Distortion Types

Discussion in 'V.C.'s Parlor' started by duceditor, Feb 6, 2019.

  1. duceditor

    duceditor Dr. Squier

    Age:
    72
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    If you are much less than 70 you likely hear "distortion" as the sound of the electric guitar. If you are over that age, as I am, maybe not.

    Some here say they only like "clean." That is a sentiment that I sometimes have shared, but with the realization that no electric guitar is really such.

    I learned to play way before the days of pedals. I did hundreds of gigs with nothing but a guitar, a cable and an amp. That was my entire rig. But did I play "clean"? Not in the hi-fi sense that the sound being heard is the same as the sound the instrument itself produced, just louder.

    The why of this was simple -- and this despite the fact that my earliest gigs played on an electric guitar (Earlier I had played just a few using a microphone amplified acoustic) -- had been through an intended "hi-fi" amp. I.e., one designed to amplify a record player and a microphone.

    It wasn't hi-fi though for this simple reason: It was being played much too loudly be so. Up near "10." And it, the amplifier's electronic circuits and its speaker, were thus overwhelmed.

    And that, folks, is how guitar "distortion" began.

    We didn't call it distortion. We simple called it "rock and roll." Loud. Beat driven. In-your-face. But, still, "sweet."

    Then, later, came "distortion." Intentional. The guitar no longer sounding like a "guitar" but like something else.

    The funny thing is that "something else" is what we today think of as the sound of an electric guitar. Fuzzy. Compressed. Overtones dominating the guitar's essential sonarity.

    Younger players in many cases do no even realize that is what they are hearing.

    Never having used a pedal (apart from a totally an intentionally "unnatural" Maestro Fuzz Tone) back then I, upon re-entering the world electric in the late `80s, started buying "distortion" pedals. One, then another, and then another. I never found one that I liked. Not once. (No, no even today when "distortion" is as often as not a critical component of my sound.) No, what I hear in my head in actual distortion, not something pedal contrived.

    And yes, it is true that a pedal can create that sound. The Joyo Sound pedals being examples of that. But that is why in the several threads about these and other like pedals someone eventually chimes in that these are not "distortion" pedals. They are amp simulators. Each -- the American Sound, the British Sound, The AC Tone and the California Sound -- is replicating the sound of different breed of amplifier being pushed to various levels and thus, to varying degrees being "distorted."

    Does any of this matter? I think it does, yes. Not because one sound is "better" than another. But because knowing and understanding this can train our ear to hear the different types of "distortion" that have made rock sound as it did over the years.

    I, myself, often use modeling amps. But interestingly I do so less now than I did even 3 or 4 years ago. And the reason is simple: I have again taught my ears to make the distinction between pedal type distortion -- ones that square off a wave adding, often, odd-order harmonics, to the even-order harmonics created by a "natural" distortion. And again clearly hearing this I find that it takes just a few amps to get those sounds, and reproduced that way at the volumes I play those amps need not be big or powerful. Moreover using them my rig can again be delightfully simple.

    My Joyo Sweet Baby amp -- 5 watts of Class A power, driven to within inches of its life -- that sound is IT.

    As is the less "distorted" but even more in-your-face sound of my new Supro Blues King 12.

    Read reviews of these amps an you'll immediately see a dichotomy of views. Older guys invariably love them. Wax lyrical about them. And younger guys either do or they don't.

    Again, this is not a matter of "right" or "wrong." But it IS a matter of what kind of distortion we hear. What we look for.

    Some will say that one of these styes is no distortion at all. But it is. It is the sound of early, pre-artificialized rock. And Chicago blues. Yes, even early British Invasion.

    Learn to hear it.
    Maybe even learn to use it.
    If not instead of, then in addition to.
    Doing that you'll have a bigger palette of sounds.

    To this old timer at least, "In-your-face clean" is likely the best "distortion" of all.

    -don


    Ultimate Rock Machine WEB.jpg Two Supros Ready to Work.jpg
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2019
  2. Taurus

    Taurus Squier-Nut

    Age:
    25
    654
    Sep 8, 2018
    Liverpool, United Kingdom
    This was really interesting, myself I’ve never been into pedals or effects, I’ve always been like this maybe “old school” but I prefer to plug in and play. For me, if you add pedals and effects and all that stuff I prefer to throw that all away and play an acoustic, keep it simple

    I just prefer to learn to play the instrument itself rather then focusing so much on pedals, effects and these small stuff. For example, learning Hendrix Purple Haze on my Strat, I didn’t even use an amp and I was getting the sound and tone. That might suprise some as they make out you “have to” or you “need this pedal to get the
    tone”.

