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5 Tone Bones - Gear has stellar performance, value, and quality. This is definitely top of the class, best of breed, and it's a no-brainer to add this to your gear lineup!

Peterson StroboClip HDTM High Definition Clip-On Strobe Tuner

Summary: Peterson is the pioneer in strobe tuning and this new version of the highly-acclaimed StroboClip is a huge improvement over the original StroboClip which, in my opinion, just couldn’t be beaten. But add to that a larger, high-definition, and a high-contrast screen, then throw in a high degree of accuracy, then add Peterson’s unrivaled “Sweeteners,” what’s not to like?

Pros: I said pretty much everything in the summary. This thing just works and it’s accurate – very accurate. But it’s really the Sweeteners that have always sealed the deal for me.

Cons: None for me as I used the original for a long time (until some a-hole stole it at a gig), but using a strobe tuner will take a newbie a bit of time to get used to. But that shouldn’t discourage anyone.

Price: $59.99 street

Features:

  • 0.1 cent accuracy
  • 50+ Sweeteners for different kinds of instruments – thank goodness the guitar ones are first. 🙂
  • Comparatively larger, HD, backlit LCD readout.
  • Tuning Range: C0 to B6 (very wide)
  • Concert Pitch Range 390-490Hz

Tone Bone Rating: 5.00 ~ After my original StroboClip got stolen last year, I went with a cheap Snark tuner. It did the job okay, but there was always something special about the sound of a guitar tuned with my StroboClip. It just sounded better. And with this updated, upgraded version, I’m a very happy camper!

 

What could be so special about a tuner?

Believe me, not all tuners are made the same. An accurately tuned guitar can make the difference between sounding just okay and sounding incredible. So it stands to reason that the more accurate your tuning, the better you’ll sound. So tuner manufacturers have strived to get as accurate as possible, getting into the tenths of a cent (or even the hundredths of a cent). The StroboClip is super-accurate at 0.1 cent, which is pretty incredible. And that’s great – you might be thinking that at this point, there might be a “but” in there… Yes, there is…

As James Taylor puts it, because of how guitars are constructed, and how the strings vibrate, the actual sound that they produce when plucked is not actually in tune if you tune the strings to their exact tuning. According to JT, strings will ring a little sharp, so he actually tunes each string down a few cents per string – not evenly – as each different string requires a different adjustment.

And this is where Peterson tuners have always stood out. They’ve gone to great lengths studying the actual sounds that come off a stringed instrument and have come up with special tuning algorithms for different types of instruments that they call “Sweeteners.” A Peterson rep shared with me that for their acoustic Sweetener, JT’s tuning influenced their algorithm. Hey! If it’s good enough for JT…

In any case, the Sweeteners are extremely subtle, but the first time I used a sweetener for a recording, I noticed that my guitar just sounded better. The difference is like wearing a nicely shined pair of shoes. People don’t necessarily know that you’ve shined your shoes, but they notice that you look a bit sharper. That’s the best analogy I can come up with for Peterson’s Sweeteners.

I noticed it especially with recording my acoustic guitar. With standard, equivalent tuning, it sounded okay but tuned with the ACU (acoustic) Sweetener, it just seemed to ring so much better. That said, you have to get used to the sound because up close, it might sound a little off. But when I listened to the recording, wow! It was truly a revelation.

Fit and Finish

All Peterson products are built rock-solid. And even though they’ve gone with a plastic body, it doesn’t feel at all cheap.

The kicker for me is the comparatively large screen to other tuners. Damn! That thing is readable! And with the higher number of pixels, the readout is super smooth. And for my aging eyes, I love it!

The clip’s springs are pretty tight, but not so much that you can’t squeeze the clip open, and combined with the silicon pads will ensure that the clip stays put on your headstock.

Ease of Use Tuning with a Strobe Tuner

It has three buttons. The middle turns on the unit and acts as the menu selector. The + and – buttons scroll through choices. Doesn’t get much easier than this.

Tuning with a Strobe Tuner

I have to admit that the first time I used a strobe tuner, it was a little weird. I was so used to seeing a needle sweep over a gauge. With a strobe tuner, what you get is a checkerboard pattern that sweeps left and right to indicate the sharpness or flatness of your string. If it moves clockwise, the string is sharp and vice-versa if the string is flat. When the string is in tune, the checkerboard stops moving. The bigger screen really helps.

