Dirty Textures

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Too Many Notes
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Apr 26, 2012
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O judgment! thou art fled to brutish beasts,
And men have lost their reason. Bear with me;


There's my dirt, there's your dirt, and ne'er the twain may meet, ladies and gentlemen - however, we're all dirty.

Even our cleans have dirt! The tube amplifiers we base our tones on (even modeled ones) have about 10% distortion even in their clean tones; back in the day they discovered it's the dirt and other tube artifacts, like compression, that give electric guitar tone complexity, and make it more interesting.

"But I like the dirt in my amp, and I don't like the dirt in your amp."

That's the 'judgment part' of the equation, and I get it. I'm that guy who'll hard pass on germanium dirt-making stuff. Wrong texture for me, for whom dirt preference is partly about texture.

Ever notice that an EL34 sounds different from its counterpart, the 6L6, when it breaks up? The 6L6 has a gravelly grind in the very low mids, and the EL34 has a sandier grind at a bit higher frequency? I'd rather hear an EL34 pushed to breakup than a 6L6, but I love the bouncy, cleaner tone of a 6L6 when it's not being pushed hard. Lots of factors at work here.

There's fuzz and there's overdrive. Both make dirt. People have differing opinions on them, because the texture and type of waves that are formed at clipping are different.

I'm calling those kinds of differences texture.

We hear the differences in the texture of our breakup, but each of us responds to those component differences individually. Different dirt making stuff that goes inside amps and pedals sounds unique, and the pieces-parts blend in different ways.

I could go on and on about texture, and I'm sure I will later on, but I'll make this observation:

Texture is a matter of context. That blatty, harsh accent played by the bass trombone at the high point of an action scene makes a different point solo'd in the room than it does in the context of a full orchestra playing a unison note hard.

You show me your dirt, I'll show you mine. Let's talk about what we like and dislike when it comes to distortion. Post pictures of your gear if you must, but this one's not about what the dirt-device looks like. It's about what it sounds like. So clips would be a lot more useful than pics.
 
Mainly I use the amp OD in the rehearsal room, to keep it simple.

I really love how the Studio 22 breaks up on the lead channel.

Now I’m using the attenuator, I’m running the main volume higher, which means the clean channel is on the edge of break up around 5-6 (guitar volume), so push it to 8-10 and it pushes the clean channel into break up territory.

Tonal heaven.

On the pedal side, that’s a topic of covered recently on the pedal board thread. Three OD pedals on the board so far and two more planned. So maybe too many options, but you’re never gonna find out unless you try.

Maybe I’ll become that OD stacking guy, who knows?
 
The texture in an amp or pedal breakup is something I am very tuned into. That is one reason I have had some issues with digital OD or distortion. It is much better now than it was in the past but there are times when I struggle with it. I tend to like the sound of tube amp OD or analog pedals. There are days when I prefer the tube amp and other days when I prefer the analog pedal textures.

My sensitivity to the texture in breakup is the reason I have way more OD pedals than anyone should ever need to own. I have learned some about an OD circuit and the components and methods used to get the breakup. There are some I gravitate to and some I really am not fond of.
 
My main 3 drive pedals:
Timmy + Klon and independent active Baxandal 3 band EQ:
My favorite Blues Breaker circuit:
And favorite original, non clone of anything:

So.....

It took me ages to learn that I prefer a good Timmy, Blues Breaker or Klon over a Tube Screamer, Vintage Fuzz, DS1 or whatever other kind of circuit that's out there.

Do boost circuits count? If so, I have to admit that I have a pedalboard that mainly consists of attenuated Boost pedals to create drive (rather than "push" the amp). Think FET boost with independent volume and gain controls!


Bare in mind that I'm a church guitarist, high gain is rarely needed. We stick to good cleans, and low to mid overdrives. We're all about that chime, tone and creating ambience! :D


That's not to say that I don't own and keep a few Fuzz pedals in my possession!
Here's a couple that I have managed to hold onto, and all of them are great!

A transparent Fuzz that excels at focusing on blending your clean tone so you keep dynamics and can go from Hendrix light Fuzz to crushing Soda Mesier with your pick attack:
The Pink Floyd Muff and the Jeff Beck Tone Bender:
And some hard clip Silicon Doom Fuzz:

I'd probably never use any of those fuzz pedals in live situation (again, low to mid gain overdrive player here) but I do have fun with them. Experimenting and stuff lol Expensive hobby, I know!

