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Thread: What is it with guitar players and too much distortion?

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  1. #1
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    What is it with guitar players and too much distortion?

    While distortion is certainly a key ingredient to many great tones, it is sadly abused. I'm sure I'm guilty of using too much distortion from time to time as well (we all know how much fun it can be) but I like to think that when it comes to actually performing music in public I have some situational awareness and dial in something appropriate.

    Friday night I saw three different tribute bands:

    • Led Zeppelin - the guitar player had a Les Paul and a Boogie Mark series (not sure which one). When I saw the Boogie I thought "uh-oh" - I figured he'd be like a lot of players and crank the distortion. Surprisingly, he had pretty darn good tone. Nice clean tone as well. When he used the middle position on the LP it really sounded pretty damn good. So far, so good.
    • AC/DC - "Angus" had a pretty good tone using a Marshall half-stack - perhaps a bit more gain that he should have but nothing that detracted from the vibe. "Malcolm" had way too much distortion. Despite using a Malcolm Sig Gretsch he used enough distortion to mask the tone of the guitar completely and provided little contrast to Angus on the SG. 'Twas a shame, it would have been cool to hear a nice crisp Gretsch.
    • Iron Maiden - these guys used WTF amounts of distortion. Iron Maiden definitely used some distortion but it's much more of the cranked Marshall + overdrive variety than a butt load of preamp gain with scooped mids.
      Both guys had full stacks. One had a Boogie Rectifier with one of those Boss GT pedals running into the front end and the other dude had some full stack buzzing bees sounding rig. At least they each used a bunch of delay too. The result was a sea of mud. There is no way you're going to get a tight crisp Maidenesque sound by diming the gain and using a bunch of delay. The only thing providing any sort of definition was the bass player.


    Saturday I saw two different cover bands:

    • Band 1 - a popular local band with players that have been around a long time - the main guitar player had some custom made PRS/McInturf/Briggs looking guitar into a Blackstar head. His clean tone was terrible. It's hard to imagine getting a much worse clean tone. But it was better than his dirty tone. He had way too much distortion. Couple that with the smiley face EQ and you have a tone that buries itself. This guy also fell into the trap of having a clean tone that was much louder than his dirty tone - you can't trust your perception of the loudness when you dial in levels - a dirty tone will always sound much louder than it actually is. I think a lot of guitar players don't really think this through. So the singer played some guitar too. His tone made you really appreciate the other guy. He ran a Les Paul with a Sovtek head of some sort. It was one of the worst sounds I've heard someone make with an electric guitar. Imagine tons and tons of distortion combined with no mids and no bass. While I'm ranting, the bass player's tone was crap too. He actually had decent chops but he too had that scooped EQ on his bass rig so all you heard was clank/whoooom clank/whoooom over and over with no note definition.
    • Band 2 - another somewhat popular local band with players that ought to know better. The lead guitar player was ok with his gain but he fell into the clean tone is louder than the lead tone trap. The singer is another story. He used to have a small Boogie combo which sounded fine - he's not a great player but he made it work. Now he's using some Crate modeling amp. He only used one setting - it was probably labeled Brutalz or something. There was so much distortion that nothing he played was identifiable. Perhaps someone playing metal would have made this work but they play roots and pop rock and he's pretty much of a strummer on the guitar. Awesome.
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  2. #2
    Opaque John Beef's Avatar
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    What's even weirder is when the actual bands themselves use a hell of a lot more gain than the music they recorded 30 years ago. I'm thinking specifically Rush and Thin Lizzy. Recent Rush live shows I've watched on TV, Lifeson's tone is too much gain burying all the intricacies that make him such a great player. I also saw a Thin Lizzy show on Palladia, and they insisted on having three guitarists with so much gain on each guitar that it just sounded like "chchchchchchchchchccchhhhhh".

    The worst guitar tone I've ever heard was this guy who was in a band with my father in law. The guy was running a red knob Fender M80 half stack and a pointy shred guitar. He managed to simultaneously be too quiet to be heard and also have so much treble dialed in that it would make your ears bleed. It doesn't make sense, and I never would have thought it was possible, but I witnessed it firsthand!
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  3. #3
    Yup, have experienced this as well. Another issue is that a lot of people use chorus and delay to hide a really bad clean sound but make it only worse.

    Any of these bands, if they gig often, should know that what (maybe) sounds good at home will sound completely different in a band context, such as scooped mids etc. Also, even with Rectifiers that rely on preamp gain, the gain can actually be turned down when playing louder than bedroom volume - and the bass can be turned up again. I find that to get a decent sound at bedroom volume, I have to use higher settings (except bass) than when using the amp with the band.

    Lastly there's of course the issue of using the wrong stuff. If I were in a Maiden cover band, I would not chose a Rectifier. Sure, Channel 3 on my Roadster coupled with a TS can get somewhat in the ballpark, but if you play in front of people with a tribute band, it would be so much easier just to approximate the stuff Maiden is using. Like you wrote, a boosted Marshall-type sound would be fine. So why even bother trying to make a Recto sound like a Marshall?

    But using lots of distortion makes it easier to play (and to hide mistakes or sloppy playing). Maybe that's a reason why it is so overused.
    Alex

  4. #4
    Right on, Tim!

