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steelstringer

2 approaches to overdrive

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Hello all. I recently created a high gain patch in a way that changed my thoughts on Helix overdrive tones. I had an existing clean patch (Archon clean), and I added the Tone Sovereign in front. It got pretty crunchy. Then, I boosted that pedal with the Minotaur. The resulting tone is on par with many of my “go to” high gain models (Badonk, Placater, Archon). In fact, the note articulation seems to be an improvement overall. 

 

Does anyone one else use this approach for high gain tones on the Helix? Is it a viable alternative to just picking a high gain model?  Why or why not? 

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1 hour ago, steelstringer said:

Does anyone one else use this approach for high gain tones on the Helix? Is it a viable alternative to just picking a high gain model?  Why or why not? 

There are many ways to get the same result.  All youre really doing here is using Minotaur to drive a sound that "got pretty crunchy".  Tone Sovereign is acting as the amp in this case, or where the most of the distortion is being generated, and the archon is mainly acting as a volume boost with some tone control, and since those "tone controls" come after the distortion they should be pretty responsive.

 

Is it a viable alternative to just picking a high gain model?  Does it sound like it is to you? Ive got tones that are built without using any amps at all that i like just fine. How you get there doesnt matter as long as you like the sound coming out in the end.  The amps in helix sound exactly the same, its just that they are squeezed a little differently to give the distortion alternative handling from amp to amp. This is really all youve done.

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Also, just to clarify, I know that I haven’t discovered anything new here, it’s just a different approach for me. I guess I just wondered about different perspectives of getting a high gain tone this way versus selecting a high gain amp model. 

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I think it's a very viable alternative both in the modeling world and in the physical pedals/amp world.  Like you said, you're able to get a very similar high gain sound--and I've also felt these type of stacked gains can provide an added level of clarity/articulation.  I've always loved super high gain sounds, but don't get to use them live often with either of the bands I play in--so my compromise has always been to use stacked overdrives that can in combination hit high gain sounds, but be used alone for the lower gain sounds that I get to use more often.  With Helix stuff, I guess there are any number of ways of arriving at these sounds--but I think stacking pedals in front of a clean amp sound can provide a lot of flexibility and added perspective when it comes to distortion in general--and for me personally, it provides an easier pathway back to clean or just crunchy.   Plus, if you think it adds added articulation to what you're doing, at least giving it some experimentation seems worthwhile.      

 

Were you running the Minotaur first into the Tone Sovereign or vice versa?  I've had a lot of fun flip flopping the order distortion models and testing the settings and have found some fun combos/interesting results and I feel like I'm barely scratching the surface.    

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Been doing it like that for ages in the real analog world, as in using a clean amp with things such as MITB (Marshall In The Box) pedals mimicking an overdriven amp. Allowed me to create things just on my pedalboard instead of dealing with the 4CM and amp switches.

Fwiw, the best amp I had for that was a Boogie MkIV (and yes, for around 4-5 years I completely "wasted" the other channels) - which also serves pretty well for that purpose in the Helix, especially as it has the 5-band graphic EQ built in, allowing for really nice fine tuning.

 

For me, only ever using one single patch per gig (for good reasons), it's quite a decent concept anway, as the drives consume less CPU power than another amp, so I'm able to squeeze a bit more into that single patch.

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Yeah im just trying to simplify some of the reasoning, not make it sound like you havent found anything new. sorry if it came off that way.  Maybe because i tend to place little importance on how i arrived at X. Sometimes i might even knock a bunch of volume of the front of a hi gain amp and compress the snot out of it,  if it cleans up nicely and works as a cleanish sound, then great....which is pretty much opposite of what you described here. i tend not to give much thought that its a high gain amp....or even a drive pedal that i may be dimming on the front end.

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I sometimes do that for rock / hard rock tones (say old Bon Jovi or similar). I do not necessarily start from a clean amp, but I obtain my crunch tone adding a mild overdrive to a mildly distorted amp (plus another overdrive for lead boost). Sometimes the harmonics from the two types of distortion combine very nicely. I usually don't do it using a clean amp as a basis; I used to do it with analog amps/pedals, but Helix has so main options for crunch that, unless I specifically like one particular pedal model, I'd rather start from the crunch channel of an amp model.

