Overcoming "tone suck"

Discussion in 'Effects, Pedals, Strings & Things' started by StompBoxBlues, Nov 11, 2005.


  1. StompBoxBlues

    StompBoxBlues Member

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    This would be a great time (for ME...everything is all about me now isn't it :) ? ) for any folks that have figured out ways to overcome "tone suck". Specifically the loss of highs when running through pedals.

    I know a few ways offhand...not sure about the third.

    1) Only buy "true Bypass" but that isn't the complete answer.
    If you have too long a run with cables, or too many pedals each with patch connecters to the next (lots of folks don't know...anytime you have two metal pieces non-soldered making just physical contact with spring clips...you also introduce capacitance...which tends to lose highs) you need at least one or two "buffered" pedals.

    2) Loopers. Effectively keeping your "problem pedals" completely out of the circuit when not in use. Problem is of course...when you use that loop, you are back to the main problem. Small solution might be an EQ pedal in the loop trying to bring up the lost highs.

    3) Don't know...this is just an idea, but I have seen a couple of "treble-boosters", and was thinking that might be a partial fix/workaround. Off the top of my head, I think you would want to use it in front (upstream closest to the guitar) of the pedals, because you want to boost the guitars' higher frequencies to try and balance out so when the drop some db's they are even with how it sounds without.

    4) Similarly, an EQ pedal could maybe be used to either preserve (same way as the "treble-booster" in number 3. Seems while you got it in line you could also make small other adjustments to dial in total sound...maybe even better than a straight run.

    Just to be clear on this...I am not a "cork-sniffer" but I would have told you two days ago "my pedals don't make that much of a difference in the sound...it's MOSTLY all there" but I just spent some time with a new (and crystal clear, great sound...a Hot Rod DeVille 4x10) amp, and I went back and forth with pedals and straight...Of course, the BEST way is an A/B type box where you could quickly go from one to the other to compare.

    But anyway, I started with all my "normal" pedals hooked up. Lots more noise (also tried different amp setups, some where the amp was up high, the guitar vol was limiting, some where the amp was turned down (less noisy) guitar up between 8-10) with the pedals even turned off.

    The surprise came when the pedals I was "sure" were the culprits (like my Dunlop non-modded wah) got taken out...roughly the same "tone suck". Started removing pedals one by one...and still was hearing significant suckage.

    I won't name names because I ended up with one pedal, still suckage, but even though I tried both cables (from guitar and from pedal to amp) separately, it still could be them in line together...I gotta test more tonight.

    This was an eye opener. I warn you now though...if you LOVE pedals, and have not used some method to minimize suckage, beware doing a compare like I did. Problem is, if you discover how much you are losing, you will first want to just sell all your pedals. That isn't the answer.

    I would just like to hear from anyone here that has encountered suckage, and used some or any of the methods above, OR come up with something better, and HOW you noticed the suckage...how significant was it? Dramatic? Slight?

    I have no control over it but would like to keep pedals unnamed mostly, because it isn't what this is about, and it may not be the pedal but other factors (cords, other pedals, order) but I am very interested still in where the TB pedals go, where you used buffered, just anything that works or is a good solution.
     
  2. aquadog

    aquadog Member

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    I'm not a very knowledgeable in this field by any means, but whenever I run a line of say 4 or 5 true bypass pedals, I just turn up the presence to taste. Works for me at least.
     
  3. erksin

    erksin Member

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    I'm currently running 6 TB pedals, the only thing I've found that will help bring back the highs and clarity is to use a high quality buffer. I've getting by with my LR Baggs Para DI, but have an Axess BS-2 on the way as I type. The difference is very noticeable when you include a good buffer - like taking a blanket off the amp...
     
  4. theelectic

    theelectic Guest

    Let's look at where "tone suck" (loss of highs) comes from in the first place: loading of your guitar's pickups. Your guitar's pickups can only drive a small load, and can be easily loaded down by the volume pot in your guitar (turn down volume pot), too much cable, or an effect with a low input impedance. All of these result in loss of highs. The most logical, and best thing to do is to eliminate tone suck at the source - use active pickups, or have a small buffer preamp in your guitar so you can run any amount of cable, or run into any input. The active preamp is capable of driving a large load without any problems.

