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How I get good overdrive tone

I covered clean tone in my last article, so for this one I'm going to talk about overdrive.

What I've learned more than anything else over the years concerning overdrive and distortion is this: Turn down the friggin' gain.

In my earlier guitar playing days, I, like so many other guitar players, plugged in a guitar and used a ridiculous amount of distortion. Why? Because that's what all kids do. I was no different. I didn't know anything about guitar tone in my teens. All I knew were two guitar tones. Distortion on or off. When it was on, I used way, way too much.

These days I know how much of a tone wrecker distortion is, so instead of using way too much, I barely use any at all. The end result of that is that I can actually hear the guitar's tonal character whereas I couldn't before.

One of the best examples of light gain that sounds like 10,000 amps is any song by AC/DC. Listen to Back in Black again and examine the guitar tone. It sounds like there's a lot of distortion going on, but there isn't. Rock doesn't need tons of gain to sound huge.

What the video above basically says is that the way to get a genuinely decent rock tone from amp modeling is to pick a Marshall amp, a 4x12 greenback cabinet, an MXR Dyna Comp compressor (i.e. the "red" compressor) and then add some light delay in the back to fill out the rest - and bear in mind the delay is totally optional.

The key thing to take from this, again, turn down the friggin' gain. More distortion doesn't turn up the rock. All it does is make everything a nasty, buzzy mess.

Said another way, use only what you need, and not what you think you need.

Also keep this in mind as well: With less gain, you can much better control your rhythm and lead tones just by using your guitar's volume control and nothing else. No need for extra gain when you play a lead sound. Configure it just right and you'll never have to stomp a pedal to go back and forth from rhythm to lead.


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