 

That said, I recently prepared a patch for a higher gain sound and wanted the low end to be very tight. I thought I'd start from a high-gain amp model, figuring it should be already optimized for that application (Revv generator -- wow!). I could have done it with pedals and there are ways to tighten the low end when needed (I like some low cut before the amp), but I felt it would be an unnecessary complication.

 

All are valid approaches, and YMMV.

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I don't do this all the time, but for certain types of songs it works quite well.  It's a very good way to dial in certain very specific tones.  For example I get a great Joe Walsh sound using a Les Paul through a HiWatt with a Teemah providing the crunch and a Screamer for the lead tone.

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3 hours ago, willjrock said:

 

Yeah im just trying to simplify some of the reasoning, not make it sound like you havent found anything new. sorry if it came off that way.  Maybe because i tend to place little importance on how i arrived at X. 

 

No offense taken here, and thanks for your reply and insight. When I was gigging often, I totally shared your perspective - if it sounds good, it really doesn’t matter how I got the tone. Now, due to work, grad school, flaky bandmates, etc, I find myself dialing in tones at home just for fun. So, I guess I’m getting wrapped up in the how and why of tone creation as a means of entertainment for myself.

 

 

Like you mentioned, the Helix provides many avenues toward the same result. I’m focusing (maybe too much) on the subtle differences between a traditional high gain model and a clean amp with pedals. 

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I'm obsessive about making patches, and am now somewhere in the range of having made 140 or more patches.  They range all over the place, with some using just amp gain, and some using the method you use- 1 or more distortion/overdrive pedals into either a clean, or at least lower gain amp.  I have an "Old Savatage" patch that is basically 2 Super Overdrives daisy chained into a clean Marshall, which is sort of what Chris Oliva did.  My "Imaginos" patch (inspired by mid-late 80's Blue Oyster Cult) has a couple different amps that I can switch between, but the basis of the distortion is mostly pedals (the "Heavy Distortion" does most of the lifting), while my ELO patch uses a Tone Sovereign with both drive sections into a low-ish gain Fender to get that "Do Ya" grindy crunch.  "Chorus Lead" is essentially a Twin dressed up with chorus and 'verb (and delay is available), where I kick in a tube driver pedal for a sweet singing lead sound (and a booster if I want more gain).  Those are just a couple of the ways to approach things.  So many options......

 

Just to point this out- I think the Tone Sovereign may be one of the most versatile drive models on the Helix, as having 2 serial gain stages, each with 3 possible types of drive, 2 tone controls, and 2 levels of intensity, PLUS the battery voltage choice (which does actually affect the tone) really gives you a lot to work with in just one effect block (although it does consume more CPU power than your typical overdrive).

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There are three primary parameters to overdrive - saturation (drive), tone and output level (volume). There are many approaches to controlling these parameters to get different tones for different purposes. But let's explore three broad approaches and their advantages and disadvantages. 

 

The simplest and perhaps most traditional approach is to use the amp for distortion. For traditional Fender, Vox and Marshall amps, that often means turning up the volume until the power amp distorts. Depending on the power rating of the amp and the number of speakers, this is going to be pretty loud and aggressive sounding, with a lot of odd order harmonics from symmetric clipping of the power output stage. This isn't very flexible because all the tone controls are in front of the distortion except presence or the treble cut in the Vox amp. So most of the tone control of the distorted tone comes from the speaker choice. What you loose in flexibility though you gain in feel since louder generally sounds and feels better, provides more interaction with the guitar for better sustain, and introduces sag for additional dynamics. The biggest issue though is that you have to set the amp for the dirty tone, then use the volume control on your guitar to get a clean tone. This often results in a pretty dark clean tone. If you amp has channel switching, then this wouldn't be a problem.

 

To work around these disadvantages, you can use distortion pedals into a clean amp. Now you can get distortion tones at controllable volume levels with tone controls after distortion to tame the fizz/icepick, warming up the distortion. Pedals aren't that expensive, so you can have different ones for different purposes. This works so well that there is an explosion of fantastic distortion pedals on the market to choose from. The drawback is that it can be difficult to get a wide range of tone/saturation options out of a single pedal.

 

To work around that shortcoming, you can use multiple pedals to create flexible gain staging in your signal path. With multiple pedals, you can set different pedals for different tone/saturation combinations for different purposes. The big question is, how should these different gain stages be ordered, and how should they be used together?

