Clean Up Your Tone & Switch Into Overdrive!
In this video, Leif Sargeant from our Blackburn store looks through some of the simple way in which you can switch between clean and overdiven sounds when playing the electric guitar.
As demonstrated by Leif, many modern guitar amplifiers come with 2 channels built into them. This normally means you can have one channel set up for clean parts and another for overdiven or distorted guitar tones. Whilst simply using the channel selector on the front panel of the amplifier can be useful if you’re simply practising in your bedroom or recording in sections, when playing live many guitarists may not have time to take their hands off their instrument and change the channel by hand. To fix this solution, many two channel amplifiers come with a footswitch channel selector or have them available as an additional add on.
Some amplifiers however may only have one channel built into them, so the question is: “How do I change from clean to dirty?”. Believe it or not, for many years electric guitar amplifiers only had one channel built into them, with many of these types of amps such as those made by Fender still being hugely popular for certain types of music to this day. To solve this conundrum, Leif shows one of the often overlooked techniques favoured by guitarists the world over, which is the controls of your guitar. This technique has traditionally only worked with valve amplifiers rather than solid state or digital amps but as Leif demonstrates, some of the solid state amplifiers today such as the Blackstar ID:60TVP are doing an increasingly convincing job of mimicking how a valve or tube amplfier works.
To start with, find a overdrive sound that you like on the amplifier by using the gain dial and adjusting the EQ controls to your liking. From here, instead of using the amp to change to a clean sound, use the volume control on your guitar instead. You should find that with a lot of the volume rolled off you can get a very clean sounding guitar tone! Without getting too technical, a valve amp gets it’s overdriven sound by sending extra power through valves in the the amplifiers circuit, which drives the signal into a distorted tone. By decreasing the volume on your guitar, you’re sending a less powerful guitar signal into this, which drastically reduces the overdriven effect.
Depending on the song or style of music you play, it’s possible that you may only use one pickup on the guitar for your distorted or overdriven tone. Taking the volume control trick even further, if your guitar has separate volume controls for each pickup such as on a Squier Telecaster Custom, you could get your clean sound on one pickup and leave your other pickup on full volume for your distorted tone. This would mean you could leave both of these set in place and use your pickup selector switch to change between the two, which is almost like using a footcontroller for a two channel amplifier.
Leif also mentions about being on the verge of breakup and the dynamics of a valve style amplifier. This is when you have turned the volume down on your guitar, but so that it is somewhere between a clean and an overdriven sound. This lends itself for a very dynamic style of playing, whereby picking softly will come across as sounding clean whilst strumming or picking the guitar harder will send the guitar into a mild overdrive. Combining this with adjusting the tone knobs on you guitar, I wide range of tones can be found without ever having to touch your amplifier! These techniques are often favoured by many blues guitarists, as it allows them to make tiny adjustments and that often elusive “sweet spot”. Whilst this can take a bit more practice than simply pressing a footswitch, it can be a very useful that will also help you think about the way you play more closely.
In addition to the techniques mentioned by Leif, you can also change from a clean to an overdriven sound through the use of guitar effects pedals. Depending on the type of amplifier you use and how it’s set, you can use different types of distortion pedals pedals to achieve different sounding distortions. You can simply set any style of amplifier to clean, and use a distortion pedal to achieve your distorted tone. You can also set your amp to “the verge of break up” and use an overdrive or boost pedal to drive the amp into a full overdrive sound for a classic rock tone, or add them in a mild setting to an already overdriven sound as a solo boost. A well used trick when recording modern metal guitar parts is to add an overdrive style pedal with the gain turned down to an already distorted valve amplifier setting, which overall creates a clearer and tighter guitar tone. You can also use fuzz pedals to create completely different distortion sounds that can sound very different to a distorted amplifier.
With so many different options available for switching between a clean and overdriven guitar sound, it can be quite daunting! Our best advice is to experiment and find which one works best for your playing style or current equipment, but you could also pay us a visit to try something different. For further guitar and amp related advice, or to try some of our fantastic range of guitars, amps and fx, you can find any of our 8 branches across the north west HERE.