    Now most folks don't like to have batteries in their guitars, or the stigma of active pickups. So, the next easiest solution is to run a cable from your guitar to a buffer, and then run everything after that. The buffer converts the high impedance signal of your guitar (which is easily loaded down) to a low impedance signal (which is not easily loaded down) so you retain all the highs/purity of your signal in the first place.

    There's a great article on impedance, buffering, and building a buffer here:

    http://www.generalguitargadgets.com/diagrams/buffer.jpg

    I like to run an "impervious" system in the first place - guitar (w/EMG pickups) into amp. This way, I know I'm getting everything out of the guitar and can run any amount of cable (within reason) with no loss of highs. Then add any effect as necessary, true bypass or otherwise.
     
  5. stratovarius

    stratovarius Supporting Member

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    I don't have any experience with this but it does look interesting:

    Redeemer
     
  6. theelectic

    theelectic Guest

    The EMG PA2 will give you the same performance at 1/3 the price. Distrust anything guitar related that uses the word "audiophile" in their marketing. The amount of snake oil in that world is staggering, god help us all if it starts to infect the guitar world. The fact of the matter is, none of their numbers make any sense when it comes to guitars.

    - frequency response: your amp's speakers can only reproduce frequencies up to around 3kHz, after that there's a steep dropoff - who cares about 50kHz response?
    - no guitar amp has a dynamic range of 118dB, so you're not going to hear noise that low. Your guitar's pickups have noise higher than -118dB as well.
    - you wouldn't be able to hear 0.1% distortion, so who cares about 0.0009% (1/100th of 0.1%)??? Add this to the fact that the typical amp already has 1-100% distortion!!!
     
  7. ABKB

    ABKB Member

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    I'm currently running a large number of effects with passive pickups in a FHRD 2/12 as well. A few things help, and the suggestions here are all good. First is great cables. Once I switched to George L's, a lot of my highs returned. Second is high quality buffered pedals (if they are not TB), I am not a big fan of Boss, but I have a couple of thier pedals and they do have good buffers. third, I also use a boost near then end of the run, an EQ, or treble booster or something like a mxr micro amp, heck even a bad monkey with the gain turned down will help as well. Four, as somebody mentioned playing with a presense knob on your amp (if you have it, I know the Hot rods do). If you do three of those 4 things, especially with the cables, your suckage should be down to almost nothing.

    I am also of the school that there is less to this than some make it out to be. Yes it is a problem, but there are endless examples of great guitar tones using poor cords, poor buffered pedals, poor eq's (if any) and no boosts (Hendrix anybody?). So it is worth trying to fight against tone suckage, but not enough to lose sleep over. After I make my first million, I will get a looper type rig, but until then I am ok.
     
  8. LarryOM

    LarryOM Guest

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    Here's a small suggestion. Channel 1 of the ISP Decimator ProRackG also serves as a great buffer. With it's 470K input and low output impedance, I can place a TC Electronic M-ONE (13K input imp.) between it and my pre-amp for pre-distortion EQ and effects, without suffering tone suckage.
     
  9. StompBoxBlues

    StompBoxBlues Member

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    This is some great information.

    The presence knob (D'oh!), I'm ashamed to say, I didn't even think about that at all....I'll definitely give it a try.

    Sounds also sensible about buffered pedals first...the problem often is contradictory information. Some pedal makers (most noticeably often with OD or fuzz pedals) even mention "my pedal likes to be first in the chain...guitar right into it!". I don't know how extensively (not all that much I'm guessnig for boutique pedal makers) they test their pedals interaction with other pedals.
    The other thing, I have a feeling there are trade-offs...a pedal designed to work optimized for use with buffered and other typed of bypass or even ON, will probably not sound as good alone?

    Also, I have always bee skeptical about claims that cables made such a big difference, but I am not too proud to admit that maybe I'm wrong...I ought to give it a chance anyway. I'll check out those George L's and see if i can hear a difference.

    This is all realy welcome info...I have passive pickups and I won't be changing that I think, but all this is good info...love to hear more suggestions or analysis of how to keep that "tone suck" at bay.
     
