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Less Gain = More Tone?

david henman

Member
Messages
3,184
...for way, way too many years, i sought to get tone from my o/d boxes.

the gain/drive knobs were always set as high as they could go before everything just turned to mush.

i was never satisfied, and it always seemed like every guitarist in the world sounded much better than me.

so, i kept trying to push the gain even higher, with even more disappointing results.

frustrated, i finally started going the other way, mostly out of curiousity.

well, hmmmm, i seem to be onto something here. now i'm actually "hearing" the tone of the guitar. and the amp.

i keep pushing the gain/drive controls on my o/d boxes lower and lower, so that i still hear the essential character of the pedal, but as an "enhancement" of the original tone of my guitar and amp.

many of you probably figured this out a long time ago, correct?

-dh
 

Dave Orban

Platinum Supporting Member
Messages
16,866
...for way, way too many years, i sought to get tone from my o/d boxes.

the gain/drive knobs were always set as high as they could go before everything just turned to mush.

i was never satisfied, and it always seemed like every guitarist in the world sounded much better than me.

so, i kept trying to push the gain even higher, with even more disappointing results.

frustrated, i finally started going the other way, mostly out of curiousity.

well, hmmmm, i seem to be onto something here. now i'm actually "hearing" the tone of the guitar. and the amp.

i keep pushing the gain/drive controls on my o/d boxes lower and lower, so that i still hear the essential character of the pedal, but as an "enhancement" of the original tone of my guitar and amp.

many of you probably figured this out a long time ago, correct?

-dh
Took me quite a few years to figure it out. ;)
 

Telecaster62

Member
Messages
3,484
I'm with you. I took all but one OD box off my board. I now run a booster for solos, one OD for a little push now and then and amp. Period. I cut through the mix and the guitar is always fat and warm but well defined. My new motto is just enough gain to make the amp sing and no more.
 
Messages
2,988
I'm not sure if it's experience and skill or if the human ear actually changes with age, but this is a common experience/realization.

When I was younger Jimmy Page sounded really heavy to me (like he was using a ton of dirt). In trying to copy his tone, I set up my amps and pedals with a lot of gain because that's what I thought it sounded like.

Now when I listen to Zep I cannot believe how "clean" many of his tones are; overdriven yes, but hardly heavy dirt. More and more I like the amp with a bit of "hair" when playing rhythm and chords. Less gain and digging into the strings gives a lot more tone.

TG
 

Moe45673

Member
Messages
5,944
Yes! Always.

I set my ODs to "just below mush" but don't experience the negative effects you do. Maybe one mans mush is another mans veal?
 

somedude

Member
Messages
7,603
many of you probably figured this out a long time ago, correct?

-dh
It took a number of years.

These days I think of gain in terms of compression... as in, how much compression do I require to get this sorta sound. Obviously, if I'm playing heavy chugga chugga palm muted stuff I need a bit more gain and sizzle, but if I'm playing heavy riffs with little muting I can cut the gain back quite a bit, particularily if I have some power amp compression to stretch things out.
 

somedude

Member
Messages
7,603
I'm not sure if it's experience and skill or if the human ear actually changes with age, but this is a common experience/realization.

When I was younger Jimmy Page sounded really heavy to me (like he was using a ton of dirt). In trying to copy his tone, I set up my amps and pedals with a lot of gain because that's what I thought it sounded like.

Now when I listen to Zep I cannot believe how "clean" many of his tones are; overdriven yes, but hardly heavy dirt. More and more I like the amp with a bit of "hair" when playing rhythm and chords. Less gain and digging into the strings gives a lot more tone.

TG
Sometimes I'll set my amp with the gain up around 3 or 4, and it sounds quite distorted.

Then, I'll play something heavy for a bit, so I push the gain up to 6 or 7.

Then, when I drop my gain back to 3 or 4 it sounds nearly clean.

Funny how the mind works.
 