But there is a bit of a trick to tuning. You have to get used to moving in much smaller increments than what you might be used to. Also, the tuner is so sensitive that once you make an adjustment, you have to remove your hand from the tuning knob because the slightest pressure will affect the tuning. But believe me, once you get used to tuning this way, it’ll become second-nature.

One feature that I didn’t mention is the Drop/Capo setting. If you drop your tuning or use a capo, you can get into the Drop/Capo mode, set the number of semitones you’re going up or down, and then tune accordingly. That’s a really powerful feature, and as I often use a capo, knowing that my strings are all in tune with the right compensations for each string is comforting.

Overall Impression

You can probably tell based on the rating I gave and the review, I love this tuner! I know that Peterson’s marketing push is for the HD screen, but to me, this tuner has always been about the underlying technology. It’s second to none. But I do have to say that the larger screen is simply awesome!

At $59.99, it’s not a cheap tuner, especially compared to something like a Snark 2 that you can get for under $25 (I got mine for $21 on sale). And you know me, I’m not one to say that just because you pay more for something, it’s better. But in this case, it’s totally worth the extra money.

You might be wondering why I might be so excited about this. After all, it’s only a tuner. But once you tune with a Peterson tuner and hear the difference in your sound, you’ll become a believer.

What About Other Strobe Tuners?

The only one I can think of is the Turbo Tuner with an amazing .02 cent accuracy; yes, you read that right. But as I said before, while extreme accuracy is great, what makes the Peterson technology stand out to me are the Sweeteners. They really make a difference. And at some point, I’m wondering if our ears can actually hear the difference between 0.1 and .02 cent. I’m not so sure. It’s almost like a tube amp. The more gain you throw at a tube, the less effect it’ll have on volume. But to each their own. If extreme accuracy is your thing, that’s awesome. And that’s the beauty of having so many choices out in gear land. There’s bound to be something to please any taste.

For me, that taste is the Peterson Sweeteners!

316415932-rogerfedererreachesintofinals_6Early this morning, I woke up to catch the Wimbledon Men’s final. Though I no longer play tennis, having played a little competitive tennis in my younger years, I have kept up with professional tennis.

Growing up watching the likes of Jimmy Connors, Bjorn Borg and John McEnroe, then Andre Agassi and Pete Sampras, it was hard to imagine there’d be yet another phenom. Then Roger Federer hit the scene in 2001.

Yeah, I know he’d been around prior to this and had a couple of wins under his belt. But at the time, at least to me, he was to tennis as Ricky Fowler is to golf. Good player, nice guy off the court, but no majors.

But my opinion changed when he beat Pete Sampras at Wimbledon in 2001 to advance to the quarterfinals. No, he didn’t win that tournament, but he got my attention. I remember thinking to myself that this guy was a special talent. Where Sampras was a powerhouse serve and volley guy, Federer was… well… kind of everything. He could rally from the baseline, he could attack the net, and his defensive game was otherworldly to me.

I remember turning to my buddy as we watched that match, “If Federer continues like this, he’s going to be the Bruce Lee of tennis.” My buddy asked me to explain and I replied, “What made Bruce Lee a master wasn’t because he was an expert at Kung Fu. What made him a master was that he didn’t obey the forms. He called his particular brand of martial arts the art of expressing the human the body. This is what Federer seems to be doing. He’s good at all aspects of the game. He hasn’t mastered it all – yet. But I’d like to see what happens when he does.” This segues into what we could all learn from “Fed” with respect to our beloved instrument, the guitar.

Humility. I believe that a driving force behind Roger’s success has been his incredible humility in approaching the game. Listen to an interview, read an exposĂ© on his life, and you’ll never hear him brag. Take, for instance, his post-win interview yesterday. He spent more time talking about Cilic than himself and showing incredible empathy for Cilic’s physical condition.

