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emagli

Different methods to obtain lead tone

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Hi all,

 

I have been trying different ways to obtain good lead tones on Helix. I am very satisfied with my rhythm tones (mostly Bogner Mahadeva, Plexi and Placater) but there is something in my lead tones that feels a bit un-musical to me (slightly honky in the mids + harsh in the highs at gig volume, using a PRS CU24 with HFS/VB pickups). The tone is not "bad", but the other guitarist in my band has a very mellow lead tone using his Kemper; I am sure I can get a tone of similar quality with the Helix, but for now I am falling short. Disclaimer: I know tone is in the fingers, but I am talking about the core tone on very simple solos. I am not talking about dynamics either, which is the operator's fault -- purely the tone.

 

I have been reading plenty of posts on this subject in this and other forums. The prevalent approach seems to be to use an overdrive as boost before the amp to boost mids and obtain more gain, and/or post-amp eq to boost mids. So, my patches mostly employ a Minotaur as mid boost, sometimes a Timmy for low and high cut, and always an eq at the end of chain to raise level and boost mids further (generally +1.5dB @1.8 kHz). 

 

Another approach (which can not be done with real amps for most amps) would be to dump the pre overdrive and post eq, and change directly the amp eq settings via snapshots. I have done some preliminary testing (bedroom level only, for now) and I seem to get better tone in some but not all patches. If you have tried this approach and would like to share your thoughts... What are the differences between the two approaches? Using only the amp may lead to a more "organic" tone? The overdrive combined with the amp distortion may generate more harmonics? Any suggestions? Thanks!

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A lot of the mellowness factor in a lead tone depends on the guitar and pickups and also sometimes strings, and you don't really say much about the other guitar in the band and his setup.  But that aside I also tend to favor the Timmy and Minotaur along with the Tube Screamer or Kinky Boost, but it all depends on the amp and cab/ir I'm using and what comes across best for the tone I'm looking for.  I personally prefer to use both pickups on my guitar rather than switch to the bridge pickup for leads which keeps my tone pretty mellow and not so harsh or biting.  I also tend to find that too much distortion can make the lead sound less musical therefore less mellow.  Generally my EQ settings are consistent for the whole patch and I don't have to do any real fiddling with EQ when it comes to the lead tone other than what's provided by the pedal.

My experience has been less is more when it comes to tinkering with these sorts of things.  The more complexity you add the less authentic it starts to sound and soon you find yourself diving into a rabbit hole and can't find your way out.  My advice is to make small adjustments either at the guitar or in the settings of the pedals and see if you can get it where you want it.  You may be simply overthinking the problem.

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my lead boosts are almost in a similar approach across all 11 of my sounds.  I will have an OD before the amp (sometimes 2 OD's, sometimes 2 OD's and an EQ), a Delay at the end. 

 

For the most part I like a few different blocks as 'boosts' to the amp for rhythm as they tighten and help me define my rhythm sound without massive EQing pre/post amp.  However, for leads, I like the way an 808 sounds with level all the way up (pending the type of sound, cleaner ones it gets backed down so I don't have to fight a huge volume  increase from the pedal output) and I like to keep the drive around 1-2.0 depending on the amp.  That way the pedal just colors the tone a bit more.  I like the 808 because its not as 'tight' of a pedal...it adds a certain looseness, room vibe that I like.  other pedals seem to tighten the amp, but then for leads make it a bit stiff for my tastes.  I like rocky bluesy lead tones though for the most part not the tighter metal like lead tones. 

 

Anyway, so for me, the 808 will be the last block before the amp...sometimes I can just put that between the rhythm OD/AMP combo, but sometimes I need more 'mid-cut' and will throw a parametric EQ in front of both OD"s and boost about 6-8db of anywhere between 700-950hz depending on the amp tone and what I'm going for. 

 

Delay to taste of course, I'm not a delay guru but I stumbled on a setting in the ducking delay that I really like.  and I use the output volume block to control my volume boost. 

 

I do all my presets with snapshots turning on/off the lead/rhythm changes and such.

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4 hours ago, DunedinDragon said:

also tend to favor the Timmy and Minotaur along with the Tube Screamer or Kinky Boost, but it all depends on the amp and cab/ir I'm using and what comes across best for the tone I'm looking for

 

Strongly agree with this. Case in point, I love the Tube Screamer in front of any of the Fender type amps, but I also like to use the Lonestar ch 2 model and,  to my ears the Tube Screamer muddles it up real quickly, and I find a clean boost works best. What I love about that model is how well it reacts to input volume, so, more often than not, my "lead" setting is just to push my volume pedal all the way up.

