Overdrive and Boost Pedals - Small Tube Amp vs. Large Digital Amp

Overdrive and Boost Pedals - Small Tube Amp vs. Large Digital Amp

A really common way of achieving your tone is to combine your guitar amplifier with a range of drive pedals. This can have totally different tonal qualities compared to just running the amp on it’s drive channel.

The way amps interact with your pedals will depend on a range of factors from amp type, amp volume, pedal type, pedal order and more.

You can even stack different gain stages into the front of an amp for various different tones.

In this article we’re going to check out how drive and boost pedals interact with a 100w digital Blackstar Silverline Deluxe and a 10w Blackstar Studio 10 6L6.

Both amps are set to a clean tone and EQ’d to sound similar.

Boost Pedals

If you run a boost into a valve amp, especially a low wattage one, you will be pushing the preamp a little harder. You’ll notice in the video that even though the Studio 10 is set totally clean, the boost pedal pushes it slightly over the edge and it begins to breakup slightly.

It’s not enough gain to be considered overdrive, but you can certainly hear a break up. This is because of the low headroom of a 10w valve amp. You’re working that preamp and power amp hard.

If you run the same boost into the Silverline, with this being 100w and having plenty more headroom, all you get is a lift in volume as well as whatever tonal characteristics the boost pedal wants to add.

Overdrive Pedals

An overdrive pedal into a clean, low wattage valve amp works the same as a boost except it will bring in even more gain. Now you’re hitting the preamp with a saturated tone which gives you even more gain from the front end of the amp. This is a common use for overdrive, to push your amp to breakup even more.

Into the Silverline Deluxe you get a totally different experience. You can hear the gain has been added, but all the gain you hear is from the pedal. The preamp of the 100w amp is not bringing any distortion of it’s own. It’s a smoother drive tone because it’s all the pedal at work.

When you pair a pedal drive with preamp distortion you get a more harmonically rich drive tone. When you pair a drive with a high headroom amp you get a smoother, cleaner drive tone.

Stacking Boost and Drive

One very common thing guitar players do is to stack pedals to achieve different results. We talk about this a little in the Gain Staging video on the Blackstar Youtube channel.

In this instance I am running the clean boost into the overdrive.

Into the Studio 10 6L6 this brings even more gain than the previous two offerings because the stacked gain stage is hitting the front end of the amp even harder. This brings more preamp clipping forward, more sag and tube compression and more harmonics in the drive tone. This is a rich, cranked amp style drive tone.

Into the Silverline, the headroom prevents any preamp clipping here. You get a higher gain, but still very smooth sounding drive tone.

About The Author

Leigh Fuge is a professional guitar player from Swansea in South Wales that has written and created content for many high-profile guitar brands and publications such as PMT, RSL Rockschool, Trinity College London, Guitar.com and more.

He works with mgrmusic.com to provide high quality guitar content for guitar players of all abilities from around the country. To date, mgrmusic.com has successfully generated over 32,000 student enquiries for their network of music teachers around the country. Find a local teacher in your area today.