    I think 3 things, for some type of music, you may need pedals, other types, pedals will make a small difference but not much (maybe suitable for high level international gigging bands and musicicans but too much for most people). But I think there is also a high element of marketing there, “you need this pedal for the hendrix tone, you need this pedal for the rory gallagher tone”, etc.

    Maybe I’m just old fashioned, or just lazy. But yeah I’ve always been more focused on the amp too, now I am interested in different amps. I have a small home use Vox practice amp, which I love, but I would also like to experiment with a Marshall one day, I was impressed with one before. I prefer different guitars and different amps over pedals. But to me if it gets too much, I just think stuff it all and play an acoustic, no small specific stuff then, just you, your playing and the instrument. All about practice and playing
     
    duceditor likes this.
  3. Caddy

    Caddy Dr. Squier

    Age:
    71
    Nov 29, 2010
    Indiana
    Back when I began playing in bands, back in the late 50's, the last thing we ever wanted to hear was any type of distortion. If we did hear that we were looking to solve the problem, bad cable, bad tube, bad connection of some sort.

    I much later (actually recently) learned that Chuck Berry used a bit of OD. At the time, and up until then, we had always thought that sound was due to poor recordings done at Chess Studios and always wished that they had sounded better and clearer.

    That OD, distorted sound is never what I think of when I think of electric guitar sound. To me it doesn't sound like an electric guitar, but more like another instrument altogether. I can't stand to hear even a few seconds of it. I know I am old, but my wife who is a lot younger and grew up in the late 60's and 70's dislikes it maybe even more than I do (if that is possible).
     
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  4. wonkenstein

    wonkenstein Squier-holic

    Feb 3, 2017
    NH
    "In Your Face Clean" is probably the best way I've heard that sound explained. That sound a few of us grew up with. You've got that guitar you're playing, whatever it is.... and it's going straight into the tube amp that you've got set "just where you want it". Depending on how you're laying into the guitar you're hearing exactly what the amp sounds like every second...but you still have the sense of the guitar you're playing.

    That Brownface, Blackface, Marshall, Vox or Ampeg, in the 15 to 45 watt range, for example. Power it up, standby on, set the volume about 2 or 3. Treble, middle and bass at 12 O'clock. It's warm enough to play in a couple of minutes. Sounds nice and clean, just a hint of break up with a full chord or when you dig into a note a little harder. 90 minutes later that amp is a totally different animal than it was when you first turned it on. Your amp is at full operating temperature.... everything mounted on that chassis is completely hot. The amp is clipping, the preamp tubes are totally compressed, the power tubes are juicing up the output transformer and the speaker is trying to take it all.... that tone is right in your face.

    No, it's definitely not hifi but it sure does require some good hifi to record it!
     
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  5. Triple Jim

    Triple Jim Squier-holic

    Until a few days ago I usually played with a tube amp overdriven one way or another. Not a lot, but what I call "blues distortion". Then I finished my '65 Princeton Reverb clone, and am currently on an ultra-clean kick. I previously never had a use for tremolo or more than a little reverb, but now find that moderate-high reverb and some trem really create a good sound for some playing.

    The new amp has also caused me to dump my compressor for now. There's something fun about a guitar plugged into a vintage type amp and nothing else, like you started with @duceditor.

    Variety is the splice of life.
     
  6. wonkenstein

    wonkenstein Squier-holic

    Feb 3, 2017
    NH
    That dynamic sound and tone.... That natural distortion... The kind of harmonic overtones you can't get with a pedal. And yeah, the reverb and vibrato is part of what the amp does.... You really do hear your guitar, too. When Don brought this up it made me think of the way jazz players like Johnny Smith and Wes Montgomery sounded... Blues man Freddy King. I'd be remiss if I didn't recall the great tones we heard coming through the 60s and 70s from the likes of Jeff Beck, Jimmy Page, Carlos Santana, Eric Clapton. Think about how these are all clean players.... Every one of them was easily identifiable, too.
     
