• The Gear Page Apparel & Merch Shop is Open!

    Based on member demand, The Gear Page is pleased to announce that our Apparel Merch Shop is now open. The shop’s link is in the blue Navigation bar (on the right side), “Shop,” with t-shirts, hats, neck buffs, and stickers to start. Here’s the direct link: www.thegearpageshop.com

    You’ll find exclusive high-quality apparel and merchandise; all items are ethical, sustainably produced, and we will be continuously sourcing and adding new choices. 

    We can ship internationally. All shipping is at cost.


Explain High Gain v. Low Gain Distortion Pedals

makefast

Member
Messages
94
So I'm new to guitar (I have been playing upright and electric bass for years, but just bought my first guitar a month or so ago) and to effects. I keep hearing specific pedals referred to as High Gain or Low Gain. Googling has turned up nothing as to what that actually means (probably because the search is so generic).

Can anyone give me an 'Idiot's Version' of what that means? Maybe some classic examples of OD that falls in the 'high gain' category and some in the 'low gain' category? Is one more suited to specific genres?
 

DecoWaves

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,104
Just to sort of provide a starting reference .... and this will be overly simplistic,

On a scale of 1 to 20, if 10 represents the most amplified (loudest) point of the guitar tone you can achieve without any distortion of sound, then ...

Light Gain would be found between levels 11 ~ 15 where there is a light break-down of the sound clarity starts to occur and more crunch is introduced as it is turned up BUT the original cleanish tone is still identifiable in the mix.

Heavy Gain would be 16 ~ 20 where the distortion is overpowering the clean tone and/or there is a very heavy fuzz ... the nature of the distortion is dependent on the type of pedal/circuit.

All of these sorts of pedals are to simulate the natural break-down of the signal in an "over-driven" amplifier WITHOUT having to actually turn up the amp. Think: The possibility of playing Heavy Metal on an bedroom amplifier with the volume only at 2.
 

makefast

Member
Messages
94
So low gain pedal would be trying to emulate when the amp is just breaking up (ie., I'm not going to get the buzzy hard clipping out of it, but just light tube growl) while a high gain pedal is trying to emulate the heavy overdrive?

Put another way - low gain pedals try to make blues distortion while high gain pedals try to make metal distortion?

Does a high gain pedal at a lower drive setting (if it has that knob) dial back the fuzzy compression to low gain levels or does the voicing of the pedal mean that you can't get that sound out of it?
 

DecoWaves

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,104
... one additional note that I thought of as I scanned through some other threads just now,

You will see all sorts of descriptions being used to talk about different overdrives and distortion like, "Fuzz with clarity". As I mentioned before, there is different sorts of overdrive pedals that utilize different circuits/techniques to create a certain effect style. Such pedals can also utilize various EQ settings or adjustable controls to establish different "voices". For instance, many new Big Muff variants introduce a "Mid" boost to allow the Guitar tone to sit above the general wall of fuzz inherent to the distortion type which is helpful for solos --> Think: David Gilmour's (Pink Floyd) Solo Tone.

For the light overdrive stuff, people will talk about being right at the cusp of break-up and the tone being "more transparent". Basically, you can read this as being ... the guitar has a nice solid tone that, as one digs in and plays a bit harder, the distortion starts to happen. I often think of this from classic rock days as the use of distortion started to be introduced more but had not yet reached the "Jimi Hendrix Experience" sort of levels.

Again, this is all very overly generalistic but maybe helpful in providing a foundation.
 

msnes335

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
2,498
So low gain pedal would be trying to emulate when the amp is just breaking up (ie., I'm not going to get the buzzy hard clipping out of it, but just light tube growl) while a high gain pedal is trying to emulate the heavy overdrive?

Put another way - low gain pedals try to make blues distortion while high gain pedals try to make metal distortion?

Does a high gain pedal at a lower drive setting (if it has that knob) dial back the fuzzy compression to low gain levels or does the voicing of the pedal mean that you can't get that sound out of it?
It's a spectrum. A low gain pedal, cranked all the way, is still not going to get you into Death Metal territory, and a high gain pedal turned all the way down, probably won't get totally crystal clear.
 

reo73

Member
Messages
1,248
In my mind...

Hi Gain = Everything from AC/DC to Meshuggah

Lo Gain = Everything from just slightly dirtier than clean up to AC/DC. Rolling Stones might be an example.
 

DecoWaves

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,104
Example/comparison; I can achieve some solid Tom Petty sounds in the LOW-GAIN setting of my Barber Gain Changer and, switching to the High-Gain setting would put me a territory more appropriate for Guns N' Roses. If I want Smashing Pumpkins, I would kick-it-up even higher to a Big Muff where there is almost an ever-present wall of sound.

