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Secrets Of Tone - Pre-Distortion EQ!

Contributor: TC Staff    Rating: 4/5    Views: 8122389

I have been on a wild tone ride lately, actually probably for the past 7
years, ever since I bought my first boogie, I have been looking for answers
to my tone dilemma. Now, the end to the long journey seems close at hand.
Many of the things that I have always heard are right. Tubes are better,
analog is better. they are all right. Really, at the most elementary level,
Keith Richards was right when he said.. "it is the right guitar with the
right amp". That might not sound like much, but it really is true, there
are some guitars that sound better in some amps, and some that don't.
Marshalls and Gibsons, especially Les Pauls with humbuckers sound good. it
is no accident that so many players have chosen that combination.

But the real secret I have learned is that tone is about compression.
The guitar being an unusual lead instrument in that in order to sustain a
note, it needs some sort of manipulation of the note.. hence.. compression..
or as it is more commonly called.. distortion, overdrive, or fuzz. What it
took me awhile to learn was that compression also comes from effects.
Effects are suppose to add to the original signal, but they also compress
the signal, that's why they all have input and output level controls. And
that's why analog effects are so much nicer than digital effects. The
slight amount of compression added by an analog effect is smoother and more
pleasing to the ear than a digital effect, especially when combined with

Speaking of distortion, you can have pre-amp compression/distortion or power
amp compression/distortion. Pre-amp compression is fine and dandy, and has
probably be more researched by more amplifier builders than any other
amplifier function. And because of this, we have had many fine
accomplishments in amplifier technology when it comes to pre-amp
compression. One thing I eventually learned is that power tube compression
has a very nice tone to it. So the secret is to concentrate on smaller
amps. 20 to 40 watts is fine. If you have to play a bigger place, mic it.
If you buy a bigger amp, like a 100 marshall, simply pull the two inside
tubes to bring it down to 50 watts. If you want to go a step further,
substitute THD Yellowjackets power for the tubes, which will bring down the
power amp volume even more and allow for power tube compression. So you
could use a classic 100 watt plexi at 20 or so watts..

Personally I don't bother with combos any more, I realize the real fun
is with heads and cabs. Of course, the matching cab that goes with the head
probably sounds the best. But there is so much variety out there, and it
really boils down to a weight issue. A nice 2X12 cab is usually easier to
haul than a average size 1X12 combo. And most heads lighter than most
combos. Plus, most good combos are usually available in head format. And
there are so many great heads.. fender dual showmans, marshall plexis,
rivera rake, vht pittbulls, the list goes on and on.
The journey will continue, but this is the basis for tone happiness.
think compression. Keep on the journey tone junkies. Don't believe what I
say.. see for yourself!!!"


Hi T,

Thanks for your article on Tone, we have a few other Pre-Distortion EQ-ing tone secrets to add:

o Put an EQ-pedal before preamp distortion - such as before amp's input.
You can also use an overdrive pedal that has tone controls, before the amp's
preamp distortion.
o Turn guitar's volume control down to 5-7 for more treble.
o Use a power attenuator, such as the Hot Plate or Power Brake.

One of the first things every guitarist should do is run out an buy an EQ pedal and
a power attenuator (Hot Plate is unsurpassed)

I recommend that everyone have an EQ and Hot Plate available, for
flexibility of Tone and volume. Having this gear on hand expands the range
of combinations of Tone and SPL available. Having an EQ and Hot Plate
available does not narrow your Tone down to one sound; it expands the range
of sounds and the volumes at which you get those sounds. I take it for
granted you have multiple guitars, tube amps, and overdrive/distortion
pedals. The main thing missing from such a collection, if the goal is to
get more Tones and more volume levels, is EQ and power attenuation.

To complement a typical solid-state beginner's amp, I would recommend buying
an EQ pedal (for pre-distortion EQ control) before buying a distortion
pedal. People still treat the Hot Plate as an exotic, unusual device. They
still talk about the "secret" of pre-distortion EQ. That should change.
Pre-distortion EQ and power attenuators should be as common as distortion
pedals, because they can open up a wider range of basic amp tones than
adding a distortion pedal usually does.

The goal I address is to expand the range of basic amp tone and at a wider
range of SPL's -- to get a wider range of sounds out of a standard amp.
Adding a distortion or overdrive pedal is comparatively unnatural -- it's
adding a lot of processing. EQ and power attenuation are more like
assisting the amp to do what it does, with added range. It's more like
opening up the voicing range of the amp itself rather than adding

-TC Staff

Contributor: TC Staff    Rating: 4/5    Views: 8122389

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