  10. Hamer95USA

    Hamer95USA Member

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    [​IMG]

    Hey StompBoxBlues,

    Get the VHT Valvulator I buffer/power supply or the Axess Electronics BS-2 buffer. Install it before your effects pedals. It will eliminate the noise from the pedals being hooked up together, the loss of highs and lows due to cable capacitance and some effects poorly designed buffer circuit. I had the problems you mentioned, read the reviews for the VHT Valvulator I, bought one off of E-bay and installed on the pedalboard in the picture above. A great investment if you use a lot of analog or digital pedals.

    Guitar George
     
  11. StompBoxBlues

    StompBoxBlues Member

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    Thanks for the suggestion...I definitely will check it out!
     
  12. landru64

    landru64 Member

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    i had cornish buffers on both ends of my board and it still didn't sound much like going straight in. tonally, yes, it was clearer and quite neutrally so compared to a lot of buffers and such i've tried, but there is a hardness i associate with all buffers. just sounds more 'electronic'. i suspect this is a phase artifact, not a frequency response issue.

    i still haven't solved the problem, other than taking apart the board and using whatever pedals i need for the moment. The drag control in my switchbone (available as a separate unit, btw) is pretty great at making the amp sound and feel like i'm going straight into it. i highly recommend it, even as it's not perfect...
     
  13. aman74

    aman74 Supporting Member

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    As far as cables go, no need for the "audiophile" type, but something low cap. like a George L's or others does make an honest difference for a low cost. I hate snake oil too, but I think most people agree that capacitance will make a difference, if it's for the better that is a preference thing. Some people want to cut some highs.

    As far as buffers go, I've use a Zvex Sho and it's cool since it's great as a boost too. However I wonder about how much affect a buffer has after it hits the first pedal? Certainly having the high input impedance of the buffer and low output impedance helps to run some long cable, but doesn't that change as soon as you hit the input of something new? I have a hard time believing that a nice buffer magically maintains an original signal through pedals, but I'd love to hear an explanation of how it would and how the quality of the buffer makes a difference in that aspect.

    Also, about the Valvulator, how does it reduce noise?
     
  14. theelectic

    theelectic Guest

    Some effects work better if they've driven from a low impedance source. Then again some work better if they're driven directly form guitar pickups (wahs, fuzz face type pedals). In a modern, stage performance context though, these "direct" issues can (and should) be overcome IMHO.

    Anyway with a buffer, it's also a potential noise issue as well, if the effect is prone to picking up RF having an isolating buffer in front can stop that. In terms of keeping tone, think of it this way: say you have two setups:

    A) guitar>buffer>true bypass effect>amp

    B) guitar>true bypass effect>amp

    With setup A, the buffer is feeding the true bypass effect. When the effect is OFF, you still have the buffer in line. Very little loss of highs.

    With setup B, when you click the effect ON and set your tone, the effect itself acts as a buffer and unloads your guitar signal, making it sound brighter, and you set your tone/presence accordingly. Click the effect OFF, and your guitar is now loaded down by a bunch of cable (potentially if you run 20feet or more). Now your amp sounds slightly dark, so you turn up the presence/treble to compensate. But then when you click your effect ON, it sounds too bright. So you back off on the effect's tone control (if it has one!) but then it doesn't sound right. etc. etc.

    Now I don't think buffers are the be all and end all of tone preservation. You have to like what you start with (hence I can live and enjoy EMGs) but I have heard, and more rightly, felt, that certain "hardness" with certain buffers.
     
  15. Dr Rico

    Dr Rico Member

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    The answer is within a previous post in this thread. A substantial part of the effect (I don't think it "sucks tone"...) is due to loading on the pickup. If you plug straight into the amp in the "high" input jack of a typical Fender amp or suchlike, the pickup is "seeing" an ~1 million ohm load. In many pedals, the input impedance is less than a million ohm...sometimes alot less...High quality buffers for guitar and suchlike typically have an input impedance of about a million ohm (IIRC, the ZVex SHO is closer to ten million ohm), so the pickups can squirt their love goo without tossing it away. However, for some, too much of a good thing is a bad thing, and the softening effect of a lower input impedance on the first device following the pup can be desirable. Guitar manufacturers understand this and place volume pots in guitars that are tuned to the average impedance (etc) of the pickups to provide a high enough resistance to ground in the guitar with the volume up to maintain "desirable" levels of highs, but not too much resistance to ground as it can allow "undesirable" levels of high through. If you wish, yank a 250K set out of a typical strat with passive low output strat style pups and replace with a 1 megaohm volume pot. ZING! This is a more complicated issue than I laid out because pickups are curious devices that act as inductors and resistors, but I think this is ok for this level of discussion. For those of you with expanding minds and consciousness, there are plenty of electronics manuals..

