Tube Amp vs. Pedals vs. non-Master Volume

Discussion in 'Gear & Equipment' started by JediMasterThrash, Jun 1, 2018.

  1. JediMasterThrash

    JediMasterThrash SS.org Regular

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    A few years ago I came hear on a search for tone and the prevailing wind was pretty simple, use a tube amp for distortion.

    I recently started investigating pedals (for weird fx, not for distortion), and pretty much completely tangential to my research, I found that there's a fairly large community who are entirely about using pedals for their distortion. I found this counter-intuitive and surprising after hearing over and over again from ""everybody"" that you need tube distortion, not the digitalness from pedals/multifx/SS amps, etc.

    What I found is that this large group of guitarists that is all about pedal distortion is also often about non-master volume amps. And this makes sense, somewhat, as with (old-school?) non-master volume amps, the amps couldn't be put into high distortion by themselves, you basically require a pedal to push the front end in order to get distortion.

    Often, and sort of as a cause and effect of the non-master volume amp, is that 1/3rd of the distortion is from the boost pedal, 1/3rd from the preamp, and 1/3rd from the power-amp. Since by definition a non-master volume amp cranked up to push to distortion is driving a full signal into the power amp, you're also distorting that as well.

    I'm not trying to criticize or saying one way is better. I'm just sincerely curious to understand this fairly widespread love of the non-master volume amp. To me, it seems that with a multiple tube multiple gain stage pre-amp with a master volume, you should be able to push multiple tube stages into distortion and still suppress the final output volume, and achieve the same sound as pushing a tube preamp and a tube power amp into full-volume distortion. Is this not accurate?

    I mean, basically, if I used a traditional non-master volume amp cranked, and pushed it into a tube power amp cranked to get more distortion, and then passed that signal through a separate volume control to turn the level down before it went into a speaker (so I could still hear the next day), would that sound the same, and would that not have just re-created a master volume tube amp? (ignoring the affects of whether a speaker itself only sounds good at high volumes, which is often true, sound has to be turned up to some amount before the speaker starts hitting the right response curve)

    The other issue is, assuming you can get as good of a sound with a master volume amp (assumption may not be true), why would someone choose to have a system that requires cranking everything into ear-damaging territory just to get a good tone? I've read a lot about people having to then size their speakers/power-amps, etc for the venue, and often having a setup way too loud for their small venue and no way to turn it down.

    Somewhat related to my pedal search, is I was also looking to see if I could improve my tube distortion tone with some kind of tone-shaping boost pedal (like a tube screamer with the drive turned down, or actually it looks like the Seymour Duncan 805 is really nice if you don't need drive, and it even lets you adjust the peak of the mid-boost (the TS is fixed at 700hz).

    However, in playing with this stuff, it seems that a good high-gain tube distortion pre-amp really already has a pretty tight bass response and strong mids. I'm finding any kind of boost pedal just requires cranking the gain on the amp way down to compensate, and results in something that's not as warm and organic as I'd hoped.

    I've found even just using a straight up pre-eq to dampen some 100hz and boost some 700hz (which should simulate a TS frequency response) just results in a hollow middy distortion result.

    However, if you're using the non-high gain side of the amp, the results start to vary more. I haven't fully explored that yet. But obviously these boost pedals were designed for amps with less internal gain to begin with, so this probably makes sense.

    I'm just curious on other people's insights and opinions here.
     
  2. wakjob

    wakjob SS.org Regular

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    It really is situational with me.

    At low volume apartment noodling, my old Fender Bassman head set squeaky clean and 4x12 cab with a great dirt-box doing all the clipping is just fine.
    In fact, I have a hard time distinguishing that setup from much anything else.
    But in that scenario, I reach for digital modeling over everything else these days... it's just so good now.

    Band practice or live playing...tube amps still have an edge.

    As far as non-master amps go, I only have one I built and never get to play it, but it's tone (timbre) is amazing when it's "in the zone", and really challenges and inspires my playing skills.

    I had a JCM800 2204 that I put a PPIMV into just outta curiosity, while at the same time using an attenuator...
    Going back and forth between the three volume controls
    (master volume/PPIMV/attenuator)...

    I preferred the amps own Master Volume by a large margin.
     
  3. budda

    budda Guiterrorizer Contributor

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    It depends entirely on what sound you want.

    Doom guys and post-X guys are happy to run a clean high-power amp into as many speakers as they can get away with to get their dirt. I think highly produced popular artists will use amp, amp + pedal or pedal dirt to get the exact sound they want.

    When I played in previous bands, it was a tube head capable of high gain sometimes augmented with an overdrive pedal. Since joining a "post-hardcore" band I do the clean amp + a pedal platform. My bandmate used to do it as well, and then he got a twin for christmas and his JCM800 does what it wants to do - be incredibly loud and provide some dirt.

    Unfortunately I can't answer your question about dirty tube amp -> power amp -> volume though. I have no idea if that would work or not. I think most people will agree that people will find a solution they're comfortable with. It's nice to have options.
     