For gear sluts like us, it’s easy to fall into the trap of getting big-headed about the gear we have; especially if we’ve paid a pretty penny for it. But in general, the gear doesn’t make the player. As for me, I keep pretty humble about the gear I have. I have some really great stuff, but I never speak about my gear as if it somehow makes me better than someone who has different or less-expensive stuff.

Open-mindedness. The fact that Roger Federer can win on any surface and more importantly, to mix up different styles of play informs me that he didn’t want to be known as a certain type of player. The fact that he can serve and volley, rally from the baseline, attack the net mid-game and have such incredible touch to be able to hit drop shots that are DOA is simply stupendous. As Jimmy Connors said of Roger Federer, “You’re either a clay court specialist, a grass court specialist, or a hard court specialist. Or you’re Roger Federer.” Damn!

In the guitar world, there are a couple of guys that never cease to amaze me. The first is John 5 from Marilyn Manson. That dude can play all sorts of styles. Of course, there’s also Paul Gilbert who’s simply incredible. Finally, one of my all-time favorites is Phil X. Not only can he play a bunch of different styles, he’s got shitloads of personality to boot! All these players haven’t gotten fixed into playing specific styles.

If that’s not your thing, I get it, and that’s perfectly okay. But opening yourself to being proficient in a multitude of musical styles can make you so much more expressive in your playing. For me, I’ve been focusing on reggae as of late. But what I’ve actually been experimenting with is applying modes and major scales to my solos to see where they lead me. It’s been really interesting and fun to see what works and what doesn’t work.

Focus. To be able to do what he has done for so long… To me, that just takes immense focus. Of course, as a professional tennis player, he has the luxury of applying all his focus. But to maintain that for close to two decades. Wow! Same could be said for Serena Williams. And she’s like Roger: So gracious and kind.

Focus is something that helped me get over my GAS. At one point, after I had acquired tens of thousands of dollars worth of gear, I just said STOP! I realize that I just wasn’t spending enough time on the gear I had. And what I realized is that the unicorn I was chasing was right there in front of me all along. I just had to quiet my mind, focus on playing, and let the beast out. 🙂

I could go on and on about what I could learn from Roger Federer, but three points is enough. ROCK ON!

The Law of Holes

I was reading a technical article on microservices architecture to corroborate points in a presentation I’ll be giving next week, and I ran across a reference to a saying I’d heard a long time ago: The First Law of Holes. It basically goes like this:

“If you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.”

Attribution to the origin of this saying is a bit murky, though, according to a Wikipedia entry, it can be found in an article published back in 1911 in the Washington Post.

The first time I heard the saying was from an old priest, Father Bob. I forgot exactly what the conversation was at the time (this was back in the mid-1980’s), though I believe it was probably me venting my frustration with my career plans (I really didn’t know what the hell I wanted to do back then and it REALLY bothered me). To that he said, “You know, as they say, if you find yourself in a hole, stop digging.” Such sage advice, and frankly, it caused me to just relax and let the universe work things out. But I’ve digressed…

That saying can be applied to just about anything; especially gear. When I was overcome with GAS a few years ago, what helped me snap out of it – besides running out of money – was remembering that saying, or a corollary. I had spent so much time, effort and money trying to chase that unicorn of tone, that I was never happy with the gear I had and would sell or trade off gear on a whim, or purchase more stuff to layer onto my rigs.

It really was the case of digging a deeper hole for myself. In the end, I climbed out of the hole, just stuck with the gear I had, and made it work. No, I wasn’t just settling. What I did was take the time to do a deep-dive into my equipment. I also spent a lot more time practicing to increase my skill and expressiveness.

A few months later, I found my sound. It was literally a breakthrough moment. I was recording a new piece and laying down a solo. The way I usually record solos on my recordings is to do several takes, then pick the one I like best. What I realized is that even though my phrasing might be different from take to take, I sounded like me every single time.

That really sealed the deal for me with respect to breaking me of my GAS because it changed my perspective on my gear. Instead of my gear defining my sound, my gear merely added texture and color to what I had all along and didn’t realize I had it. From that point on, I didn’t see a need to keep on adding new stuff, and when I did, it was to add a feature to my sound, not be my sound.

Now I also realized that when I had the funds to spend on gear, it was REALLY fun. I was on the boards all the time. I went to local guitar shops and played everything that I found interesting (which was a lot of stuff).