 

I think a simple general rule (but one meant to be broken) is to put sustain before tone in the signal path. That is, you want the things that establish the drive tone to be after the things that create the distortion and harmonics, so you have more control of how those sound. For example, working backwards from the clean amp to the guitar:

 

1. Set the amp for you cleanest tone and overall volume. Use the neck pickup on your guitar with the guitar volume and tone all the way up to create your base tone. Tame an overly bright bridge pickup with the guitar tone control. Do this at typical playing level to get an accurate idea of the tone.

 

2. In front of this, place your first gain stage. This one should introduce a little breakup and with the tone set to keep the level of warmth you want. I use Teemah! for this as its tone controls work very well for sculpting  early distortion tone. Teemah! also provide an option for asymmetric clipping for more even order harmonics that can sound less aggressive. This will often be left on all the time. It establishes early breakup tone without having to turn the amp up so its too loud.

 

3. In front of this, place your 2nd gain stage. This gain stage plays two roles. By itself, it creates a different tonal structure, often with a significant mid hump with a bit more saturation for a more aggressive distortion that cuts through the mix for solos. Stacked with the first gain stage gives increased saturation for typical leads. Use the volume and tone control on your guitar to easily adjust the amount of saturation and tonal color. I use Minotaur for this, with the gain set relatively low and volume/level set higher to drive the first stage into more saturation. 

 

4. In front of this, place your 3rd gain stage. This one is for over the top sustain when you need it. I use two mutually exclusive options for this stage (I don't ever use them together): hard clipping distortion (OCD) or fuzz (Facial Fuzz). These will often be used with either or both of the first and second gain stages depending on the song. Fuzz especially seems to benefit from having another overdrive after it to provide more control of the fuzz tone.

 

5. (optional) In front of this, you can add another distortion block that helps establish the fundamental tone of your guitar. I use Heir Apparent for this because it has a lot of flexibility in setting saturation and tone. This one also stays on all the time, and isn't even assigned to a footswitch. It doesn't do that much, but you do notice it when its turned off. I use it mostly to just fatten up single coil pickup tones.

 

I find it is better to get increased saturation by gain staging multiple pedals then it is to get all the saturation from one pedal. This keeps each pedal working in its sweet spot while also giving a lot of flexibility in distortion voicing.

 

Another good rule of thumb is to use the minimum amount of saturation for the song. This maintains articulation and keeps your guitar from turning into an indistinct buzz that disappears in the mix. 

 

The gain staging above applies to traditional pedalboards and of course works great with Helix. But Helix has an additional level of flexibility that is generally not possible with traditional amps (unless you use reactive loads). Helix amp models have a level control and cab blocks with low and high cut. So it is possible to leverage the distortion capabilities of the amp models and cab block low and high cut to control distortion saturation and voicing. I use this in HX Stomp to get various distortion tones using a couple of footswitches to control amp drive, treble, bass, presence, and cab high/low cut to get the tones I need without using any distortion blocks. This is sort of like going back to the traditional approach, getting all the distortion from the amp, but using studio controls after the amp to tailor the tone and volume level.

 

 

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On 11/24/2019 at 9:12 AM, amsdenj said:

I find it is better to get increased saturation by gain staging multiple pedals then it is to get all the saturation from one pedal. This keeps each pedal working in its sweet spot while also giving a lot of flexibility in distortion voicing.

Thanks for the insight. I tried your suggestion of the OCD-Minotaur-Timmy, and it is a great pedal stack. 

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Fwiw, I like stacking gain pedals myself, too, but do it too much and you lose most of your dynamics, even if the overall drive might not be that much. This is even more true in case the first pedals in the chain have a sort of compressing character, simply because when you turn down your guitar volume, only the first pedal will be affected.

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On 11/20/2019 at 6:15 PM, willjrock said:

 Ive got tones that are built without using any amps at all that i like just fine.

 

Oooh,  gonna have to try that!!  I love being able to do the physically impossible on the Helix!  I've successfully put an overdrive after the amp model myself and use that patch quite a lot.  Now if we could just  get an amp model that allows us to only distort the virtual power section. This could be accomplished in several of ways; 1) They could include a clean boost circuit after the tone stack. 2) Create a virtual effects loop within each amp model so that we can add an effects block between the preamp and power amp (I've proposed this in Ideascale). 3) Give us a few separate preamp and power amp models. 4) Give us a "Blank Slate" amp model that allows us to configure it as we please. We choose virtual preamp tube types and their gain staging, same with the power section.

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