Personally, I prefer stacking boosts and low gain OD pedals over amp's natural tube overdrive or fuzz pedals. There are some rare occasions where I'll find a really good distortion/Fuzz pedals that can do super low gain, tone enhancing stuff without ruining the core tone of your guitar/amp.
 
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There's my dirt, there's your dirt, and ne'er the twain may meet, ladies and gentlemen - however, we're all dirty.

Even our cleans have dirt! The tube amplifiers we base our tones on (even modeled ones) have about 10% distortion even in their clean tones; back in the day they discovered it's the dirt and other tube artifacts, like compression, that give electric guitar tone complexity, and make it more interesting.

"But I like the dirt in my amp, and I don't like the dirt in your amp."

That's the 'judgment part' of the equation, and I get it. I'm that guy who'll hard pass on germanium dirt-making stuff. Wrong texture for me, for whom dirt preference is partly about texture.

Ever notice that an EL34 sounds different from its counterpart, the 6L6, when it breaks up? The 6L6 has a gravelly grind in the very low mids, and the EL34 has a sandier grind at a bit higher frequency? I'd rather hear an EL34 pushed to breakup than a 6L6, but I love the bouncy, cleaner tone of a 6L6 when it's not being pushed hard. Lots of factors at work here...

...I'm calling those kinds of differences texture.

We hear the differences in the texture of our breakup, but each of us responds to those component differences individually. Different dirt making stuff that goes inside amps and pedals sounds unique, and the pieces-parts blend in different ways.

I could go on and on about texture, and I'm sure I will later on, but I'll make this observation:

Texture is a matter of context. That blatty, harsh accent played by the bass trombone at the high point of an action scene makes a different point solo'd in the room than it does in the context of a full orchestra playing a unison note hard.

You show me your dirt, I'll show you mine. Let's talk about what we like and dislike when it comes to distortion. Post pictures of your gear if you must, but this one's not about what the dirt-device looks like. It's about what it sounds like. So clips would be a lot more useful than pics.
Perhaps you approach dirt as a medium that can be useful, the same way a farmer or cultivator appreciates dirt. The first thing you need is "good" dirt, rich in composted soil nutrients that will make for a healthy growth medium.

I'm not sure if it's possible to provide a comparable illustration regards this. What I can tell you is, listen to audio clips of Keith
Urban's 5F8 Tweed amp, cranked. Then, place one on of The Edge's SDD Preamp drives in front of the 5F8 Tweed with DynaCab 1x12 GT-100 stereo cabs, mic'd with ribbon and condenser mics. We're speaking warm and wooly now. Good 6L6 tube character with almost a Marshall overdrive feel.

This is all possible with Fractal Audio. Modeling? Yeah, blasphemy to some. To others, affordable, versatile, realistic modeling without the heavy pricetag associated with owning multiple pieces of actual gear. The beautiful thing about Fractal is that the deeper you dive into the Fractal ecosystem, the more you learn about what makes amps exhibit their own unique characteristics. Even for non-engineering types, reading the Fractal manuals and enrolling in one of FAS' masterclasses helps you understand all-things Fractal. Not ready to invest in the future of guitar gear? Take your time, choose wisely. In due time you'll find yourself asking, how is it that so-and-so has access to over 300 vintage and boutique amps, over 750 cab types and over 400 various effects types, which would normally cost close to 1.15M and require warehouse storage, for less than 2K?

A couple years ago, I did the math, as well. Sold most all of my boutique amps and effects, purchased a Fractal FM9 and stereo QSC CP8 FRFRs. Netted quite the profit and was able to build a footboard platform that houses my FM9, EV-1expression and Strobo-Stomp Mini and Tap/Hold switch. Today, I find a lot of my time being invested in viewing YT'ers Leon Todd and John Nathan Cordy speak about what it takes to build quality presets even your mother could love. Even helped me towards developing my ear for desirable tones, whereas before dialing in tones was anyone's guess. Yet with guided direction, even this hapless hero could find satisfaction with his intricately complex gear.
 
This is all possible with Fractal Audio. Modeling? Yeah, blasphemy to some. To others, affordable, versatile, realistic modeling without the heavy pricetag associated with owning multiple pieces of actual gear.