    Last edited: Feb 6, 2019
  7. Caddy

    Caddy Dr. Squier

    Age:
    71
    Nov 29, 2010
    Indiana
    If you think that those guys sounded like they were playing clean then you have a far different idea of clean than I do. I would call Chet Atkins, Jorgen Ingmann, The Ventures, Hank Marvin with the early Shadows, or even Buddy Holly, and James Burton while playing with Ricky Nelson as guys that played clean. Some reverb, but clean.
     
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  8. duceditor

    duceditor Dr. Squier

    Age:
    72
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    My first introduction to that sound was hearing it live. Yes, numerous Chicago bluesmen playing -- touring -- at small clubs such as I used to frequent in the Village, and up a half notch toward "accepted" and produced music when John Hammond put across the idea of linking Mike Bloomfield with the Paul Butterfield Blues Band. Recorded live, without studio tricks

    No pedals needed. It was all "in your face."


    Bloomfield and Bishop.jpg Butterfield and Bishop.jpg






    What would call that? Clean? Or distorted?

    There's nothing artificial there. That's just a man an his harp and another man and his guitar -- on this recording a Tele plugged directly into a Fender amp.

    Record companies had no idea how to record music like that. All the old studio tricks and stuff killed it.

    The recording above ("Born in Chicago"), and the rest of the Paul Butterfield Blues Band album took three tries -- two in the studio and then, when that didn't work, one made live with no cuts and/or fancy tricks at all.

    This was naked music. Call it "blues." Call it "rock." This is what got my musical juices flowing as I came out my "Abstracts" stage and took on a "teenyboppers be damned" attitude.

    Here another track. A basement track of my own post Abs group, The Brave Maggots.



    Clean or distorted?

    Be assured there was not a pedal within sight.

    But 'in your face'? Oh, yeah!

    Well, to my ears anyhow. :)

    -don
     
  9. wonkenstein

    wonkenstein Squier-holic

    Feb 3, 2017
    NH
    Quoting Don verbatim here -

    "Some will say that one of these styles is no distortion at all. But it is. It is the sound of early, pre-artificialized rock. And Chicago blues. Yes, even early British Invasion."

    He's absolutely right. No distortion pedals and there is no substitute available in the form of a pedal, not even close.

    The Paul Butterfield Blues Band is the perfect example, too. This band moved like a muscle. When they got to the west coast they were playing "man's music". There wasn't anything trippy or psychedelic about anything they did. Pitch-specific note bending.... solos were built dynamically with the entire band involved and yes indeed when the dynamics come up you can hear the amps clipping. The Flower Children had no idea what hit them when these guys hit the down beat. But they learned. Yup, I am still a big fan......

    Thanks Don!
     
    duceditor likes this.
  10. wonkenstein

    wonkenstein Squier-holic

    Feb 3, 2017
    NH
     
  11. duceditor

    duceditor Dr. Squier

    Age:
    72
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    This, btw, is just the sound that Blues King 12 is designed for.

    Yes, it has those two gain boost switches, and with the power amp now controllable they sound okay to my older period ears. But it is the sound without them that -- that "in you face" brashness that i am loving.

    Interestingly no guitar sings better though it than the Black Holiday, both PUPS running. To me that is pure magic.

    -don
     
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  12. otma

    otma Squier-holic

    Nov 4, 2012
    Owen, Wisconsin
    Often I like to mix clean guitars with od/distortion guitars, but the latest piece I'm working on is all clean, on a very clean amp.

    https://picosong.com/wJJcS/
     
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  13. oneLOCOman

    oneLOCOman Squier-Nut

    Age:
    64
    977
    Oct 2, 2018
    Missouri
    I just play at home no gigging, just an old hacker. I went through 3 amps, GC is great on there return policy, thank goodness. Tried modeling amps, not for me sound seemed to artificial. Finally got me a 1w Blackstar tube amp, crank that little baby up and boom, that's what I hear in my head, and it doesn't blow the doors off.
    IF I need to crank it I use a little OD pedal.
     
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  14. gearobsessed

    gearobsessed Squier-holic

    Aug 21, 2013
    new zealand
    I've learnt to say dirty in place of distortion to avoid time wasting arguments such as, that's overdrive not distortion!! Who really cares? I plug gear in, turn knobs till it sounds good and then play the dam thing!!
    After trying dozens of pedals, the ocd (and the ehx clone of this, the od glove) and the crowther hot cake are the only two pedals I like that are affordable. I know there's cheaper clones of these pedals too (joyo ultimate drive) but I haven't used any except the joyo stuff.
     
