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Michael Casswell’s - Pro Concepts Season 3 - Part 1: Two Essential Guitar Pedals

Lesson Notes

** As featured in issue 24 **

Hi everyone. I regularly get asked for advice on effects pedals, and guitar tone in general, so for this Pro Concepts, I thought I would share with you a simple tone stacking trick you can do with almost any compressor and overdrive pedal, and any valve amp. Two guitar pedals, which can turn your single channel amp into a four channel amp, or your two channel amp into an eight channel amp. Obviously you are not getting extra 'channels' on your valve amp of choice, but what you do get with these two pedals, is the facility to stack your gain stage giving you up to eight sounds.

So the video makes it all obvious but here it is in as simple a way as I can explain it as possible.

Basically, let’s assume you have a fairly respectable sounding valve amp that offers channel switching, which means it will have a clean tone and some kind of dirty overdriven tone. Some amps are single channel, and some amps have three, even four channels giving you many gain stages, but a lot of you out there will have two channels in your amp. These would be your first two sounds. By adding a compressor in front of each of these channels you have just doubled your amp's capability to four sounds. A good compressor will give you bags of clean sustain on your clean channel, and it will certainly make your dirty channel sing, depending how much dirt you have dialled in on the amp. When adding these pedals you get better results if you back off your amps gain stage a little, so that you can control everything from your guitar volume pot and push the front end with the pedals to different levels of gain.

Sounds five and six would be the overdrive pedal doing the same thing to your clean and dirty amp channels. Your clean channel will suddenly have some guts to it, great for Blues, and your dirty channel should give you some nice singing thick Rock tones, again depending on how much gain you have originally set on your amp. There are countless overdrive pedals on the market to choose from, it all depends what works for you, but trust me you don't have to spend buckets of money to get a good sound. The first overdrive I demo on the film is a DigiTech 'Bad Monkey' which is nothing special and real cheap to buy, but it's still one of my favourite overdrives because it will, without fail, do nice things to any decent amp.

I have a large selection of overdrives because each has its own mojo going on, and through experience and constantly thinking about tone, I have learnt what guitar pick up works with what pedal into what amp. The trick is to find the overdrive pedal that works with your guitar and your amp to give you a sound which inspires you to play better. By the way, an overdrive pedal is completely different to a distortion pedal or fuzz pedal, which will give you completely different results to what we are chasing here.

So sounds seven and eight can be great fun. This is where you run your comp into your OD and then both pedals into either the clean or dirty channels on your amp. This will give you a nice singing Blues Rock tone through your clean channel, and utter filth through the amp's dirty channel. Again, how you balance it all up will greatly affect the end result. By 'balance it all up' I mean how you have the pedals and amp set. An overdrive pedal will usually have an output pot and a gain pot, so how you set these will make your tube amp react differently. Most compressors will have an output and sustain comp ratio pot, so these all make a difference in our two sounds into eight sounds method. There will also be a certain amount of hiss involved, but there are ways round this, smart gates for instance, or volume pedals, or simply clicking one or both pedals off when you aren't playing.

I also keep mentioning tube or valve amps, simply because they are usually the most dynamic and sweetest way to get a good tone, but I have done this trick with solid state tranny amps and it will still work, it's just that sometimes, certain solid state amps do not like to be pushed at the front end, and simply do not react the way a valve will, especially when you hit it with a Klon Centaur overdrive! Things also get complicated if you have a modelling type amp. Really, this is about expanding what your average one or two channel tube amp will give you, and in my demo I use my Strat, so that you hear what the cheap, not so cheap, and stupidly expensive pedals do to an everyday guitar.

If I could only take two pedals with me, it would be a compressor and an overdrive. You may have different ideas, which is cool, but for me, these would be top of my list.

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