What about now? I just gig. I have my solo acoustic gig, play lead guitar for an old farts band, and have recently been asked to sit in with a buddy’s blues band to sing and play rhythm guitar and keys. I have six pedals on my board. I used to have twice as many. But most of the time, I only use my Soul Food and my Big Bad Wah. I also use my booster for solos, but I don’t use my mod pedals all that much, though I keep them there just in case…

So if you find yourself in a hole similarly, stop digging.

And here’s my Second Law: Climb out.

To the left is “Pearl,” my 60th Diamond Anniversary Strat. Until recently, Pearl had been sitting in her case because I just wasn’t playing her. I actually would’ve sold her a long time ago, but that guitar is earmarked for my youngest child.

One day, about 10 years ago, he was sitting quietly in my home studio, listening to me lay down tracks. I finished a section and put down my guitar, at which point, he got out of his chair, and reached up to me for me to pick him up. He gave me a big hug, then said, “Daddy, when I grow up, I want to play just like you.” OMG! I started tearing up right then and there. I gave him a big kiss and a hug and thanked him. Then he pointed to Pearl and said, “And can I have Pearl when I’m a big boy?” How could I refuse?!!

I played Pearl quite a bit for the next couple of years, but then I got my first Les Paul and a couple of other guitars and I just let her sit. And she sat in her case with little play time for over five years. I know, what a shame, but that’s how it goes sometimes. But a couple of weeks ago, I was going through my stock and took her out of her case. Just feeling that neck compelled me to use it at my next band rehearsal. So I did a quick setup to make sure the neck was straight (it wasn’t), and gave her a nice rub-down.

I really didn’t know what to expect because I literally hadn’t played Pearl for years. But I lugged her out to my rehearsal, set up my rig, got my volume and tone set up on my amp and pedals, then started playing. Oh man! I had forgotten how tonally versatile a Strat was!

It helps that I’m a much better player now than when I put her away those years ago. And even though I was playing leads and solos at the time, my role as both bandleader and lead guitarist kind of limited the scope of what I could do with soloing. But since I joined my classic rock band where my role is strictly lead guitarist, I’ve really had to work on my soloing chops over the last couple of years.

What this has meant as far as playing Pearl is that I have a new perspective on her because I realized that I just didn’t have the chops to take full advantage of what she had to offer. For instance, I really didn’t know how freakin’ awesome that middle pickup was! A few years ago, I was like, “Meh” about it. But now, it’s one of my go-to positions. A few years ago, Doug Doppler told me that for real Strat players, the middle position was the “secret” position. I was still like, “Meh” at the time. But truth be told, I just didn’t know how to take advantage of it. I know, it sounds a bit silly but I really had no idea about its sound until literally a few weeks ago! Well, better late than never…

The point to all this – as I’ve entitled this article – is that sometimes you just have to take a break, and as long as you’ve got the patience, that break could be good. But now it makes me wonder if I should’ve sold my American Standard. But no, I won’t second guess myself on that. It was a great guitar and had a gorgeous rosewood fretboard, but I never really bonded with it for some reason. It was weird, but I just couldn’t dial in a pleasing tone with my rig with it.

Actually, that was a concern about Pearl when I took her to rehearsal. My amp is a vintage-Marshall-style amp made by Aracom Amps. My American Deluxe just didn’t sound right with it and I realize now that that was probably a contributing factor to my putting Pearl away for so long as I thought that Strats, in general, wouldn’t work. But Pearl sounds amazing through that amp! It just goes to show that certain rig combinations work and some don’t.

After I wrote my article on the Slow Secret Death of the Electric Guitar, it really got me thinking about guitar heroes of today. So…

To start this discussion, I’m going to throw out a question: Can you name five guitar heroes that are under fifty years old? Forty years old? Thirty years old? And mind you, I’m not talking about the child prodigies like Sungha Yung, but actual guitar heroes that have defined or redefined their genre.

