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Breaking Down the Break-up


If you only have one pedal in your arsenal, chances are it's some sort of overdrive. Fuzz, boost, overdrive, and distortion pedals are probably the most popular stompboxes out there, and in all likelihood the first one you will own. They are also one of the most mysterious and least understood. If you don't have the luxury of being able to crank up a great valve amp to excessive volume to get it's natural, sweet overdrive-and few of us do-you'll need one of these pedals to help generate the singing, saturated, sustaining sound that so many styles of modern guitar playing require. Despite their popularity, however, the distinctions between the different pedals in the "OD" category can get blurred. While each of these pedals help you get cranked up tone at the stomp of a switch, each type affects the signal in a different way, and many ‘similar' pedals can function very differently. Over the next few articles I will attempt to explain the key differences and help de-mistify the fuzzy world of sonic breakup that is overdrive.


Among the simplest and oldest variety of overdrive is the boost. These are quite simply used to increase the guitar's signal-either to create a loud, but relatively undistorted volume lift for solos, or to push an amp into overdrive. Many types of boost pedals became popular in the mid '60s. Ironically these were intended to increase the clean guitar volume but became popular when players realised they actually distorted the guitar tone and famous early examples included the Dallas Rangemaster Treble Booster and Vox Treble Boost. Although they did help treble frequencies push through, they boosted other frequencies as well. These stomp boxes became crucial to the early lead tones of Eric Clapton, Jimmy Page, Brian May, and many others who used their boosters with early Marshall or Vox valve amps in order to kick it into a singing and more harmonically saturated overdrive. With this in mind, most boost pedals are bought not for their inherent tone, but to enhance the tone of an existing amplifier setup as well as providing a boost in volume.


Written By Nick Durant, Allegro Music Chelmsford

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