    <N.B. Whether or not "highs" or "warmth" is the goal is your call...that's how I feel about the the whole "tone suck" issue....FEEL, however is another matter entirely!>

    The next part of the equation is that buffers typically have a low output impedance. Running a low impedance output makes the difference between output impedance to input impedance on a typical electronic device more favorable for retaining highs. Even "crappy" pedals with very low input impedance can present a high load to a low impedance output. Whether or not this is good is case dependent (reference: Fuzzfaces, buffers and loss of vibe, control, etc...). So to a first approximation, once you have satisfied the need of the guitar pups at the first input stage, the other devices more or less take care of themselves through the chain.

    HOWEVER, the last device in the chain will tune the response at the amp. If it is a very low impedance output, there will be a large differential at the amp (usually close to one megaohm load, yes?). This can "preserve highs" but can make it "feel hard" (there's way more to this, but I have to make breakfast for seven teenage girls...don't ask). Many folks like to run a high quality buffer at the end of the effects chain to "drive" the cable to the amp. That preserves the "tone" coming form the effects, but can monkey a bit with the "vibe" (sorry). One way around this is to tune the load at the amp input (like using the "low input" on a Fender amp), but that will also mean you have to turn up the amp or goose it with a booster a bit more to get the goods (not that that is a BAD thing!).

    So, short form: If you are a Tone Suck Worrier, then toss a "good" buffer close to the guitar (the Axess unit is nice) and another with, say a boost function, at the end of the chain (a ZVex SHO is nice). When I do this, I feel like I'm wearing a rubber, but hey...Oh! and as Andrew said before, you can tune this stuff at the guitar end with a Radial Drag Control (available in some of their pedals and as a stand-alone device. I have the latter, and it works quite well to get back some of the "vibe"...not all, but...).

    Off to take care of my teen-o-ramic home.
     
  16. aman74

    aman74 Supporting Member

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    Thanks electic and Rico, gives me some ways to look at it and learn from.
     
  17. Impulse 101

    Impulse 101 Member

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    If you have not looked at the Axess Electronics BS-2 I would highly recommend it.

    Mario at Access is a truely class act than makes great stuff that solves problems for modern guitarists. All of his products are no BS solutions to stuff that we all come across.

    I have a new version GRX-4 on order and I will be ordering an FX-1 in the next year, possibly with an expander. (The GRX-4 has a BS-2 buffer in it.)

    A good friend of mine, was having the same problem with Tone Suck as many guys who use a train of pedals. The BS-2 solved his problems and he's thinking of ordering another one for the other end of his pedal board.


    JT
     
  18. remnantdesign

    remnantdesign Member

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    theelectic,

    That's a pretty strong statement for having never tried the Redeemer. Unless you have tried it, you don't know how it would compare to the EMGPA2 or any other product.

    The Redeemer is a brand new product and there is nothing like it on the market. It is not a pre-amp. It does not "boost" anything. It actually "unloads" the electronics on your instrument and down your entire signal chain resulting in remarkable tone preservation. You have to hear it to believe it. Go to http://www.tonedonkeys.com and read the article on "tone robbers" for a technical explanation of what the Redeemer does by one of the guys who runs the company that created it.

    I have tried it. So have quite a few major session players and artists/musicians touring nationally. Creation Audio Labs have "Dealer Demo" boxes that allow you to A/B switch between the Redeemer circuit being in line or true-bypass passing signal through. The difference in tone with the Redeemer and without the Redeemer is remarkable, actually.