If you roll back time thirty years, these questions would be easy to answer. I could name guitarists in several genres. But today, it’s not so easy. And it’s not too hard to see why. If you look at pop music today, while the guitar is still an integral component of the music, it doesn’t take center stage like it once did. When was the last time you heard a guitar solo in any pop song? And frankly, even if you can name a song, can you name the guitarist? Chance are you can’t because that guitarist is a session musician. Most probably it’s going to be someone like Steve Lukather or Phil X who’ve played on tons of hits, and we never know about it.

When was the last time you heard a guitar solo in any pop song? And frankly, even if you can name a song, can you name the guitarist? Chance are you can’t because that guitarist is a session musician. Most probably it’s going to be someone like Steve Lukather or Phil X who’ve played on tons of hits, and we never know about it.

Of course, the guitar, and specifically the electric guitar, will always be THE rock instrument, but just how popular is rock and roll now? For someone as old as me, the rock that pleases me is the rock of my era, namely the 60’s, 70’s, and 80’s. So forgive me if I don’t know much of the new music. However, in my day, even my mom and dad, who watched Lawrence Welk and thought that Johnny Mathis was a radical singer knew of Peter Frampton and Eric Clapton and Jimi and Santana (my mom actually liked Santana because of the Latino sound).

That’s the point, guitar heroes back in the day were just well… known.

Today, that’s just not the case. A lot of that has to do with the fact that every type of music is immediately accessible to anyone with a computer or smartphone. iTunes originally led the charge, but Spotify now dominates the industry (I can’t live without my Spotify premium). So instead of music being controlled by the DJ’s like it was back in my day, young people have the ability to discover a plethora of musical genres. And while it pleases me that my own kids have discovered acts from my day, they’ve also got their own stuff. And to be completely honest, they’re the ones who’ve turned me on to contemporary reggae.

Speaking of contemporary reggae, this is a branch off of the traditional Jamaican Reggae, which I still love. Here are some awesome bands that I listen to:

Jawaiian Reggae

J Boog
Jordan T
The Green
Kolohe Kai
Common Kings

“White Boy” Reggae

Rebelution
SOJA
Tribal Seeds
Sublime
The Expendables
Slightly Stoopid
Iration

You might be wondering why I bring reggae up, and specifically why I’m naming contemporary reggae. It’s simply because the guitar as the primary instrument is still alive and well in this genre; not as much in Jawaiian (though Jordan T is a f%^king fiend on his Strat), but especially with the “White Boy” reggae, the guitar is central and you get some incredible solos. In particular, I love the guitar work of Rebelution, The Expendables, and Slightly Stoopid. The guitarists in these groups rival anyone in rock.

If you still want to hear guitar-centric music, you’d do yourself a big favor checking these bands out. And by the way, most of these guys are about as freakish about their gear as we are!

Maholo!

I won’t bore you with discussion… not yet… Just read this from the Washington Post:

Why My Guitar Gently Weeps

You can’t argue with the numbers, and you can’t argue with what’s happening in music these days. Hell! All you have to do is look at the proliferation of EDM and how DJ’s are the new rock stars. Music is such a different scene that when I and other oldsters were growing up.

Back then, as the article points out, it was all about the electric guitar. I remember the first time I heard Boston. I wanted to play like Tom Sholz. But at the same time, I wanted to play like Jimi, and Neal and Frampton. Then, of course, there was Eddie then Satch. Growing up, a different guitar god was just a turn of the tuner away!

Not so anymore. You can argue that there’s Joe Bonamassa and John Mayer. No doubt, they are some ass-kickin’ mo-fo’s on the guitar. But just how wide are their audiences? Certainly not on the scale nor breadth of the guitarists I mentioned. Sure, kids who’d attend their shows would probably instant converts to start learning guitar. I turned on one of the kids in my church band years ago to watch John Mayer. That kid came back a year later and made me look like a beginner. 🙂 I loved it!

So it’s not that these great guitars nowadays have no influence. They do. But they just don’t have the reach that others before them had, and as the article posits, that has a lot to do with the plummeting sales of our beloved instrument.

Make no bones about it: The guitar is not going anywhere. But our beloved brands that have carried the torch for guitardom are hurting. Badly.

Some of you may not care that Gibson or Fender drop by the wayside as there are tons of custom luthiers out there. But their fate should inform the rest of the industry that if they’re hurting, that pain gets distributed.

