It seems like a strange idea, to spend so much money on a full valve high gain guitar amplifier like a Peavey 6505, Soldano SLO-100 or (my personal favourite) a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier, and put a solid-state overdrive pedal in front of it. You’d be forgiven for thinking this makes no sense; don’t valve amps sound better than overdrive pedals? And if so, why does every single pro-level guitarist, engineer and producer insist on doing it?
Here’s a video explaining exactly why; keep reading if you’re not able to listen to it.
The simple answer is yes, valve amps sound fantastic by themselves – but there’s something we can do to help them sound even better. Rather than getting our high gain sound from an overdrive pedal, we use it to embiggen a guitar’s signal. By doing this, we give the amp more to work with – allowing for brighter, tighter, more powerful gain tones than we could get by plugging the guitar straight into the amp’s input.
But why then use an overdrive? Wouldn’t a simple boost pedal do the job better, and more transparently? Well, yes, it could, but by utilising an overdrive pedal’s tone controls, we can pre-shape the tone the amp sees. By boosting the high mids, the amp’s gain structure can push the signal further, making the top end clearer and the low end tighter and more responsive. If you’ve ever noticed that there’s a slightly loose, flubby feel to the bass response of your high gain tone, you’ll know what this sounds like. With the overdrive preparing the guitar’s sound before it hits the amp, this unpleasant looseness can be dialled out while leaving your tone full, thick and aggressive.
Could you not simply reduce the bass from the amp’s controls to get the same effect? No, not really – the reason is that because the wave of your guitar’s signal is larger when boosted, there’s more detail for the amp to utilise, and you can get the same sonic savagery while using less of the amp’s gain. The end result is, put simply, a better tone.
If you haven’t already, get yourself an overdrive pedal and give it a go. It’s hours of fun and the difference between good tone and excellent, how-do-they-do-it tone.
Thanks for reading – remember to email me if you have any questions I can help you with!