It's entirely possible that somewhere out there in Boofland (you have to be from Detroit, be pretty old, and watched cartoons on Saturday to get this reference...) there resides an amp model programming genius who can create a tone on a Fractal that would be great.

As for me - so far - the texture of digital distortion is the very thing I dislike about modelers. But I haven't heard everything.

So, maybe you're that genius?

Feel like posting a clip of what you've created? It might be very good, and I'd love to hear it.
 
Pedal wise I have two tube pre amp distortion box's both have two gain stages , that with a clean boost set to about 6db all stacked makes for me a delicous thick and creamy Santana~Trucks tone . I'm not a fan of the harsh crunchy stuff.

If I'm in that mood I'm either running my old Boogie Studio 22+( 4x12 Marshall slant cab ) or my PRS Blue Sierra 50W Paisley with the 2x12
Either do dirt wonderfully on their own , with pedals it just allows creamy infinite sustain at bedroom volume.
 
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It's entirely possible that somewhere out there in Boofland (you have to be from Detroit, be pretty old, and watched cartoons on Saturday to get this reference...) there resides an amp model programming genius who can create a tone on a Fractal that would be great.

As for me - so far - the texture of digital distortion is the very thing I dislike about modelers. But I haven't heard everything.

So, maybe you're that genius?

Feel like posting a clip of what you've created? It might be very good, and I'd love to hear it.
There are some very analog/organic/low to mid gain overdrive effects available with Fractal. Blues OD, Zendrive, Tim, SDD Preamp, to name a few...very smooth response. There are others which display a wider distortion clip. TS808, TS808 Mod, etc. Grittier to reflect a Marshall 50W crunch/lead tone. Plenty of fuzz and boutique tones as well.

TBH, I'd love to post a SoundCloud clip of some comparison tones. My concern is that while I've got Logic Pro on my iMac, I have no clue how to work with it. I used to be a GarageBand hobbyist, but upgraded to Logic thinking someday...What I can suggest that might pique your interest is to check out John Nathan Cordy's YT channel and look into some of his Fractal presets. He does a much better job showcasing the benefits of Fractal without cluttering and does a superior job playing as well. Trust me, I think you'll like him...
 
I don’t have the vocabulary to answer the dirt question(s).

For me it is the hardest thing to be consistently satisfied with. My Boogie Mark III is set to just add an edge to midnight blues with 59/09s. It’s a sure thing, so I don’t mess with it.

But...it isn’t right for everything.

I don’t like highs to get too jagged. I don’t like the middle to overpower the highs. I don’t like it to get scratchy.
 
Is your dirt clay or is it rich with nutrients to be able to grow? I tend to push the dirt too close to the root sometimes and it chokes the music. Sometimes I don't water it enough and it gets too dry. And sometimes the amp itself is just enough and I don't need to add anything. I have found (like a lot of people have) take an amp to the point of break-up and then use the dirt. I have a Nobels, SD-1, and a Nux Plexi on my board. I have used all 3 but normally use the Nobels. If I want to get really dirty I'll turn the Boss IR II on the Triple Rec setting and.................
 
Huge.

HUGE.

Dirt texture has been a big deal to me for a long time - I’m always trying to find it, tweak it, etc. I don’t know if it is strictly a function of an EQ curve, or if it has to do with gain staging and actual sine wave and clipping shapes - I feel it’s the latter, but I don’t know that for sure. Some amps have a nasty rasp, a grit that fades unnaturally because too much gain is introduced to the signal too early.

In my amps, it’s common for me to be changing out the V1 tube to change the gain cascade, especially on PRS amps, which usually means dropping the gain of the first stage. Especially in the older amps, they seem to just slam the first gain stage and it can get rough around the edges. It gets tough on the 2 channel amps, because V1 serves both channels, and a lower gain V1 like a 5751 or 12ay7 can make a clean channel anemic, despite taming a lead channel. I put a more polite NOS Amperex 12ax7 in my Custom 50, a new production Mullard 12ax7 in the MT15 (again lower gain) and a GE 12ay7 in the Sweet 16 - that being a single channel, I could really do what I wanted with it. The newer amps, PRS seems to have addressed the issue, the HDRX 20 and MT100 are cruising nicely with stock JJ tubes in V1.