 

On other models, I have found setting the tone knobs per snapshot like you indicated can render a good lead switch. But making minor tone adjustments becomes more tedious, because you have to adjust the same settings on every snapshot. Though, that may just be a consequence of my style of doing things, yours may work just fine with that method.

 

The last thing I find useful is an EQ pedal toward the end, after the cab, connected to an expression pedal. I think I've been using the 5-channel EQ lately. In addition to increasing the overall volume, it also reduces some of the lows and increases some of the highs (I think 2khz). It's been a while since I looked at it but I think I usually set it up so volume increases by 4.5db, the lowest or second lowest EQ slider decreases by no more than 3db, and the 2k EQ slider increases by no more than 2db. Since I have it on the on-board expression pedal, I can use it regardless of the snapshot state or whether snapshots or stomps are displayed on the footswitches, and I can boost as much or little as needed. And since the firmware update, the scribble script for the pedal now shows the percent up or down it is set at, so it is easier to tell exactly how much I am boosting, or not.

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As I (at least traditionally, read: using my half-analog pedalboard) am used to using the same lead boost/sculpturing for all tones (cleans, dirts, drives) and need a completely clean lead sound with enough headroom here and there as well, my method for quite some years (make that over a decade) has been to stick a mellow compressor in front of the amp section and use a post EQ to finetune the boost level and frequency spectrum of my leads.

The Helix Deluxe Comp seems to work quite fine (even if I wish it had tone control to somewhat enhance trebles just a tiny little bit, which my Mooer Yellow Boost pedal is excellent at). I try to make sure the attack is left untouched as that might result in a too squashed sound  and less options to fool around with playing dynamics and your volume pot.

As far as the EQ goes, the Simple EQ and the Cali Q Graphic work nicely as they display all parameters on one page, so adjustements straight on the Helix are easy to realize. I tend to boost some mids (a litlle lower for less agressivity and a tad higher for more rock kinda stuff) and adjust the output level accordingly.

Finally, I control those two via one switch.

As said, I have done it exactly this way in my (loopswitcher based) setups for a long time, works nicely.

I could post an example patch.

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On ‎10‎/‎28‎/‎2019 at 11:52 AM, emagli said:

Hi all,

 

I have been trying different ways to obtain good lead tones on Helix. I am very satisfied with my rhythm tones (mostly Bogner Mahadeva, Plexi and Placater) but there is something in my lead tones that feels a bit un-musical to me (slightly honky in the mids + harsh in the highs at gig volume, using a PRS CU24 with HFS/VB pickups). The tone is not "bad", but the other guitarist in my band has a very mellow lead tone using his Kemper; I am sure I can get a tone of similar quality with the Helix, but for now I am falling short. Disclaimer: I know tone is in the fingers, but I am talking about the core tone on very simple solos. I am not talking about dynamics either, which is the operator's fault -- purely the tone.

 

I have been reading plenty of posts on this subject in this and other forums. The prevalent approach seems to be to use an overdrive as boost before the amp to boost mids and obtain more gain, and/or post-amp eq to boost mids. So, my patches mostly employ a Minotaur as mid boost, sometimes a Timmy for low and high cut, and always an eq at the end of chain to raise level and boost mids further (generally +1.5dB @1.8 kHz). 

 

Another approach (which can not be done with real amps for most amps) would be to dump the pre overdrive and post eq, and change directly the amp eq settings via snapshots. I have done some preliminary testing (bedroom level only, for now) and I seem to get better tone in some but not all patches. If you have tried this approach and would like to share your thoughts... What are the differences between the two approaches? Using only the amp may lead to a more "organic" tone? The overdrive combined with the amp distortion may generate more harmonics? Any suggestions? Thanks!

 

Have you looked at the Q parameter for your EQ?  Funny thing- I was using the Q parameter completely backwards until recently.  The lower the Q, the *wider* the boost or cut effect will be across frequency bands.  So maybe your Q is set too wide on both the mids and highs for what you are looking for.  You may also want to look at making sure your EQ is placed *before* the cab sim and reverbs/delays, so that it's not somehow exaggerating whatever frequencies those effects are altering.

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On 10/28/2019 at 12:52 PM, emagli said:

Hi all,

 

I have been trying different ways to obtain good lead tones on Helix. I am very satisfied with my rhythm tones (mostly Bogner Mahadeva, Plexi and Placater) but there is something in my lead tones that feels a bit un-musical to me (slightly honky in the mids + harsh in the highs at gig volume, using a PRS CU24 with HFS/VB pickups). The tone is not "bad", but the other guitarist in my band has a very mellow lead tone using his Kemper; I am sure I can get a tone of similar quality with the Helix, but for now I am falling short. Disclaimer: I know tone is in the fingers, but I am talking about the core tone on very simple solos. I am not talking about dynamics either, which is the operator's fault -- purely the tone.