I love overdrive pedals. I have a bunch of them. But I realized that part of why I have so many has a lot to do with not really understanding how to set them up properly. I’d get an overdrive pedal because a demo I heard sounded great, or I loved how it was voiced. But when I’d get it home, it just wouldn’t sound quite right, so I’d put it in my “storage” area.

But as I got more experienced with setting up my amps, I similarly got to understand how to set up my overdrive pedals. And now that I have a bunch, I’ve got a variety of pedals to choose from to get the sound I want depending on my sets or my mood – okay, I admit it: It’s mostly due to my mood. 🙂

Admittedly, I did a lot of forum lurking as well to gain insights on setting up an overdrive, so a lot of what I’ll be sharing here comes from the things I’ve learned from others in addition to the stuff I’ve learned on my own.

What actually motivated me to write this was a conversation that I had with a friend. I asked him what he thought of a particular overdrive pedal, and he said he didn’t like the way it sounded. I looked at him a little puzzled and said, “Maybe you didn’t set it up right.” And that led me to say that not all overdrives are created equal, and you have to set them up according to how they work best. Truth be told, I haven’t spoken to him since that conversation, so I have no idea if he tried what I suggested. But in light of that, I decided to share my thoughts.


Related Articles


Types of Overdrives – Not Necessarily What You Might Think

Before we get into the actual setup of an overdrive, I thought I’d go into a discussion about types of overdrives because how you set up an overdrive has a lot to do with the type of overdrive it is. No, this isn’t a discussion about circuit types or transparency. I suppose this could be related to the circuit type on which an overdrive is based, but I’m not that electrically savvy, so I’ll discuss this in more practical terms.

From my experience with having played several overdrives, I’ve found that they fall into roughly two different categories (mind you, these are my own terms): Interactive and Standalone. Interactive overdrives are meant to interact with the preamp of your amp, and together they produce the overdrive sound.

Standalone overdrives are typically purpose-built to mimic an amplifier, and though they can certainly be set up to be interactive, they can function just fine on their own in front of a clean amp.

Notice that I haven’t named any specific overdrive models. The reason why is that overdrives sound different with different amps. For instance, the EHX Soul Food sounds great as a standalone overdrive in front of my Fender amp. But it doesn’t sound nearly as good as a standalone overdrive in front of my Plexi-style amps, so I set it up as an interactive overdrive for those amps.

So the idea behind interactive vs. standalone has little to do with a specific type or model of overdrive; rather, it has to do with how the overdrive sounds with your amp.

Setting Up an Overdrive

I have two processes that I go through to set up an overdrive. At this point, I know all my pedals and whether they’re standalone or interactive, but I still follow the same processes for my different pedals when I set them up on my board. Also, if I come across or get a new overdrive, I first assume that it can be a standalone overdrive, then if I find it doesn’t work well that way, I’ll then set it up to be interactive. Here are the step-by-step processes I follow:

Setting Up a Standalone Overdrive

  1. Set up the amp:
    1. Clean
    2. Set EQ to work with your guitar
  2. Set guitar volume to the middle
  3. Guitar EQ where you want it
  4. Set overdrive with all knobs to the middle.
  5. Engage the overdrive and get it to unity gain (so that when you engage it, your volume doesn’t change), or to just get a small volume bump when the pedal’s engaged.
  6. Set the EQ on the overdrive
  7. Adjust the overdrive/gain knob to get your desired amount of distortion from the pedal.
    1. You will probably have to make adjustments to the level knob to maintain unity gain.
  8. Evaluate the sound and feel by playing around with chord progressions and licks.
    1. All the while, raise and lower your guitar volume to see how the pedal responds.
  9. Repeat steps 5 and 6 until you dial in the right volume/sound/feel.
    1. If the volume, sound, and feel are fine for you, then you’re all set and ready to gig and the overdrive pedal will work fine as a standalone device.
    2. If the sound doesn’t feel “right,” chances are you’ll have to do some interaction with the preamp of your amp, so continue to the next section.

