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With this better understanding of the way each individual piece of gear interacts with the others, let’s next look at some popular ways to combine them to achieve specific sounds. Part of our discussion here concerns overdrive and dirt tones and the interaction between your pedals and amp. But before we get into that, I’d like to take another look at using the controls on your guitar to elicit different tones from the same pedal.
Germanium Fuzz Face Clean up Trick
This one may already be pretty widely known, but I still think it’s worth a mention because it works so amazingly well. I had actually been playing for quite a while before I discovered that you can get a surprisingly useful, totally clean tone from a good germanium Fuzz Face pedal simply by rolling back the volume on your guitar. In comparison, most other fuzz pedals, including a Fuzz Face with higher gain silicon transistors, won’t quite get totally clean. Again, this is nothing new, dating all the way back to early Hendrix, but it’s a good one to keep in your bag of tricks.
Roll Back Tone on Neck Humbucker with Fuzz Pedal Trick
Here’s one of my favorite fuzz pedal tricks. This isn’t really a big secret either, and I’m always surprised that more players aren’t aware of it. Ready? Use a pedal with thick, saturated fuzz tone and play the neck pickup on your guitar with the tone control rolled all the way back. This works especially well on a dual humbucker guitar, such as a Les Paul. What a great sound! Think early Santana, or Robert Fripp with King Crimson.
A Big Muff-type fuzz is ideal to use for this effect, but most any fuzz pedal with enough gain will work reasonably well. Steve Hackett of Genesis employed this technique to great effect using the neck pickup of his Les Paul Custom through a Colorsound Supa Tone Bender. This was also the method Eric Clapton used to create his infamous “woman tone” on the Disraeli Gears album by Cream. Clapton rolled back the tone on the neck pickup of his psychedelic Gibson SG. The fuzz of choice this time was a Tone Bender MKII, which was then run into a 100-watt Marshall. Strange Brew, indeed!
It’s a super-simple trick, and it works like magic every time. Rolling off all the high frequencies eliminates any noise and hiss created by the fuzz, which results in a singing, violin-like tone with super long sustain. It’s also the best way to coax a more prominent upper octave out of an Octavia. And it works just as well on other octave-fuzz type pedals, such as a Super Fuzz, a Tone Machine, or an Ampeg Scrambler.
OK, moving along to the other side of the signal chain, let’s discuss some tried and true classic pedal and amp combinations.
Tube Screamer with a Blackface Fender Amp
The smooth, medium-gain overdrive sound of the Tube Screamer (and its variants) is a well-loved classic. Though it gained its initial notoriety as the OD of choice for blues legend Stevie Ray Vaughan, this ubiquitous green wonder has withstood more stomping than nearly any other pedal. A Tube Screamer-type OD can work with just about any amp, but it has a distinct midrange “hump” that perfectly compliments the scooped mids of the Fender Blackface amp. Classic combination!
The Vox AC30, on the other hand, is quite a bit more mid-heavy. So a Tube Screamer, while not necessarily a poor choice, might not be the best fit for that amp. That’s okay, we can address that with our next classic combination.
Germanium Treble Booster with a British Combo Amp
In the early 1960s, many British made amplifiers, such as the Vox AC30, were considered by players to be rather dark sounding, especially compared to the American-made Fender amps, which were considered more desirable at the time. Thus is the origin of the treble booster. The concept was simply that a murky-sounding amp could be brightened up using a single transistor “treble boosting” device. The happy, if unintentional, byproduct was the tone that resulted from pushing the front end of the amp into overdrive.
The Dallas Rangemaster stands as the quintessential example of this type of treble booster, and is rumored to have been the secret weapon used by Eric Clapton with a Marshall JTM45 combo to achieve his legendary Bluesbreaker tone. A much better documented fact is Brian May’s use of the Rangemaster and other treble boosters with his Vox AC30. Irish blues guitarist Rory Gallagher used the Rangemaster/AC30 combination with a Fender Stratocaster to create his signature sound, and many have since discovered the magical tones of a treble-boosted British combo.
That’s about all we have time for now, so we’ll see you next time. Until then, keep on stompin’!
Tom Hughes (a.k.a. Analog Tom) is the owner and proprietor of For Musicians Only (formusiciansonly.com) and author of Analog Man’s Guide to Vintage Effects. Questions or comments about this article can be sent to: firstname.lastname@example.org.
Analog Man (analogman.com) is one of the largest boutique effects manufacturers and retailers in the business, and it was established by “Analog” Mike Piera in 1993. Mike can be reached at AnalogMike@aol.com.