Today’s guitarplayers have a wide range of choices to increase the volume of their guitars. Some of us will use overdrive, whilst others prefer using distortion or fuzz or whatever name is there to label the overdriven sound.
If you were a guitarplayer in the 1950s you did not have any pedals available to boost your signal. If you wanted your guitar to sound a bit louder you simply had to turn the volume of the amp up. Turning your amp up to create a bit of distortion is unpredicatable and it can also cause unrepairable damage to the speakers of your amp. Guitaramps in the 1950s were mainly designed to produce a clean sound, turning up the volume would increase the clean sound up till the point where the amp would break up and produce a distorted sound. Overal not an ideal habit to create overdriven sounds. But heh, who wanted distortion in the 1950s? During the mid 1960s the musical landscape started to change, not only the music was changing, the guitarsounds were changing as well [as discussed in an earlier article on this blog]
Eventually manufactorers of musical equipment realised that by overdriving a small preamp you could create a lot of distortion. This signal would then be fed into a guitaramplifier set for listeninglevels whilst still giving you a nice, distorted sound. The guitaramplifier was no longer needed to create the distortion, as the distortion came mainly from the preamp.
For today’s article I want to introduce you the many flavours of distortion and one in particular: The sound of Fuzz. But before I will dig into fuzzbox teritory let me first remind you why preamps were designed:
The Birth of the Preamp:
The electric guitar is a low-level output musical instrument. Its signal needs to be boosted to make it audiable. A simple test you can do for yourself to check the validity of this statement: Plug your guitar straight into a speakercabinet, play your electric guitar and see how exhited you will get about its sound.
The answer to this problem is: Put an amplifier in between your guitar and the speaker. The amplifier will have its own preamp build into it, and it is this preamp which is so important to boost your guitarsignal up to audiable levels.
Most typical guitaramps will have a control which says PRE, apart from this control there will also be something like POST, or MASTER or simply VOLUME. Very small guitaramps may only carry one control for volume. If this is the case you cannot manipulate the preamp, as your preamp is set to work at optimum levels to create a clean sound.
Over the years guitarplayers have discovered that overloading the preamp will create a desirable distorted guitarsound: Simply turn the level of the preamp up whilst keeping the mastervolume at listening levels.
Using Overdrive/Distortion and Fuzz pedals as a Preamp:
Most distortion/overdrive pedals work as a preamp: You can overload them to create distortion. Most typical controls on distortion and overdrive pedals are labelled as: LEVEL, TONE and GAIN. The gain control will act as a preamp, while the level control acts as a mastercontrol for your volumelevel. In most cases you want to keep the level similar to the volumelevel of your guitaramp.
Fuzzes are no different from distortion/overdrive pedals: They are specialised preamps designed to maximise distortion.
Distortion comes in many flavours and colours but they are all based on two types of Clipping that creates the distorted sound of an amp.
This is the type of distortion you get when you play through a clean amp whilst putting up the volume. At some piont the amp will start to distort, break up the sound, as it is no longer able to produce a clean sound. The distortion will usually be heard when you hit the strings harder. This type of distortion in often unwanted and it is not a pleasant kind of distortion.
Most guitarplayers prefer a distorted sound which appears while the amp is still at a fairly low volume level. This type of distortion is called Soft Clipping.
Soft clipping simply means the output level becomes progressively more distorted as the input signal increases [by turning the Preamp up!]. This type of distortion is more “natural” and it will preserve the dynamics of the sound: Hit a string harder and you will get more distortion, and the distortion will change as the sound of the string decays. With hard clipping there is not that much variation in the sound until the output signal passes below the clipping point.
The Sound of Fuzz:
Fuzz boxes were one of the first type of effects created to overload a small preamp to create a lot of distortion. They became popular during the 1960s. Using a Fuzz meant you could get a distorted guitartone regardless of the level of your guitaramp since the preamp in the Fuzz would distort at any given level!
Fuzzes became the flavour of the day after the release of the song “Satisfaction” by the Rolling Stones. The popularity of the sound of that particular song meant that any garageband in Britain and the United States wanted to use that guitarsound.
For those of you who are want to know what all this fuss was about listen to this here:
Some of the first commercially available fuzzboxes in Britain where the Vox Distortion Booster and the Arbiter Fuzz Face. In the United States there was the Maestro Fuzz Tone.
Since Fuzz boxes produce a very high output signal the settings fo your guitar will make a big difference to the overal sound.
You can get a smooth sound from your Fuzz by using the neck [bass] pick-up whilst keeping the tone control set for minimum treble.
For a more ranchier sound use your treble [bridge] pick-up.
Pick-up height adjustments are crucial to getting a happening tone from your Fuzz: Angle your pick-ups slightly so that the bottom three [bass] strings are further away from the pick-up compared to the top three[treble] strings. It will create a brighter and less boomy sound. These pick-up adjustments are not only useful for when you play using a Fuzz, they will make your guitar sound better in any kind of playing situation!
For next blog I will talk you throuhg how you can use the Boss FZ2 and the BD2 to get you close to that sound which satisfied the world of the 1960s so much.
See you soon.