    The hardest part is trying to "tell" someone what "it" sounds like. But when you actually play a guitar or bass through the Redeemer circuit you can hear and even feel the difference. The strings are more responsive and the leading edge of sound is actually faster. Without the Redeemer you hear the pick hitting the string before the sound comes out of the amp. With the Redeemer you hear the sound from the amp first, and the whole range of tone is clear and present, frankly like I have never heard before. And thats what everyone else who has tried the Redeemer has said when I've talked to them as well.

    You can even plug your guitar or bass directly into the line-in of a mixer (when you are using the Redeemer circuit) and get a vastly superior and crystal clear tone than with a direct box or pre-amp. Major producers and recording engineers are talking about how much note separation and clarity they have been able to get with it than they have been able to before.

    So I wouldn't be so quick to discount and bash a product you have never tried and that you don't understand. The Redeemer is brand new, but the company that created it is going to be at the NAMM show in California in January sharing a booth with the George L's folks and Visual Sound. And the George L's company invited them into their booth because they believe in their product and are helping them distribute it.

    I live less than 10 miles from the Creation Audio Labs shop and the George L's office and have been to both many times. I have a Redeemer installed in my Fender Jazz bass with active EMG pickups in it, and I won't play without one again.

    So, my recommendation would be to try one out. Ask your local music store about trying one out it or contact the company directly. They are pretty nice guys and happily show their stuff to everyone who asks and wants to stop by. Read their product testimonials page.. They seem to be adding new artists endorsing the Redeemer each week.
     
  19. erksin

    erksin Member

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    I just picked up a BS-2, definitely works as advertised. I was using my LR Baggs Para DI as a buffer for my electric pedalboard and it sounded good, but the BS-2 sounds better. I could always hear a little bit of the LR's EQ in there somewhere (hard to describe), whereas the BS-2 sounds very transparent. I'm using it as early in the chain as possible (after a wah and fuzz - they don't like the buffer in front) and have had great results with it restoring my clean tones.
     
  20. sarge

    sarge Guest

    Sarge here, in response to theelectic.

    Well, it would seem like we have a bit of a different point of view and possibly some different technical training. In fact, the spec numbers of the Redeemer install unit make perfect sense, concerning guitars or any other audio product. The Redeemer specs are for the Redeemer, not the speakers or the dynamic range of an amp. The Redeemer circuit is very “audiophile” in the truest sense of the word. These specs are real and beat the vast majority of all pro audio gear, including the very high end recording equipment. The point here is that the Redeemer is a very “boutique” install unit that doesn’t color the tone of an instrument in any way.

    This unit is crystal clear transparent sonically…no snake oil here…it does what it says it does! No one really cares about 50kHz response, the point is that the circuit is flat with no roll-off and has no phase shifting. If speakers only went to 3kHz, how bad things would sound! Speakers do roll-off very quickly, but to state that they only reproduce up to 3kHz is a bit off…..and we ought to know, our company is a certified JBL speaker repair/recone facility. We test them babies way up there!

    And for the low noise floor and distortion specs…you wouldn’t want a poorly designed thing attached to your sound would you? The Redeemer was designed to handle the signal chain very differently than the usual pre amp or boost circuit. No boost, no tone coloration, no snake oil! For 60 years electric guitars and basses have suffered from a bad combination of pickups, volume pots, cables, effects pedals, and amps. Things are changing! If you would be interested in the Redeemer story check out
    CreationAudioLabs.com or ToneDonkeys.com. See who’s playing the Redeemer in their guitars. Watch and see who will be playing them very soon. See the Redeemer projects at the NAMM show in January, booth #5721.

    Now here is the thing that I find really puzzling…how does theelectic know how the Redeemer sounds or what it does? At the time of this response (17 NOV 2005) we know where every single Redeemer unit is…last time I checked, he didn’t have one! I’d be delighted to have him come to the shop here in Nashville, and I would personally demo the Redeemer with his guitar and amp of choice, personally install one for him if he liked it…our compliments…no charge…no hard feelings!

    It is much wiser to actually compare things rather than to just categorically dismiss them based on opinion. And indeed, best to be fairly skilled and working in the pro audio industry if you want to bandy about specs. Guess what everybody…we have a secret weapon….his name is “Skip.” If you don’t know about him….you don’t know about pro audio! theelectic, please get in touch with me, I’ll be right here! You need to hear a Redeemer!
     

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