  4. JediMasterThrash

    JediMasterThrash SS.org Regular

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    I've traditionally always had trouble finding any decent distortion out of pedals. Pedals excel at "fuzz" distortion, but to me fuzz is just the worst possible distortion sound you can possible make (basically hard clipping everything into square waves). I'd always explored modelling amps + modelling cab sims instead. They still had digital artifacts that kept them from being perfect, but better than pedals. However, it looks like that Revv G3 pedal is amazing. It sounds as good as an expensive tube amp from what I can tell.

    Also, I realized I could get the holy grain Gallien Krueger 250RL for like 300$. I realized this holy grain of tone was actually a solid-state amp, not a tube amp haha. Actually I think the distortion tone isn't all that great, it has has the most epic built-in non-adjustable swirly chorus effect.

    Something like a soldano sp77 was my other search. Just always on the lookout for some great 80's tonez.
     
  5. mnemonic

    mnemonic Custom User Title

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    Won’t work, adding resistance between the poweramp and speaker load would massively mismatch the impedance the poweramp sees, which would not only change the response of the amp but also damage the output transformer and/or tubes.

    Cranking an amp, then bringing the volume down can be accomplished though, with an attenuator or a load box and then reamping.

    How much this changes the sound depends on a lot of things. Resistive vs reactive load, the impedence characteristics of that load (highly unlikely to be the same as your cab), reduced speaker distortion, and the fact that loud noises just sound different to our ears compared to quiet noises (fletcher Munson curve).

    As Budda said, it all depends what you want. Not all distortion is created equal, or all sounds different. Personally I don’t like power amp distortion, you lose definition and punch with too much power amp distortion. I also like boost pedals like tubescreamers. It’s not really about adding gain, it’s about changing the character of the gain.

    For instance a Mesa Dual Rectifier doesn’t need more gain, but turning down the gain on the amp and adding a tubescreamer changes it’s character, making it tighter and more aggressive. A lot of that is down to pre-eq vs post-eq, and you can accomplish a similar thing with an eq pedal before the amp.

    As for distortion pedals, they’ve got a hell of a lot better over the last few years especially. I was really impressed by the Friedman BE-OD and the Diezel VH4 pedals, very amp-like. My favourite tone at the moment is my ISP Theta preamp pedal directly into a poweramp. It’s technically a full preamp though, just in pedal form.

    We’ve come a long way from when we just had the DS1, Rat, tubescreamer, etc.
     
  6. prlgmnr

    prlgmnr ...that kind of idea

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    I wish we had a better abbreviation than PPIMV to distinguish it from the other kind of master volume. You know, a PPIMV.
     
    wakjob likes this.
  7. budda

    budda Guiterrorizer Contributor

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    Fulltone, Keeley, Empress = the goods. Try an OCD with the gain cranked in HP mode, let me know your thoughts :yesway:.
     
  8. laxu

    laxu SS.org Regular

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    Amp in a box pedals like the BE-OD can get pretty close to their real amp counterpart but in my experience there is still a certain "flatness" to these solid-state pedals that doesn't exist in the tube amp. That doesn't mean it's not a great sound that is highly usable. Same thing with overdrive pedals, they can be a bit flat sounding if they are the sole source of overdrive but as a boost they offer different flavors and interact with the amp's own sound in ways that can be pleasing or just plain wrong depending on the pedal and amp combination.

    I find high powered non-master volume amps incredibly inconvenient. You can never turn them up to levels where they sound good if you want to get overdrive out of them unless you resort to attenuators or load box + reamping which is going to be a different sound to a degree. Lower powered amps compress in a pleasing way when turned up while still not being obnoxiously loud and putting a boost on those doesn't make them any louder, just more saturated. Some amps like a Fender Princeton can sound pretty ratty when cranked. I could play their clean sound all day but would rather use pedals for overdrive instead of trying to drive the amp hard.

    Master volume amps are not built equal either. For example I don't like how a lot of Marshalls sound at anything but rather loud levels but have had very good experiences with Diezels and Egnaters at levels where the poweramp is not getting driven. I recently picked up the brand new Bogner Goldfinger 45 Superlead and I'll be damned if that amp doesn't sound like how I wish a good old school Marshall sounded, except it sounds the same at almost any volume. I've tried the amp cranked and got no benefit beyond what you get just by playing any amp louder.
     
  9. wakjob

    wakjob SS.org Regular

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    In a 2204, the Master Volume comes before the PI.

    Adding a Post-PIMV (Lar-Mar style),
    I was trying to distinguish or discern this thing called phase inverter conduction.
     
  10. brian_ward

    brian_ward SS.org Regular

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    With non master volume amps, the total is more than the sum of its parts. For instance, if you run super hot pickups into one, you’re going to end up getting probably a lot more compression than you want without much distortion. The happiest medium I’ve found is to use a slightly overwound PAF type pickup (or p90 style) into an overdrive pedal set with volume slightly over unity (gain and tone to taste) into an amp that’s just getting crunchy on its own. It’s a beautiful example of tube harmonics, dynamics but isn’t going to get you into metal territory.
     