 

I have been reading plenty of posts on this subject in this and other forums. The prevalent approach seems to be to use an overdrive as boost before the amp to boost mids and obtain more gain, and/or post-amp eq to boost mids. So, my patches mostly employ a Minotaur as mid boost, sometimes a Timmy for low and high cut, and always an eq at the end of chain to raise level and boost mids further (generally +1.5dB @1.8 kHz). 

 

Another approach (which can not be done with real amps for most amps) would be to dump the pre overdrive and post eq, and change directly the amp eq settings via snapshots. I have done some preliminary testing (bedroom level only, for now) and I seem to get better tone in some but not all patches. If you have tried this approach and would like to share your thoughts... What are the differences between the two approaches? Using only the amp may lead to a more "organic" tone? The overdrive combined with the amp distortion may generate more harmonics? Any suggestions? Thanks!

 

There are a million different ways to get the tone you are hunting for but one thing I can state categorically is I am a big fan of using snapshots in general and definitely for switching between clean, crunch, and lead tones. Snapshots are the way to go for changing large numbers of parameters at one time. Regarding getting your distortion from the amp rather than a pedal you may love some of the amps' tones without adding an additional OD/Distortion and prefer others with a pedal, I tend to use a lead amp channel with a pedal. There are some clean amp channels though that sound great with just the pedal generating the distortion. Very subjective stuff here and as always depends on the sound you are going for.

 

I usually start by pulling back the tone and/or volume knobs on my guitar if I am going for a mellow lead tone (as you are looking for). A compressor in front of the Timmy, Minotaur, and/or Tube Screamer can help smooth things out. Many of my presets have two or even three amp models on the path. I usually have a PEQ set up after the amp and cab and often an LA Studio Comp at the end of the signal chain.

 

Going for example from a clean to a lead tone snapshot I switch the amp model to one intended for a lead tone and tweak its parameters as necessary. If the amp model I am using will be used for multiple snapshots any parameters I might want to change get assigned to snapshots. Using dual cabs with different mics ( one cab is fine too), modifying the mic used, distance, and other parameters on the cab(s) can help mellow the tone as can various settings on the amp including the bias. You can also change the mic on the cab by snapshot if you want. Same approach for the overdrive. I activate it and set its parameters via snapshot making sure that the cumulative effect of the amp's Drive parameter setting and the OD pedal settings are what I want. I often modify the delay time in the snapshot as well, usually setting it longer for leads as well as reducing the reverb mix parameter.

 

For classic blues-rock with a mellow lead tone I still tend to gravitate towards the Marshall models. Even if people don't tend to think of a Marshall as mellow. Plenty of other amp models will work or even be preferable depending on what kind of sound you are going for. Helps to pick the lead channel on a lot of them though, especially if you want some amp distortion in your snapshot  If you are just going for pedal only distortion which is not generally the method I prefer, then you can select some of the cleaner amp model channels. The clean channel on a Fender Twin might be a better foundation for a pedal-only overdrive approach . I tend to EQ out some of the lows below 100-120hz and cut the highs at around 4.5-5.5MHz and cut more dramatically at around 8-10MHz and above. I use the PEQ to go hunting for any frequencies that seem harsh to me. I do this for many tones but particularly for mellow lead tones. I know some users here have had success with the Tilt EQ but I have not played with it much yet. I should stipulate that I use an FRFR so some of these EQ cuts may be unnecessary if you play through a guitar cabinet.

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Thanks everyone for the very informative answers!

 

On 10/28/2019 at 9:18 PM, themetallikid said:

Anyway, so for me, the 808 will be the last block before the amp...sometimes I can just put that between the rhythm OD/AMP combo, but sometimes I need more 'mid-cut' and will throw a parametric EQ in front of both OD"s and boost about 6-8db of anywhere between 700-950hz depending on the amp tone and what I'm going for. 

 

On 10/28/2019 at 10:51 PM, rzumwalt said:

The last thing I find useful is an EQ pedal toward the end, after the cab, connected to an expression pedal. I think I've been using the 5-channel EQ lately. In addition to increasing the overall volume, it also reduces some of the lows and increases some of the highs (I think 2khz). It's been a while since I looked at it but I think I usually set it up so volume increases by 4.5db, the lowest or second lowest EQ slider decreases by no more than 3db, and the 2k EQ slider increases by no more than 2db.

