is a distortion pedal meant to simulate power section clipping?

Discussion in 'Effects, Pedals, Strings & Things' started by music321, Apr 12, 2015.

  1. music321

    music321 Member

    Oct 20, 2012
    Greater New York Area
    It's my understanding that distortion pedals are customarily placed prior to an amp's "pre amp" stage. (As we know, doing this can affect the level of signal seen by the pre amp, causing the pre amp to clip more easily. Also, the character of the distortion can be changed).

    Is the purpose of this essentially to alter the pre amp sound, or is it to simulate a driven power section as well? For example, are the various "Marshall" or "Plexi" pedals that are meant to sound like Marshalls and Plexis (but actually don't) attempting to simulate a Marshall or Plexi with the power section cranked up?


    If you have a master volume amp and place a distortion pedal in the loop, I could see it having some effect on the pre amp (by adding resistance to the circuit as a whole). I wonder, though, what effect this would have on a power section that is running clean. Would it cause it to break up at lower volume?

    Why are distortion pedals run prior to the pre amp? Is this an issue of simply wanting to influence the pre amp, and by extension influencing the power amp, or is there some other reason?

  2. wickedcookie

    wickedcookie Silver Supporting Member

    Sep 28, 2013
    Bay Area, CA
    1 - depends on the pedal.
    2 - yes, but it also depends on the pedal.
    3 - depends on the amp.
    4 - depends on the pedal.

    I don't know of any distortion pedal that is intended to be placed in an effects loop rather than in front of the preamp, but assuming the individual pedal in question can handle the level coming out of the preamp, there's no reason you can't put it there if you like the way it sounds.

    But yes, distortion pedals are generally designed to be placed between instrument and preamp, and affect the response of the preamp. Some, like most Marshall pedals as you mentioned, are indeed designed to provide a sound that simulates the way that the power section of the simulated amp breaks up, but that doesn't mean they aren't intended to alter the preamp sound, and that also doesn't mean that you can't use the pedal to push the preamp hard enough to also push the power section of your amp into distortion as well. But again, depends on the pedal and the amp. And for the record, I've heard and played quote a few pedals that do indeed simulate the sound of an old Marshall quite well, especially played at volume with a full band, but again, pedal and amp interaction is a big variable and the pedal generally needs to be dialed in to get the sound you're going for with 5he amp you're using, and some pedals just work better than others with some amps for specific sounds.
  3. jdel77

    jdel77 Silver Supporting Member

    May 25, 2009
    Melbourne, 'Straya...maaate...
    Pretty much the thinking is, into;

    A) a dirty amp: a boost or dirt pedal can add extra gain stages before the preamp. Mod your Marshall for more 12AX7's or hit it with a Tubescreamer. End result is pretty damn similar.

    B) a clean amp: Find a distortion pedal with those certain pushed frequencies that mates well with the clean pushed frequencies of your amp. The distortion pedal now provides the preamp gain, compression and saturation into your amp, and your power section pushes it.
    EG: Rat into a Fender Twin

    Some pedals are designed to capture both the preamp tone and power amp feel of certain amps eg: Menatone, Catalinbread, DAM Sonic Titan etc...etc...
  4. splatt

    splatt david torn / splattercell Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 20, 2008
    yes & no;
    no & yes.
    sometimes not.

    go play; go "run" a pedal anywhere in the signal chain that interests you;
    go try it all; go play more, go out & make an effort to improve & learn & do better.
    this stuff is made for you to experience, for you to try to wring great sounds & great music from it / with it / in spite of it; that's it.
  5. jrockbridge

    jrockbridge Member

    Sep 29, 2008
    Above Ground
    In broad and general terms, I think the answer is, yes. Most dirt pedals are created with the goal of sounding like a saturated amp. However, sometimes, I think people overemphasize the importance of one part of the circuit. Personally, I think many of the best saturated amp sounds are actually a combination of the interaction between the solid state parts in the circuit, the preamp tube parts of the circuit and power amp tube parts of the circuit. It's not as if when power tube saturation is achieved that the SS parts and preamp tubes are doing nothing. It's the sum of the parts and the player that create the great sounds.

    IMO some OD/Dist stomps can feel and sound pretty great in front of a clean amp. Others tend to feel and sound unnatural unless the amp is cranked up pretty loud. My favorite dirty stomps are the ones that work great in front of a clean amp and also get even sweeter when an amp is cooking.

    The problem with painting this subject with a broad brush is that the entire circuit from guitar pickups, through pedals into amp affects the final result. So, as Wickedcookie has already pointed out, it all depends....

    I think there are some specific cases of dirt pedals that, either by accident or intentional design, are not trying to emulate an overdriven amp. Also, there are amp designs that intentionally emphasize the sizzle of preamp tubes as well as dirty stomps that intentionally attempt to ape those sounds.

    Personally, I really like tubes for their imperfections. There's a certain amount of unpredictability to them that can pleasantly color the sound. On the flip side, when tubes begin to fail, they can also add unpleasant sounds to the chain. However, I think some myths about tubes over the years has often elevated their importance beyond the truth. There are so many ways to get great sounds in the modern guitar world that many of the biggest names known for using tubes are using digital/ss. I think many modern pedals are capable of doing most of the saturation/coloration and could fool some of the best "golden ears" in the music business.
  6. a1briz

    a1briz Silver Supporting Member

    Nov 13, 2007
    Near Philly, PA
    Check out kingsley constable as an example of Marshall pedal Designed to go into power amp or effects loop.

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