Strat58

Member
Messages
2,124
Hi yep less gain and higher strings will bring you into toneland back again, I use a Blues Pro and adjust with mine volume for gain. the Blues Pro is set at in the middle.
It works for me oh yeah I play with Fender Deluxe Reverb (r) and Les Paul or Strat.
Peace Strat58
 

enocaster

Member
Messages
5,273
+1 to everything that's been said, especially the surprise when really listening to classic recordings. I use 2 OD's and a fuzz - all set to low gain, and very rarely all 3 on at once.
 

thesjkexperienc

^^^ I made this guitar^^^
Messages
4,723
True! If you listen closely the original heavy players played rather clean by todays standards. Kills me when guys with a channel switching amp and a distortion box and a Les Paul claims to nail Page's tone.
 

gls500

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
777
I didn't figure this out until I started playing out. Then the gain knobs went WAY down.

Too many guys that I hear still use too much distortion.
 

emperor_black

Member
Messages
335
volume >>>>>> gain
almost. What I've seen, at bedroom volumes, you need lot more gain than while playing at ear-shattering levels in a band. Also, I've seen decrease the gain and push the front harder using a clean boost or OD pedal. Works wonders even if the amp/pedal has all the gain you could ever want. That's probably the reason why EMG's are so freakin popular. They have a LOT of clean boost which drives most amps and pedals to the extreme.
 

blood5150

Member
Messages
5,642
Same thing with EVH's Dave era tone....

People dont realize how clean it is....they always try to push so much gain to cop his sound but it never comes close....
 

roquero

Bold Supporting Member
Gold Supporting Member
Messages
1,439
I had the same experience- the gain on my amps [Sovtek Mig60, JCM 800] are now set low, and the volume maxed out with power tube breakout- a THD Hot Plate helps too
Rarely do any of my dirt pedals get about 10 AM o 11 AM on the gain knob
 

Lolaviola

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
8,532
Yes.
With most o/d boxes I've found that they like the level (vs. the gain,) to be up as much as possible --it seems to let more dynamics through.

Funny related story: I've been browsing ebay for one of those Marshall Lead 12 practice amps, because back in the day the were a great re-creation of VH and Ozzy tones. Well, on more than one ebay description, the seller disclaims the Marshall Lead 12 as, "...NOT a high-gain tone." and "You're gonna need a pedal to get Heavy Metal sounds." I guess the definition of high-gain changes based on your generation.
 
Last edited:

afterburner

Silver Supporting Member
Messages
1,548
I'm not sure if it's experience and skill or if the human ear actually changes with age, but this is a common experience/realization.

When I was younger Jimmy Page sounded really heavy to me (like he was using a ton of dirt). In trying to copy his tone, I set up my amps and pedals with a lot of gain because that's what I thought it sounded like.

Now when I listen to Zep I cannot believe how "clean" many of his tones are; overdriven yes, but hardly heavy dirt. More and more I like the amp with a bit of "hair" when playing rhythm and chords. Less gain and digging into the strings gives a lot more tone.

TG
kind of happened to me too. I think now that my ears are more developed I hear things differently. Especially now that I have more experience playing live.

Typically, I turn down the gain on the OD boxes cos when I play live, the amp adds a bit more breakup cos they're turned up louder.

The other thing I think I should add is that now I have IMHO better quality gear so I don't seem to need as much gain to get the sustain I need. Back then, I had to crank the gain on my DS-1 just to get a fat tone that sustains. With something like the Crunch Box, the gain knob halfway up is enough! No offense to DS-1 users, but this is my experience.
 

Mr. Limbic

Member
Messages
3,096
but where does the sustain come from? i understand every concept stated above and agree with it if your a jazz, country, blues picker, but one of the smaller venues i play (est. 250 people) I use an rc boost, bd-2, and a rat...i had actually been trying this method for awhile but found with my style of electronic fusion (esp when having to cut through a guy playing 2 synths at once, a dj spinning, a bass player hhitting the low end hard, and a schitzo drummer) needed at least one pedal with a noon to 3 oclock setting, and the rest just set to boosts...so in my experiance I would say the bigger the venue the lesser amount of gain bc you are cranking your amp more, and to think of your pedals or amp drives and boost as different gain stages ranging from (how I set mine at least) clean, rhythm, clean lead, riffs and heavy rhythm, searing lead...this is just how i do it because just a boost pedal with my amp doesnt produce a lead tone that cuts through with sustain and makes people scream hah
 

aziltz

Member
Messages
1,539
i use less gain on the pedals, but get more from the combination of small pushed amp and comp/clean boost after the dirt pedals. tech 21 double drive is about as heavy as a pedal as i'll ever use.
 




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