20 hours ago, SaschaFranck said:

As far as the EQ goes, the Simple EQ and the Cali Q Graphic work nicely as they display all parameters on one page, so adjustements straight on the Helix are easy to realize. I tend to boost some mids (a litlle lower for less agressivity and a tad higher for more rock kinda stuff) and adjust the output level accordingly.

 

It seems there are different approaches to EQ... 700-950 Hz is not far from the same frequencies that TS808 and Minotaur are boosting, which should provide more midrange growl, 2kHz is closer to what I typically do; for me, it enhances pick attack and brightens up the sound a bit. I have also tried boosting 3.5 KHz; it definitely brings the tone forward in the mix, but also adds some harshness (I am mostly using the HFS pickup which has rather prominent highs).


On a related note, do you only use the EQ, or also change settings of treble and presence between rhythm and lead?

 

9 hours ago, JimGordon said:

Have you looked at the Q parameter for your EQ?  Funny thing- I was using the Q parameter completely backwards until recently.  The lower the Q, the *wider* the boost or cut effect will be across frequency bands.  So maybe your Q is set too wide on both the mids and highs for what you are looking for.  You may also want to look at making sure your EQ is placed *before* the cab sim and reverbs/delays, so that it's not somehow exaggerating whatever frequencies those effects are altering.

 

Good point! I was getting this wrong, too. Regarding position of the EQ, since EQ is linear and the cab is also linear, their order should not matter. Same applies to delays/modulations, *IF* they are linear (which they typically are, at least in their core tone). I do not use any reverb on leads, I find it muddens up my tone too much (we have a very dense mix with 2 guitars + keys and loud drummer...)

 

On 10/28/2019 at 9:18 PM, themetallikid said:

Delay to taste of course, I'm not a delay guru but I stumbled on a setting in the ducking delay that I really like.  and I use the output volume block to control my volume boost. 

 

 

I am also using the ducked delay, and specifically the setting in one of MBritt's Helix patches.

 

 

1 hour ago, HonestOpinion said:

There are a million different ways to get the tone you are hunting for but one thing I can state categorically is I am definitely a big fan of using snapshots in general and definitely for switching between clean, crunch, and lead tones. Snapshots are the way to go for changing large numbers of parameters at one time.

 

I have also moved to using snapshots; it is just too convenient. I have some blocks that I use only occasionally (a tilt EQ to compensate for the tone loss when I use The Drop, and a Volume boost), so I use the mode with 4 snapshots and 4 stomps, which gives me the best of both worlds.

 

1 hour ago, HonestOpinion said:

Using dual cabs with different mics although one cab is fine too, modifying the mic used, distance, and other parameters on the cab(s) can help mellow the tone as can various settings on the amp including the bias. You can change the mic on the cab by snapshot if you want and sometimes I do.

 

I used to use dual cabs too; I had found a combination I liked, which was a CaliV30 with an SM57 and another mic to smooth it a bit. For now, however, I have reverted to IRs. I have purchased Mbritt's IR pack and have found one that I particularly like. For most people, choosing an IR requires trying a huge number of options. For me it was the opposite. With MBritt's pack there are say 10 IRs to be tested that are well suited to a Marshall tone, so I do not have to spend too much time tinkering with parameters, which was the case with dual cabs and mic parameters. It was getting to a point where I was spending most of the time chasing tones instead of playing.

 

On 10/28/2019 at 6:11 PM, DunedinDragon said:

I also tend to find that too much distortion can make the lead sound less musical therefore less mellow. 

 

That is very true; initially I did not realize the pickups in my guitar have very high output (for passive, anyway), so I turned the input pad on; now I turned the gain down even more. It is easy to

use gain to obtain a more fluid sound when technique is so-so.

On 10/28/2019 at 6:11 PM, DunedinDragon said:

You may be simply overthinking the problem.

 

Yes I am :-) I guess since I am an electronic engineer and know all the theory behind this, not being able to translate this into the tones I want is particularly frustrating...

 

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13 minutes ago, emagli said:

It seems there are different approaches to EQ... 700-950 Hz is not far from the same frequencies that TS808 and Minotaur are boosting, which should provide more midrange growl, 2kHz is closer to what I typically do; for me, it enhances pick attack and brightens up the sound a bit. I have also tried boosting 3.5 KHz; it definitely brings the tone forward in the mix, but also adds some harshness (I am mostly using the HFS pickup which has rather prominent highs).

 

Fwiw, on overdriven sounds,  there's a *huge* difference between slapping anything in front or behind the amplification stage. You can, for instance, almost brutally boost the high mids and trebles on the frontend of the amp, which will often result in a much more "creamy" overdrive structure - but you would never apply the same amount of boost on a post-EQ.
I sometimes even use almost opposite EQing pre and post. Such as in boosting the trebles a lot to make the amp scream nicely and then cutting those very trebles with a post EQ to even out the overall frequency response.

