Cascading Gain Stages

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Cascading Gain Stages


Clean Amp + Overdrive

Got a clean amp channel that’s just a little too clean? I like to use an overdrive pedal at a very low, subtle gain setting to add just a teensy tiny bit of breakup to the sound. Typically when I’m doing this I’ll make sure the volume of the pedal is consistent with the volume of the clean amp, but if you’re using a tube amp you can get a different character of gain by cranking that level knob: it’ll make your preamp tubes work harder, giving you more crunch and harmonic distortion. You can do this with a single-knob clean boost as well of course, and sometimes that’s all you need. Other times you might want to tweak the tone a bit.


Dirty Amp + Overdrive

By far my favourite flavour of gain. I like to dial in my perfect rhythm tone, typically with my Marshall DSL50’s gain on about 6 on the lead channel (not the hotter ultra channel) then step on a Seymour Duncan 805 Overdrive for my lead sound. The 805’s volume is maxed, the gain is on about 2 and the midrange is boosted. This gives you lots of sustain and compression while the mid boost lets your notes really jump out at the audience. But it also gives you somewhere to go when you use the guitar’s volume control to adjust the amount of gain: having the Marshall on 6 seems to be a sweet spot where you can wind the guitar volume back to clean up the tone to a ‘just a little bit of grit’ voice, and I can quite happily play a whole set with a single amp channel and an overdrive to handle all of my clean, dirty and lead sounds for the night.


Megadistorted Amp + Overdrive

Some players like to use an overdrive pedal in front of a high gain amp like a Peavey 5150/6505, not to give the amp even more gain but to tighten up the response. This is particularly dependent on the type of amp and pedal you’re using but typically you might want to raise the pedal’s tone control a bit but not go overboard on the additional gain or the level. When dialled in just right you’ll nd it cuts down on the ‘kshh’ sound that you sometimes get in between chord chugs, bringing out more detail in your attack and giving you a more percussive, stop-start kind of feel.


Bonus Trick: Dirty Amp + Overdrive + Boost

Here’s a weird one I discovered totally by accident. I was using an MXR/CAE Boost/ OD pedal into my DSL50, just exploring various settings. I hit upon an utterly weird sound when I set the overdrive section’s tone and volume controls nearly all the way down, cranked up the gain and turned on the boost. Only a tiny amount of signal was coming out of the overdrive side but I was able to raise its level with the boost side and feed it into the dirty amp. The result is unlike nothing I’ve ever heard: it’s smooth and creamy, quite compressed, and harmonically complex in a way that I’ve never quite been able to achieve with just an overdrive and a dirty amp.


Other Tricks

This doesn’t even begin to get into the other fun stuff you can do: multiple distortion pedals all set for low gain but feeding into each other; fuzz pedals; using a graphic EQ ahead of a dirt box to goose certain frequencies; even the old trick of setting a wah-wah pedal in a stationary position quali es as a cascading gain stage method of tone generation.