Setting Up an Interactive Overdrive

  1. Set up the amp
    1. Set Gain/Volume so the amp is at the edge of breakup.
      1. You’ll know it’s there when you turn up the guitar’s volume and the amp begins to distort, then cleans up when you turn it down. Also, if the guitar’s volume is set to the middle, if you strum hard it will break up.
    2. Set EQ on the amp
  2. Set your guitar volume to the middle
  3. Set guitar EQ when you like it
  4. Set overdrive with all knobs at their middle positions
  5. Engage the overdrive
    1. More likely than not, you’ll get a big volume boost when you engage at this level, so you’ll have to adjust both the overdrive’s level and amp’s volume/master knobs to get to the right volume.
      1. If you don’t have a master volume, turn down the overdrive’s volume/level knob to get to a management volume.
    2. Because you want to get both overdrive AND amp distortion, you’ll want to get a small volume bump when you engage the pedal as you want the amp to go over the edge of breakup.
  6. Now, play around.
    1. See how the combination responds to volume swells on your guitar.
    2. Make adjustments to the overdrive gain to get the right combination of pedal and amp distortion.

The Importance of EQ

Notice that I mention setting EQ on the amp, guitar, and overdrive pedal. Setting EQ is extremely important because it can be the difference-maker in your overall tone. There’s no “ideal” EQ setting. But for me as a rule of thumb, I want to get a rich, slightly bright tone that sits well in the mix and isn’t so warm that compared to the other instruments, won’t get washed out when we’re all playing together.

Also, for live gigs, I usually don’t touch my amp or pedal EQ once I get them set up. I use my guitar’s tone knob to adjust how warm or bright my sound to be.

Amp/Pedal Combinations

All that said, if you’ve followed the steps for setting up an interactive overdrive, and it still doesn’t sound right no matter what you do, then the pedal sucks. Just kidding. 🙂 Truth be told, I’ve found some overdrives work better with different amps. If you have another amp, then try the pedal out in front of it.

For instance, Paul Cochrane of “Tim” and “Timmy” pedal fame recommends not using the pedal in front of a Fender Blackface amp. I don’t have a blackface amp, so I had to take him at his word, but the Timmy works great in front of all my amps. For me, I will not use my venerable Ibanez TS-808 TubeScreamer in front of my vintage Marshall-style amps. It just doesn’t sound good to me, no matter how I set it up.

I think it’s because the TS produces a big midrange bump when engaged, and my amps are voiced bright, so it ends up sounding piercing like little ice picks on my eardrums. Even EQ adjustments don’t work for me. But in front of my Fender Hot Rod, the TS truly screams! My Hot Rod has the classic Fender “scooped” tone, so the predominant midrange of the TS fills in the mids.

What About Stacking Overdrives?

That gets a bit more complicated, but I’d follow the basic procedures above, treating the trailing pedal as the amp. In this case, I’d tend to set up the amp as clean and have the trailing pedal always on. There lots of ways to approach this as well. I know one guitarist that uses three at once to get his “sound.” More power to him! 🙂

But truth be told, I hate to dance on my board, so even though I will use a couple of overdrives, I only use one at a time depending on the kind of voicing I want. I also, don’t like complicate my sound finding the right balance of multiple overdrives. I just want to play. Granted, I could do a lot of pre-gig work to get that, but for me, employing the KISS theory works best.

Many people like to stack, and that’s great. Stevie Ray Vaughan used to use two TubeScreamers stacked together; one as an overdrive and one as a booster.

Wah-wah and Overdrive

If you don’t use a wah-wah pedal, then you can ignore this section. But I thought it would be important to add this to the mix, mainly because I’ve found that certain overdrives work better depending on where the wah-wah pedal is placed. Admittedly, my personal preference is to place the wah pedal after my overdrives. But there are a few boutique overdrive pedals that I have that work much better when the wah pedal is in front of them. Not sure why this is. Luckily, I only have a couple of pedals that act this way, so I know not to use a wah pedal with them if I have it set up after my overdrives.

Exploration

To close this out, I have to admit that I’m a bit of an overdrive junkie. I may not buy every single one that piques my interest, but I do check out new overdrives when I run across them. The great thing about overdrives is that they really are all different, even the knock-offs, so I’ll continue to explore overdrives. I never know what I might find. 🙂