Welcome to 'Top Tone Tips'
Tip 1. What is tone?
So lets dive right in with the most difficult question to answer. Tone is a word that gets thrown around without any real consideration as to what it is, why some guys have it, and why some dont. In all my years of being so heavily involved in this field I have developed a theory that might help explain it a bit better. Click on the image for the Tone Theory PDF.
Tip 2. What's the best order to put my pedals in?
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The order of effects in your pedal chain is a big factor in combined effects guitar sound. Does the overdrive go before the chorus? Does the delay go before the flanger? The actual answer is…you can do whatever you like. Experimentation is the key. BUT, we can offer you a good place to start from. If you use this as a general rule, you won't go far wrong.
1st Germanium Fuzz Had to start off with this as germanium fuzz pedals are so incredibly sensitive to what goes into them. So if you have a germanium transistor Fuzz Face or Tone Bender type fuzz pedal, start off with it right at the front of your chain. It may not end up here, but hear it first with just your guitar going straght in.
2nd Envelope Filter and Tone Shaping Effects.
These include Auto Wahs and Wah pedals. These effects rely on the dynamics of your guitar tone and should be the first thing you signal sees.
3rd Phasers/Vibes/Flangers This might sound a bit unusual, but try it. Phasers work so great going into gain stages such as OD's or preamps. Flangers can work great at the end of the chain but for that Van Halen type flanger tone, it needs to go right at the front before the OD's
4th Compression Compression can work well with a variety of different pedals, so best to have it close to the front.
5th Overdrives, Distortions and Fuzz's
And in that order. If you go from the least amount of drive to the greatest amount of drive you can get some pretty cool combinations. A low gain pedal can be a great solo boost into a higher gain pedal, but the other way around can often spell disaster. There is one major exception to this rule - Germanium Transistor boosters such as Fuzz Faces, Octavias and treble boosters. The nature of the design of these effects means that they don't like to see the buffer from another pedal at the input. They prefer to see the guitar pickup. So if you have one of these type of pedals, best to stick it at the front before any buffers.
6th Modulation Effects
These include chorus and tremolos. It can also include flangers, but I personally prefer them right at the front with phasers. The specific order of the modulation effects is probably the least important as you rarely use more than one at a time and if you do is more a sound effect than a toneful combination.
7th Delay effects
A good rule of thumb here if you use multiple delay effects is to put your short delay before your long delay. Adding a nice drawn out delay on top of a slap back effect can sound quite cool.
8th and finally Reverb
Technically speaking, reverb is actually a delay effect. Very short delays combined to give the effect of being in an enclosed space. Think about what happens when you shout in a hall. That's the delayed sound of your voice bouncing of the walls. Leaving this effect till last works well with many different combinations including clean and dirty sounds.
Again find the sounds and combinations that work for you.
Tip 4. What causes popping in amplifiers?
Have you ever noticed a pop when you change pick-ups, or turning on any true bypass effect switch? Most of the time, this can be explained by what is called a D.C. input offset. What does that mean?
It's basically when your amplifier input which should be sitting at 0 volts has drifted to a different level. When your guitar is plugged in and playing normally, the input is given a ground reference and everything works great, but when you break the circuit, even for a fraction of a second like selecting pickups, or with true bypass switching, that voltage drifts back up to a different level. The pop sound is when the circuit is reconnected and the voltage comes back down to ground with a THUD!
So what can be done about it?
There are a few things, so here's a few to try. Measure to see if it is on the input of the amp. Plug a normal guitar lead into the input and see if you can measure any DC voltage between tip and ground. If it reads anything other than zero that could be a big part of your problem. You may need to look at the valves or the filter caps in the amp.
On pedals you can use a pull down resistor on the switch so the there is always a reference to ground which helps enormously but be careful of the value, you don't want to effect the tone of the pedal. Most people use a 1 meg resistor with good results. The resistor goes from the output of the switch to ground.
HOWEVER, if there is leaking DC on the input of the amp you may find it very difficult to solve this problem even with a pull down resistor on pedal. If this is the case make sure you get a qualified tech to look at the amp.
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