing an additional amplifier stage (a "pre-pre-amp"?) before the guitar amp to boost the signal into the guitar preamp. This makes it so you can push the signal into overdrive at lower gain settings on the guitar amp, or so you can get higher levels of distortion than the amp can achieve on its own.

Typically boost pedals are switchable and can be used to switch the level of amp overdrive/distortion up when going from rhythm to lead.

This has all been about distortion caused by overdriving the circuits of the guitar amp itself.

Alternatively, overdrive/distortion pedals (including multifx pedals) will typically have their own amplifier or amp emulation circuit in them which will create the overdriven/distorted tone in the pedal itself. You can then choose whether you want this further overdriven by the guitar amp or not. Often these pedals are used with a clean tone, allowing you to switch between clean and overdriven/distorted.

Sometimes these pedals are designed to closely emulate the sound of a guitar amp going into overdrive. In other cases, they are their own distinct circuits with their own distinct distortion character, which is different from the distortion in an amplifier.

There are other forms of distortion too. For instance, "fuzz" is supposed to be based on the distortion caused by a damaged speaker cone.

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Re: Distortion pedal = high gain overdrive pedal?
« Reply #5 on: July 03, 2018, 10:53:53 pm »
To continue on where Keith's solid post left off...

Fuzz uses transistors, like in solid-state amplifiers to distort a signal. It's generally designed to 'break' the signal. It makes square waves out of everything you throw at it. Kind of like hard-clipping, except it's actually square, not just clipped. It's generally a very harsh sound. Something to do with odd harmonics rather than even harmonics which are produced by soft clipping. This is (I think) why people either hate or love fuzz. I didn't like it at first but greatly enjoy using fuzz ever since getting a fuzz pedal. Fuzz at its purest you can find in pedals (or their derivatives) like the Fuzz Face, Big Muff and Tonebender.

There's also fuzz pedals that aren't that harsh. They may soften the square waves produced by a fuzz circuit or distort the signal in such a way that it becomes 'fuzzy' but isn't actually a fuzz in a literal sense. They sort of bridge the gap between fuzz and overdrive. I would personally put the classic Pro Co Rat in this category. It's a fuzz, but its filter control can make it sound more like an overdrive.

I don't particularly like the OCD through a clean guitar amp. I prefer the amp to round the hard clipping a little. My band's guitar player does, however, and he uses it that way. It sounds great through a clean bass amp with a bass guitar, though.

Another meaning 'distortion' seems to have acquired is the amp-in-a-box type of pedal. They distort your signal to sound like a particular amp. Something like the Wampler Triple Wreck, Carl Martin Plexitone or Friedman BE-OD.

I recommend trying out some fuzz, overdrive and distortions in your multi effects pedal. Figure out what you like and figure out what sort of pedal it emulates. They often hint at it with the name and people who are familiar with your multi effects unit might be able to help you figure out what exactly it is. Then you can try out a few pedals like it and get what you like.

Or, do like many of us pedal geeks do - buy something, try it out, keep it or sell it if you don't like it. That's often the best way to learn what you like and what works with your amp, your guitar and your style of playing.
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Offline DarrellW

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Re: Distortion pedal = high gain overdrive pedal?
« Reply #6 on: July 04, 2018, 05:24:21 am »
If you don’t want to spend much on finding out what sounds float your boat I would recommend taking a look at the Donner brand pedals, they are really inexpensive but pretty decent. For reviews of them take a look at Intheblues YT channel, his reviews are honest and pretty thorough. I have 5 of their pedals now and they are all keepers, I also have a couple of Electro-Harmonix pedals, a Looper and the Big muff because I knew they were what I wanted!
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Re: Distortion pedal = high gain overdrive pedal?
« Reply #7 on: July 04, 2018, 04:23:35 pm »
the Big muff because I knew they were what I wanted!
I really want one of those too. Which one do you have? I think I want the green Russian reissue but I'm not sure. :)
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Offline DarrellW

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Re: Distortion pedal = high gain overdrive pedal?
« Reply #8 on: July 04, 2018, 04:31:58 pm »
I actually have an original green Sovtec Russian made one from about 1995, it’s a version 7c. I couldn’t bring myself to sell it when I packed up guitars for a while. I gather that the re-issues are pretty good so if you want a Big muff go for it, I don’t use it much now, I was into Pink floyd when I used it a lot, but I would never sell it, it’s too much like family 🤣🤣🤣
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Re: Distortion pedal = high gain overdrive pedal?
« Reply #9 on: July 05, 2018, 12:02:32 am »
I actually have an original green Sovtec Russian made one from about 1995, it’s a version 7c. I couldn’t bring myself to sell it when I packed up guitars for a while. I gather that the re-issues are pretty good so if you want a Big muff go for it, I don’t use it much now, I was into Pink floyd when I used it a lot, but I would never sell it, it’s too much like family 🤣🤣🤣
Super cool! I wouldn't want to have to buy one of those things right now. ::)

I like the Muff tones Gary Clark Jr. and Dan Auerbach get. Having said that, my rig is nothing like theirs so I have no idea what I would get out of a Muff. Context matters!

I've read the Russian reissue sounds warmer and has a different midrange than the other Muffs. But I would take a nice Muff-based circuit too.

I want a Big Muff primarily to round out my overdrives and distortions. I have a soft clipper (King of Tone) a hard clipper (OCD), a germanium Fuzz Face based fuzz (Fat Fuzz Factory) and I think a silicon fuzz like a Muff would be a great addition. I'm interested in the ProCo Rat as well.

I've reached the point where I don't really want jack-of-all-trades pedals. I want pedals with a distinct character. It gives your tone personality and you'll learn to play off of it. This last thing is something to take into consideration.

Example: I'm normally quite a chill, laid back player. Big chords, open strings, hint of chorus, lush delay and reverb. But I go hogwild as soon as I turn on that fuzz. Great fun. :D
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