Using Amps And Pedals Together

When I was younger, I absolutely refused to play with pedals: stompboxes, distortions, overdrives, boosters: anything that would make your amp go to ’11.’ I simply didn’t want to understand why you should or would use them. “I always chose my amps based on their ability to crunch and the voice of the overdrive, so why bother,” I thought. “Wanna have more distortion? Crank up the gain pot of your amp. Not enough gain? Wrong amp!” It was that simple for me. My turn-around point came somewhere last year. I saw more players use the backline of a venue or the house PA with a bunch of pedals in front of them, and sometimes with a tiny 15 watt tube amp with a nice clean sound. I couldn’t see why that approach had benefits until I borrowed a few pedals to see how that worked. So, let’s take a look at how stompboxes worked for me.

Stompboxes to add flavor to an amp

seymour duncan dirty deedAn amp can often have a great tone by itself but sometimes could use just a little extra. Maybe the tone is too bland or needs a bit more ‘oomph,’ and one or two well-picked pedals can make a huge difference. Sometimes your amp is super-well suited for rhythm: it’s chunky, it’s powerful and it’s tight but the lead channel is too gritty. A traditional overdrive pedal can make all the difference. It gives my rhythm tone a bit of a power boost without a bunch of gain or without changing my base tone too much. And sometimes it’s the other way around: the lead tone can be a little sloppy, chunky and woofy in the lows or just too saggy in general, but add an overdrive for rhythm and Shazam! My rhythm sound is tighter with more punch and much more articulation. I turn it off for my lead tones, since I like it a bit more chewy in the lead. It’s exactly the other way around but hey: whatever works.

Pedals to create more flavors of overdrive

Another way of using pedals is to get more ‘flavors’ of crunch, overdrive or distortion from one amp. You could use one basic tone and use pedals that create a boosted signal that only needs to be amplified on a base overdrive. For example, the Seymour Duncan Dirty Deed Distortion Pedal.  That pedal’s got so many options and possibilities to tweak your tone. It creates a boosted signal that works with an already dirty tone very well. You can also use it to boost a tube amp’s clean tone to the max and get a great overdriven sound out of that.

If you’re using a clean amp that needs to be overdriven you could also do it another way: a preamp pedal. A preamp pedal often uses a tube in its preamp circuit to distort the tone and is often a bit larger than a stompbox. Guthrie Govan is a major fan of this method: he uses several boosts and preamp pedals to get his tone. He sets his Victory V10 ‘The Baron’ amp up for a clean tone and gets his overdrive, distortion, lead and effects from pedals. He seems to be the king of getting a huge tone out of a small rig. He wants to be able pack his ‘tone’ in a suitcase, hop on a plane and be done with it!

Wether you want to add a bit of flavor to your amp or simply run an amp clean and get your overdrives from pedals, I learned that pedals can add so much more to your tonal palette and can go perfectly well next to my favorite amps, the amps I’ve been using for so long.

About Orpheo

Orpheo is a long-time member of the Seymour Duncan forum with an interest in the technical side of luthery and pickups and plays jazz, blues, rock and metal on predominantly carved top single cutaway guitars.
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  • Klearchos

    We must also not forget how all this affects a cranked power amp’s distortion, which responds dynamically.

  • http://www.guitarsightedinstruction.com Alex Flores

    Cool article on what it’s like to see the benefits of how pedals can shape your tone, but obviously you have a great sound because you started with a great relationship between your guitar and amp. Also, that Dirty Deed pedal sounds great!

  • Maugas

    This article says nothing… too general.
    How to blend amp sound with pedal’s?
    What about EQ for both?
    What about the amount of gain to combine them?

    … so many other questions…

  • crimfan

    Lots of guys in big cities aren’t bringing an amp anywhere, and may not even own anything but a practice amp. They get their tones from their pedalboard and essentially are playing it, with backline gear being there just for amplification. This is the solution that is described above for Guthrie Govan. As long as the backline amp’s clean is reasonable, it does the trick.

  • boilerdoc

    I have 2 pedals which are of tremendous use to me. One is Janglebox which really gives my Rickenbacker a sounds very much like The Byrds and some Bealtles songs. The other is Ravish Sitar which gives an excellent sitar sound for songs like Norwegian Wood.

  • gogul808

    i was expecting a bit more about the do`s and dont`s from this page.One thing i`ve learnt is that you should`nt do is put a multi fx pedal though the effects loop ever, if your amp has one that is (because the multi fx is driven by a pre amp is why btw ).I think a page of never do these things for pedals and amp page would be good as i`m guessing there is loads of things you should`nt do with guitar gear that i`ve done over the years that i still don`t know !

  • Spectre

    gogul808–there’s nothing wrong with running a multi-fx unit through an effects loop!
    In fact, it’s a common thing to do and usually yields better results than plugging it into the amp’s input jack. However, you need to know “how” to do it properly.
    This method is usually reserved for modulation effects. You’ll want to disengage any distortions and overdrive effects–just use pedals for that at the amp’s input.