That being said, might I suggest looking at the Barber Gain Changer as a pedal to consider specifically because it has both the Low-Gain and High-Gain voicings along with some solid EQ controls. If nothing else, search youtube for some of the demos of the Gain Changer and/or the Barber Compact Direct Drive (the British Flavored Gain Changer) as they will give you good examples as to low-gain vs high-gain.
 

Sociophile

"Ignore" Button Aficionado
Messages
2,047
Can I flip the answer on its head?

Most OD pedals are in the "low-to-medium" gain range.

Most distortion pedals are in the "medium-to-high" gain range.

Virtually all fuzzes are in the "high" gain range, and it's merely the texture of the break-up that you're adjusting.

Using that, we can come back to some of the insights provided above and say that low levels of gain are meant to emulate an amp that is beginning to break up, while higher levels of gain are meant to emulate an amp that is beginning to distort (or even one on the edge of imminent structural failure).

Common features of gain include compression, sustain, harmonic overtones, and signal feedback.
 

guitarsngear

Member
Messages
44
Most OD pedals are in the "low-to-medium" gain range.

Most distortion pedals are in the "medium-to-high" gain range.
+1 - as shown there is some overlap between the two types OD and Distortion but generally this. Also it should be noted that pedals are designed to be sweet in a certain range. What I mean is can you turn down the gain on a 'metal pedal' distortion pedal - yes - but will it replace a lower gain overdrive - no - because that is not where it is meant to play and will not sound nearly as good a properly gained OD. The reverse is true for ODs trying to do metal.

With OD pedals you also have different ranges and flavours - most ODs will cover a fairly similar range but usually are designed to shine more in certain settings. For example Klon type pedals are usually used for very low gain, just pushing into breakup or boosting an amp on the edge, they do this very well and is where I would say the majority of people use them. Tube Screamer (TS) type pedals tend to shine more with a higher gain setting, you can turn the gain down, but again I think you will find that the majority leans towards the TS or OCD sound for higher gain than what Klon and Klone users would be after.

That being said - decide if you want an OD or a Distortion pedal - then decide what characteristics you want from that pedal and choose one that shines in that particular use.
 

makefast

Member
Messages
94
Thanks for all the replies. Definitely understand better now. I understood the OD/Distortion/Fuzz spectrum, but didn't understand exactly how different OD pedals fit into that.
 

guitarsngear

Member
Messages
44
Thanks for all the replies. Definitely understand better now. I understood the OD/Distortion/Fuzz spectrum, but didn't understand exactly how different OD pedals fit into that.
Make a post describing the type of OD or distortion you are looking for, perhaps a band that has a similar sound you are looking for along with a budget and ask for suggestions on pedals - that will give you lots of suggestions to start with. From there youtube reviews, try in store etc until you make a purchase.
 

ChampReverb

Gold Supporting Member
Messages
11,728
Can I flip the answer on its head?

Most OD pedals are in the "low-to-medium" gain range.

Most distortion pedals are in the "medium-to-high" gain range.

Virtually all fuzzes are in the "high" gain range, and it's merely the texture of the break-up that you're adjusting.
I would add that there are a fair number of fuzz pedals (but not all fuzz pedals) that sound really good at lower gain settings and/or when turning your guitar volume down.

So fuzz is not necessarily a high gain affair.

Also, even though my primary interest is lower gain overdrive sounds, I tend not to like distortion pedals but I do like a lot of fuzz pedals. To my ears, distortion pedals often sound really thick and groomed and congested whereas the fuzz pedals I like sound more ragged and open.

Personal preference.

-bEn r.
 

Sociophile

"Ignore" Button Aficionado
Messages
2,047
I would add that there are a fair number of fuzz pedals (but not all fuzz pedals) that sound really good at lower gain settings and/or when turning your guitar volume down.

So fuzz is not necessarily a high gain affair.
Absolutely correct! It's not the norm, but there are important exceptions. The Skreddy Hybrid Fuzz Driver comes to mind, and I have had excellent luck running my FuzzHugger Doom Bloom as an OD for my 7-string.
 

makefast

Member
Messages
94
Make a post describing the type of OD or distortion you are looking for, perhaps a band that has a similar sound you are looking for along with a budget and ask for suggestions on pedals - that will give you lots of suggestions to start with. From there youtube reviews, try in store etc until you make a purchase.
Not really shopping at the moment, was just trying to understand things better. Right now I'm enjoying messing around with my volume knob and the natural tube distortion of my amp.
 




Trending Topics

Top