Choosing the right distortion pedal is crucial. Your 'voice' depends on
you selecting the right tool (or tools) to express yourself. Selecting the wrong
distortion pedal can have serious impact on your guitar playing, and can even
result in playing less due to your unhappiness with your tone.
The first, and most obvious, step in selecting the right distortion pedal
is to determine what musical genre you're going to primarily use it for. Will
you be playing vintage thrash metal, or modern country? These days most effects
pedals are fine tuned to be genre specific. This is not always the case, but
enough so to help a user reading this beginners guide. Once you've determined
the genre of music, you'll need to match it with the distortion pedal most often
associated with that genre. Lets take a look at a list of classic distortion
pedal sub categories:
Fuzz- Fuzz pedals are primarily thought of as the domain of classic
rockers like Hendrix, but modern day artists like the White Stripes are getting
some amazing results.
Ike Turner and the Kinks achieved their landmark tones by using abused
speaker cabinets. Ike dropped his on the street walking in to Sun Records to
record Rocket 88, the Kinks cut their speakers with knives or so the legends
have it. No matter how they got it, their tone changed the world. Some call it
distortion, some call it fuzz, however, seeing the progression from these
damaged speakers to the fuzz boxes built to emulate those tones, I think its
safest to call what Turner and Davies created/stumbled upon was fuzz.
Overdrive- Overdrive pedals are generally thought of in a blues rock
setting. Stevie Ray Vaughn was a big believer in overdrive pedals.
When most guitarists talk about overdrive, they are referring to the
smooth 'distortion' produced by their tube amps when driven to the point of
breaking up. Overdrive pedals are designed to either replicate this tone (with
limited success) or drive a tube amp into overdrive, creating those screaming
tubes beyond what they normally would be able to do without wall shaking volume.
Distortion- Based on our above definition of overdrive, distortion is
where overdrive leaves off. In the rock guitar world think Van Halen and beyond
for a clear example of a classic distorted guitar tone. Distortion pedals often
emulate high gain amps that create thick walls of sound small amps are not
capable of creating. Distortion pedals are crucial to modern guitar tone.
Now that you've matched your musical genre to the distortion pedal most
associated with the genre the real fun begins- testing them. Before you begin
testing you'll want to read reviews, listen to audio clips and watch video clips
posted all over the internet to find some good candidates.
You're going to want to test the pedals using equipment as close to your
own as possible. If you can, I would recommend taking your guitar to the shop
and test drive the pedals with YOUR guitar. Because there are so many different
variables including body and neck wood, pick-up, string gauge and many more,
using your instrument as opposed to something off the shelf is the best way to
Don't forget you're going to need another cable- 1 to go from your guitar
to your distortion pedal, and another to go from distortion to your amp. 2
cables of 5 feet in length will be perfect for most settings. Longer cable runs
are a mess and bring possible tone loss. Shorter cable runs might make mobility
tough... and lets face it, its hard to jump from a drum riser (or bed) if you're
tethered by a 3 foot cable.
Dennis Mollan is the founder of Pro Tone Pedals. With 20 years experience
as a practicing guitarist coupled with his formal education in music theory and
audio engineering Dennis has become a noted resource in all things rock guitar
related. Pro Tone Pedals was founded in 2004 to provide hand built high quality
guitar effects to modern hard rock players. In the four years following, the
Dallas Texas based company has had the opportunity to work with some of the
biggest names in modern rock music. Pro Tone Pedals have been on tour and in the
studio with Velvet Revolver, Alice In Chains, Rob Zombie, Ministry, Prong,
Poison, Overkill, Fear Factory, and the Cult.