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I’m going to throw in a really simple approach that works well. 

 

1. Find an amp model with a depth/resonance control (archetype clean or lead, badonk, etc). 

2. Set your rhythm tone.

3. Using snapshots, set a lead tone that only bumps up the gain, master volume, and depth/resonance. Leave all other eq settings alone. 

 

This results in a fat, sustained lead tone, in my experience. It’s very simple, but give it a try. 

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I tried a few things yesterday at rehearsal based on the suggestions received. I was very pleased with the results. Only problem is that I made the rookie mistake... I changed several things at once, so I don’t know what’s exactly responsible for the improvement. Anyway, here it is.

 

- I decreased the gain by a couple of notches. Immediately got more attack and dynamics.

- I removed any post amp EQ (other than volume boost), and simply relied on the minotaur for mid boost (plus slightly boosting the mids on the amp, if needed).

- on the timmy, I reduced the hi cut a bit for more brightness.

- I decreased presence to remove harshness. After that, I tweaked treble on the amp to obtain the pick attack I wanted

- I turned my yamaha dxr10 from wedge to straight position, slightly tilted using the small wooden stand someone kindly described on this forum, in order to decouple it from the floor.

 

These modifications got rid of the harshness and honkiness, and got me very close to where I want to be. From now on just a few small tweaks will be needed, and more importantly, I think I have understood how the different parameters affect my tone. Thanks everyone for the very useful suggestions!

 

Regarding the original idea of this topic, i.e. overdrive+amp or amp with different settings for rhythm and lead, I tested two patches with either method at rehearsal volume (read: pretty high), and had my bandmates comment on the tone. For the Mahadeva there was little audible difference. For the Placater, overdrive+amp yielded a more creamy tone with enhanced attack.

 

On 10/31/2019 at 3:31 AM, steelstringer said:

Using snapshots, set a lead tone that only bumps up the gain, master volume, and depth/resonance. Leave all other eq settings alone

 
Sounds interesting and I’ll try that too. Isn’t resonance going to increase the low end? For leads I generally like to cut the lows — I find it makes the guitar less muddy so that it cuts through the mix better.

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5 hours ago, emagli said:


Sounds interesting and I’ll try that too. Isn’t resonance going to increase the low end? For leads I generally like to cut the lows — I find it makes the guitar less muddy so that it cuts through the mix better.

I find that the resonance/depth controls thickens the overall tone, but doesn’t add mud or flub. It’s too bad that only a few of the models have this control. I also used to dial back low frequencies for leads, but then I felt that the tone was too thin. It’s always a balancing act...Good luck with your tone search. 

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On 11/1/2019 at 8:36 PM, steelstringer said:

I find that the resonance/depth controls thickens the overall tone, but doesn’t add mud or flub. It’s too bad that only a few of the models have this control. I also used to dial back low frequencies for leads, but then I felt that the tone was too thin. It’s always a balancing act...Good luck with your tone search. 

 

I did try that on one of my lead tones using the neck pickup of my PRS CU24 into an Archetype Lead -- it does what you said and indeed it does not muddy up the tone. Thanks for the tip!

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On 10/30/2019 at 4:13 AM, emagli said:

...

For most people, choosing an IR requires trying a huge number of options. For me it was the opposite. With MBritt's pack there are say 10 IRs to be tested that are well suited to a Marshall tone, so I do not have to spend too much time tinkering with parameters, which was the case with dual cabs and mic parameters. It was getting to a point where I was spending most of the time chasing tones instead of playing.

 

 

Analysis paralysis. I know what you mean. Options are great but I think it would be helpful for every IR vendor to provide a subdirectory of just a handful or two of what they consider to be their best work; thankfully that practice does seem to be getting more common. Which IRs are best is subjective but for many of us who don't have the patience to wade through thousands of IRs, providing an area with fewer choices helps preserve our sanity and prevents my wife from finding me in front of my Helix stuttering like Max Headroom. She finds that alarming.

 

 

 

 

MaxHeadroom.gif

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18 hours ago, HonestOpinion said:

providing an area with fewer choices helps preserve our sanity and prevents my wife from finding me in front of my Helix stuttering like Max Headroom. She finds that alarming.

 

LOL... What about when the wife hears the same riff looped for one or two hours, and sees the husband bent over the Helix and slowly rotating a knob to switch IRs? Mine certainly thinks I must have some form of difficulty in social interaction :-)

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