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  15. RetiredNSquired

    RetiredNSquired Squier-holic

    Age:
    64
    Jun 20, 2018
    Canton, Ga
    The funny thing about it is, (And this is STRICTLY in my case), Every OD pedal I use, including the American Sound, is an attempt to get that natural amp driven sound at a level I can actually play in my apartment. I've been able to get it to my satisfaction, especially the tweed and brownface Princeton type tones ( 2 of my favorites). But I really would like to get it in a situation where I could just really let it rip!
     
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  16. wildelectric

    wildelectric Squier-Nut

    Age:
    41
    559
    Sep 23, 2016
    Western Illinois
    I've seen quite a few shows in Chicago blues clubs. I've played in Chicago blues clubs. The narrative of the city's music history is still easily tapped into.

    Many modern artists playing more traditional (even what can ultimately sound like icepick clean) blues there today use an OD or distortion pedal to color their tone. The blues players in that city "back in the day" would distort as a mainly unintentional byproduct of playing exceptionally loud.

    I can't speak for whatever the volume and distortion zeitgeist has been in any other major music city.

    My $.02.
     
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  17. duceditor

    duceditor Dr. Squier

    Age:
    72
    May 29, 2014
    The Monadnocks, NH USA
    Some good observations as well as thoughts in your comment @wildelectric

    I've, sad to say, never made it to Chicago. But I came to love the sound of that music when many such Chicago musicians -- then far from the national mainstream -- visited small clubs in Greenwich Village. That was in the mid `60s.

    Slowly, oddly, mostly via British groups such as the Rolling Stones (and a few non-mainstream, but still popular, American groups such as the Paul Butterfield Blues Band), their music spread and started being heard.

    I'd not be surprised if younger Chicago bluesmen used more modern tools to make their music. Many -- yes, even myself for a period -- dove into the Chicago blues sound from a more mainstream (even, as in my case, "teenybop") rock background. And naturally our tools came with us.

    What matters in the end is the music. The tools are for serious musicians merely that -- tools-- used towards a musical end. (None of those guys I got to know back then were into instruments themselves as so many of us are here) But for all that the ears of older guys like me do hear and make a distinction in tones.

    I hear many musicians with favor and pleasure who use pedals for "distortion." Their music stands on its own and much is wonderful to my ears. But there is a distinct sound that my ears learned to love back in the sixties clubs. Small venues.

    I'd habitually get to the club early and choose a seat may 6 to 8 feet from Michael B or the 'lead guitarist' in the Muddy Waters band. (On one occasion Paul Butterfield placed his harps and the glass of water he soaked them in on my small 'club' table.)

    The photos I posted earlier were shot with a "normal" lens. Not a Telephoto. Being that 'close' was for me the typical listening post

    Searching for that sound at acceptable home levels has been for me a lifetime endeavour. And for me no pedal has come anywhere near close.

    Amazingly my Line 6 DuoVerb has done the job sans any pedals -- that by well modeling classic amps played at that drive level. And for a time I was quite happy playing a Tele through a Marshall 900 Dual Master Volume -- something some would consider almost an unholy act. ;)

    But the Supro Blues King 12 with a Speaker Soak is I expect for me the final answer.

    If you love that sound that amp definitely calls out to be heard!

    Used at small club volumes it'd I think be perfect with nothing more needed than a guitar and a cable. No, not even that Speaker Soak.

    It's a total wowza!

    -don
     
    Last edited: Feb 9, 2019
  18. fuelish

    fuelish Squier-Nut

    I'm really liking the Speaker Soak....it gets along quite well with my Tweaker
     
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  19. archetype

    archetype Squier-Nut

    856
    Oct 24, 2017
    Williamsville, NY USA
    OP that’s a perfect explanation. The Maestro Fuzz Tone is also the perfect example of the difference in philophy between amp distortion and pedal distortion: in the Maestro’s printed instructions were settings for using it to make your guitar sound like a saxophone.
     
    duceditor likes this.
  20. wonkenstein

    wonkenstein Squier-holic

    Feb 3, 2017
    NH
    Our ears will take us in some amazing directions when we want to hear something 'just so'. This has been a really great discussion so far. We're still after something because we're still playing....... I'll throw another super clean guitar player out there who got the most elegant tones with his chord voicings, hand dynamics and natural amp break up - Mr. Johnny Smith. Some of you folks already know about him.
     
    duceditor likes this.
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