Another personally, but probably not generally interesting factoid - two of my favorite mid gain OD pedals have oddball tube and transformer components. The Bogner Wessex is ultra smooth, and said to have a custom Neve transformer. And the Fender MTG tube distortion, running a proper voltage, though admittedly eclectic, preamp tube. Where other pedals are a chainsaw, they’re a velvet track suit.
 
What I can suggest that might pique your interest is to check out John Nathan Cordy's YT channel and look into some of his Fractal presets. He does a much better job showcasing the benefits of Fractal without cluttering and does a superior job playing as well. Trust me, I think you'll like him...
Great idea. I'll do that!
 
I don’t have the vocabulary to answer the dirt question(s).

For me it is the hardest thing to be consistently satisfied with. My Boogie Mark III is set to just add an edge to midnight blues with 59/09s. It’s a sure thing, so I don’t mess with it.

But...it isn’t right for everything.

I don’t like highs to get too jagged. I don’t like the middle to overpower the highs. I don’t like it to get scratchy.
Well, you're definitely making sense to me.
 
In my amps, it’s common for me to be changing out the V1 tube to change the gain cascade, especially on PRS amps, which usually means dropping the gain of the first stage. Especially in the older amps, they seem to just slam the first gain stage and it can get rough around the edges. It gets tough on the 2 channel amps, because V1 serves both channels, and a lower gain V1 like a 5751 or 12ay7 can make a clean channel anemic, despite taming a lead channel. I put a more polite NOS Amperex 12ax7 in my Custom 50, a new production Mullard 12ax7 in the MT15 (again lower gain) and a GE 12ay7 in the Sweet 16 - that being a single channel, I could really do what I wanted with it.
I was using an NOS Brimar 12AX7 that was polite in several spots in my amps to do that very thing. That tube is in DTR's hands.
Another personally, but probably not generally interesting factoid - two of my favorite mid gain OD pedals have oddball tube and transformer components. The Bogner Wessex is ultra smooth, and said to have a custom Neve transformer.
I had one, it's a really nice pedal. Rupert Neve made a deal with Reinhold Bogner to supply some small transformers for the pedal. I don't think it's made any more.

Rupert died just within the past few years, unfortunately.

And the Fender MTG tube distortion, running a proper voltage, though admittedly eclectic, preamp tube. Where other pedals are a chainsaw, they’re a velvet track suit.
I've never tried one of those! Sounds interesting!

Speaking of tube pedals, I had a Mesa V-Twin with two channels that was more of a tube preamp than a dirt box, despite being a huge pedal, but it also did just fine as a dirt box, if that makes sense. I did a bunch of ads with it and the Bogner Metropolis single channel amp I had here in the early '00s.

It's hard to believe that more than 20 years has gone by since then. But then, it's hard for me to believe I'm as ancient as I am. Today I was walking down the stairs into my studio - whoever built the staircase pushed the envelope to make the steps the tallest they could pass inspection with - and suddenly my right knee buckled as I stepped onto one of the stairs. Fortunately, I was holding the railing and didn't fall, but damn, that was a nasty little surprise!

People who say age is just a number either haven't been around long enough to know that just ain't true, or they're crazy! :eek:

Age DOES a number, but it isn't 'just' a number!
 
So true.

Context is bluddy everything.

The sound I think is perfect when I am noodling or practicing is terrible in most mixes.

The most cursed, irritating, spatty, screechy, flubby, fizzy sound is probably perfect somewhere in the right mix, for the right song, at the right volume.

We must embrace specialization, open our minds to seeing the gestalt of the mix with the guitar playing its part in the support of the music.
 
Excellent topic, I will be learning from this thread as I am now looking for a pedal to plug into my live setup (HB SE + Cube street) for the odd occasion I'll need to rock a solo with my vocalist.

I've never had any problem dialing up a smoother gain on my Mark 5 with the 6L6's but I don't use it for these gigs, and I've never had a lot of luck with pedals. I find OD pedals limiting as the gain structure is low and I have to push it too hard, then distortion pedals are mostly too high gain and rolling them back doesn't get me the same results as rolling back the gain on my tube amp.

Was looking for a cheap fix and don't want to spend a lot on something I'll use only once in a while so I stopped by a music shop to try some pedals. After trying an MXR"Timmy" (poor overall tone, slightly fizzy) and a Rat (fizz city as soon as you turn it to one) I was left bewildered with my lack of knowledge & experience with stompboxes so I guess I need to observe more.
 
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