A Brief Guide To Overdrive & Distortion
In 1961, in a Nashville recording studio, producer Dan Law and engineer Glen Snoddy were recording Marty Robbins’ ‘Don’t Worry’ when a transistor in one of the channel strips of the console began to fail. This failed transistor produced a grainy sound that gave the bass an exciting and innovative tone that breathed new live into the recording. This was the precursor to one of the most popular guitar effects used in music today: distortion.
Fast forward to 1965 where Dan and Glen have teamed up with Gibson to develop a three-transistor schematic for a pedal that recreates the failed transistor sound and boom, we have the Gibson Maestro fuzz FZ-1, the pedal that started it all. Most notably used by Keith Richards on “(I Cant Get No) Satisfaction” the Maestro Fuzz and the birth of distortion brought new life to guitar playing and players alike, helping them push the guitar forward to create new genres of music.In 2018 there are thousands (and I mean thousands) of distortion pedals to choose from, ranging anywhere from low gain clean boosts to crunchy overdrives, all the way to the infamous Boss Metal Zone with its fizzy awfulness. As a young guitar player it can be hard to identify what kind of distortion you’re looking for when starting out on your sonic journey for the first time, so I thought I’d help out by breaking down distortion pedals into three distinct categories, and discuss what genres I feel they are best suited for, and maybe throw in a couple of my personal favorites to get you started.Overdrive:Overdrive is basically a fancy word for crunch, crunchy guitar sounds. The kind of guitar sounds that make you wanna rip a fat blues solo over pretty much any song you’re playing on, and in fairness that’s essentially where overdrive sits best in my opinion. Overdrive is basically a low gain version of a distortion pedal, meaning that the maximum gain increase you can get out of your pedal isn’t actually that high, think John Mayer, not Slayer. Overdrive pedals also tend to focus on boosting the mid frequencies giving your guitar a brighter more full sound for lead playing.Although there are no rules in the pedal world, overdrive is most commonly used in Blues, Country, Classic Rock, and Pop, although it can be seen used in pretty much any genre as its arguably the most versatile of the three distortions being discussed.
Guide to Guitar Distortion
Dan’ Pick: Ibanez Tubescreamer Mini (£52)Arguably THE most famous overdrive pedal on the planet, the Ibanez Tubescreamer has been used on countless hit songs by countless artists such as Stevie Ray Vaughan, John Mayer, Noel Gallagher, Alex Turner, Carlos Santana, The Edge, and so many more. This compact affordable version is the perfect place to start understanding what overdrive can bring to your sound as a beginner and can continue to be used all way through your guitar-playing career. With is transparent tone and easy to play feel, the Tubescreamer is a must have pedal in any guitar players arsenal, end of story.Distortion:Despite the word being used as a collective term for all gain based pedals in the early days, distortion these days tends to refer to pedals that are capable of higher levels of gain than your average overdrive. Predominantly used in most forms of Rock, distortion pedals allows guitar players to achieve massive walls of sound by driving the transistors harder, which in turn overloads your signal giving you a bigger, more distorted sound. Distortion can be found anywhere from bands like Led Zeppelin, Pink Floyd, ACDC, Black Sabbath, Van Halen, Metallica, Slayer, just all Rock. If you wanna rock, buy a distortion pedal, it’s as simple as that.Pro Tip:Some of the most iconic riffs and solos in Rock history don’t actually use as much gain as you’d expect. Try experimenting with the balance between the gain and volume controls on you distortion to get a more classic sound!
A Brief Guide To Distortion
MXR Custom Badass 78’
Dan’s Pick: MXR Custom Badass 78’ (£82):Not the most famous of distortions granted, but this is a fantastic pedal at an affordable price and a great place to start for beginners. This pedal provides classic rock gain in a simple, easy to use box, and will cover most rock styles so you can get a feel for what you like and what you don’t like. It even has a crunch setting, which essentially gives you an overdrive pedal as well! Bargain.Fuzz:We’re back to where it all started. Since the Maestro FZ-1, people have been hunting for bigger, more gnarly distortion sounds, and boy did we find some. Fuzz works by changing the wave of the audio being passed through it to a square wave, which is jargon for making your guitar sound the most distorted that it can. They produce immensely saturated guitar sounds, screaming leads, and endless sustain, perfect for any guitar heavy band. No two fuzz are the same, but an important piece of info to know when starting with fuzz is the difference between Germanium and Silicon transistors. Essentially all that means is that the wiring that creates the distortion inside the pedal work differently, so the tone of the distortion is different. Put simply, Germanium Fuzz is smoother and emits are more classic tone and Silicon produces more gain and emits a brighter more modern sound. It’s not always that black and white but that’s enough info to keep you in loop as you start your Youtube pedal demo search.Fuzz has had many incarnations since its birth in the early 60’s, ranging from psychedelic fuzz used by the likes of Hendrix, Jimmy Page, and Jeff Beck, to the epic fuzz sounds of the 70’s from guys like Dave Gilmour, right up to the 90’s and 00’s with bands like Queens of the Stone Age, The White Stripes, and Smashing Pumpkins. For anyone looking for an epic guitar sound that can shatter windows with its high gain endless sustain, then Fuzz is for you.
Dan’s Picks: Electro Harmonix Big Muff mini range (£67-75) Dunlop Fuzz Face mini range (£90-£130)Two classic ranges of pedals on show here, the Big Muff and the Fuzz Face are both pillars in the Fuzz world. Their signature tones can be found scattered across countless records over the years, and the mini range allows for great tone in a more affordable price tag. The mini range also contains several variants on the original circuits, experimenting with different transistors and components to get different sounds, so there is a Fuzz for everybody!