  5. #5
    chief Shawn@PRS's Avatar
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    Remind me to cross off the following names from the guest list of my next gig.
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  6. #6
    Quote Originally Posted by Shawn@PRS View Post
    Remind me to cross off the following names from the guest list of my next gig.
    Hippie Tim
    John Beff
    Fox 77
    Les Schefman



    LOL !!


    Just to be clear: I'm guilty of using too much gain as well haha
    Alex

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    Senior Member sergiodeblanc's Avatar
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    What is it with bass players not using enough distortion?

  8. #8
    Opaque John Beef's Avatar
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    No kidding! You should see my wife's pedalboard. Big muff, Fulltone bass drive, Boss Blues Driver. Variety! Though the Fulltone sounds absolutely massive.
    The Bovine Fury <-- stream and download our album "Eleven by Twelve" for free.
    05 Custom 22 with DGT pickups ~ 07 Mira with old birds ~ 08 SE Baritone Fralin/Suhr pickups ~ 03 SE Santana

  9. #9
    Senior Member gush's Avatar
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    Well what do you think they hear when they play? I think over gaining is the most commen mistake guitar players make.

  10. #10
    Name Manglin' Putz alantig's Avatar
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    What is this 'too much distortion'? Can you put that in English terms?

    Quote Originally Posted by John Beef View Post
    No kidding! You should see my wife's pedalboard. Big muff, Fulltone bass drive, Boss Blues Driver. Variety! Though the Fulltone sounds absolutely massive.
    Must not comment....must not comment...please never mention that first pedal in this context again, I'm cramping up over here!
    Alan

    "I watched approximately 45 seconds of 'Rock Of Ages'. It was like getting punched in the soul." - Abby Krizner

  11. #11
    Quote Originally Posted by alantig View Post
    What is this 'too much distortion'? Can you put that in English terms?
    It's very simple: Where T = Threshold of crappyness, D = distortion, and P = poop, if D>T then P.

  12. #12
    Name Manglin' Putz alantig's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by LSchefman View Post
    It's very simple: Where T = Threshold of crappyness, D = distortion, and P = poop, if D>T then P.
    I still really enjoy playing, and I've heard myself, so I must have a very large value of T - I can use infinite distortion!
    Alan

    "I watched approximately 45 seconds of 'Rock Of Ages'. It was like getting punched in the soul." - Abby Krizner

  13. #13
    Cream Crackered Mikegarveyblues's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alantig View Post
    What is this 'too much distortion'? Can you put that in English terms?



    Must not comment....must not comment...please never mention that first pedal in this context again, I'm cramping up over here!
    Only the word perdalboard to spare his wife's blushes!
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  14. #14
    Opaque John Beef's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by alantig View Post
    Must not comment....must not comment...please never mention that first pedal in this context again, I'm cramping up over here!
    Hahaha! You guys are talking about my wife's Big Muff? She's actually rocking the Little Big Muff these days. She uses her Big Muff sparingly, and I wish she'd use it more, because when she does the whole room shakes and everyone smiles. It's awesome and I love it. Even the drummer noticed how awesome her Big Muff is.
    The Bovine Fury <-- stream and download our album "Eleven by Twelve" for free.
    05 Custom 22 with DGT pickups ~ 07 Mira with old birds ~ 08 SE Baritone Fralin/Suhr pickups ~ 03 SE Santana

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    Pincher of Harmonics Blackbird's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by John Beef View Post
    Hahaha! You guys are talking about my wife's Big Muff? She's actually rocking the Little Big Muff these days. She uses her Big Muff sparingly, and I wish she'd use it more, because when she does the whole room shakes and everyone smiles. It's awesome and I love it. Even the drummer noticed how awesome her Big Muff is.
    12 408 - 12 DGT - 09 Tremonti II - 98 CU24 - 97 CE22 - Mesa MarkIV - Kemper Profiler Amp - EVH 5150 III - PRS Archon

  16. #16
    Senior Member MA Pete's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by sergiodeblanc View Post
    What is it with bass players not using enough distortion?
    No doubt!

    Geezer rules!!
    Ted Club President

  17. #17
    Junior Member dprather's Avatar
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    I use a pretty hefty a amount of gain, but I try to dial it back at higher volumes. I've found the louder the amp goes, the less gain I need. Anybody that wants to stop by and show me the 'best' (or even 'appropriate') settings is more than welcome! I've spent the last year trying to understand the nuances of each knob on the amp, but I appear to be a slow learner

    :-}

  18. #18
    Plank Spanker justmund's Avatar
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    My little self test is to play a chord somewhere around the middle of the neck, using all strings and not just a major bar chord. If I can't hear each individual note clearly, then I've got too much distortion.

    Gain helps sustain, but you need to balance it with tone and clarity.

  19. #19
    Senior Member MA Pete's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by justmund View Post
    My little self test is to play a chord somewhere around the middle of the neck, using all strings and not just a major bar chord. If I can't hear each individual note clearly, then I've got too much distortion.

    Gain helps sustain, but you need to balance it with tone and clarity.
    I am sometimes guilty of using of using too much OD, usually from the amp versus pedals.

    The problem with your above theory is that with 5708's and 5909's, you can always hear every note, no matter how much gain you have!!
    Ted Club President

  20. #20
    aka McCartyman altoidman's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by MA Pete View Post
    The problem with your above theory is that with 5708's and 5909's, you can always hear every note, no matter how much gain you have!!
    +1

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