  11. Zoobiedood

    Zoobiedood SS.org Regular

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    A non MV amp is looser in the bass, and one for certain styles (but is wonderful for those). If your playing relies on touch sensitivity on every note (rather than consistency), then they are wonderful.
     
  12. DudeManBrother

    DudeManBrother Hey...how did everybody get in my room?

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    I think the idea is a holdover from the old school. There is a conception that non mv will somehow have more headroom. Headroom is the difference between an amps max SPL potential and the speakers max SPL handling capacity. MV is just another parameter to tone shape.

    If the circuit does indeed shape tone in the power section; then finding out the minimum setting to get the desired result is crucial. And even if that setting is 6-7 (as is typically the case I find) it still saves your ears a considerable amount vs fully cranked.

    If an amp gets all of its tone shape from the pre amp, then you can crank the pre vol to the desired tone and set the master for overall SPL output.

    The very people that subscribe to the non MV amps are the ones that get their dirt from a pedal because they can’t/don’t want to crank the amp to get the desired tone. If they had a MV they might find the tone they want at a (more) reasonable volume!

    Sometimes it’s all also that perfect clean tone that’s bold, thick and chimey. The sound you're convinced can’t be found on ch 1 of a higher gain amp. If you want to keep that unaltered, then it’s beneficial to throw an OD in front for slight break up, and maybe a Klon or Ratt for the higher gain sound.

    No right or wrong, just different means of expression. You can achieve some really sick gain tones by cascading 3-4 pedals with a little bit of drive on each; and really paying attention to the EQ shape in the staging.
     
  13. mongey

    mongey SS.org Regular

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    I have spent a good amount of time on a non master ac30 and a newer one with a master , and the older , non master def sounded allot better IMHO . more pure. kind of like removing the tone pot from your guitar . fucking loud though
     
  14. Deadpool_25

    Deadpool_25 SS.org Regular

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    TL;DR: Do what sounds good to you :)

    Preamp distortion is different from power amp distortion. And various preamps and power amps sound different from each other. And various pedals sound different from those and from each other. And not only are there different types of distortion there are different levels of it. Oh yeah and there is speaker distortion, inner ear distortion,...

    And people like or dislike various types and levels of it (probably not liking the inner ear type so much lol).
     
  15. laxu

    laxu SS.org Regular

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    That's not necessarily an apples for apples comparison though as there could be any number of circuit and component differences that account for difference in sound.
     
  16. JediMasterThrash

    JediMasterThrash SS.org Regular

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    Wow, that Friedman BE-OD does sound really good.

    I definitely always thought I'd want a second distortion option just as an alternative to the e530. People say the e530 is only good for "modern metal" but combine it with some chorus and reverb and post EQ and it hits the 80's pretty well. It is pretty tight on the bass and good mids to begin with I think which is why trying some pre-EQ options wasn't helping.

    I mentioned the GK and Soldano above. Or even a cheaper mesa studio preamp. I've heard the But since i heard the Revv G3 I thought maybe a pedal might be a good alternative. Sounds like there's some other good pedal distortion options out there.

    Tones I'm after are singing 80's leads, and some modern progmetal leads, and some 80's neo classical. My two goto examples are always the 80's Doug Aldrich sound and the "Maze" era Vinnie Moore.

    I always thought iron maiden is what I wanted. But after listening to isolated guitar tracks, really I don't like their raw distortion that much, I've come to the conclusion that their magical tone is all in the hands of Murray and Smith, with low-mids filled in by the bass guitar. They could plug a metal zone into a roland cube and make it sound like Egyptian gods.

    Same with that wall-of-metal metallica sound (the infinite sustain so much distortion you can't tell what note is being played anymore sound of MoP, JfA, etc). But really I've found my ears tire of too much high-frequency sound like that, and I prefer more key/tone/octave definition. And I think the sterility of those EMGs is kind of missing the more musical qualities of some other bands I like.

    One thing I haven't really found yet is a good clean distortion. Something that sustains and cuts and signs, but isn't really that "distorted". It seems that the crunch or lo-gain paths tend to just not reach that sustained signing feeling until you crank the gain up enough, and then it's in full on metal distortion territory. But some artists like Eric Johnson and Vinnie Moore seem to have that sustained cutting sing with a "cleaner" distortion. This might just have to do with an OD/boost before a lo-gain channel.
     
  17. budda

    budda Guiterrorizer Contributor

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    Put an ocd in front of a clean amp and you're there.
     
  18. Ogami-Z

    Ogami-Z SS.org Regular

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    The choice of amp to me all boils down to the type of metal you’re playing. If it’s something that requires a certain amount of tightness like thrash or progressive metal I’d use my 5153 50w or my or15 with a tubescreamer. Personally I’d only use pedals for these styles of music if i was mostly using a different back line somewhere, then it would make sense to run through the clean channel with a pedal I could get a consistent tone out of.

    Ive been heavily into post metal, doom & sludge this past few years & fuzz pedals. For pure amp gain Orange, Matamp & Verellen are just perfect for these styles, especially the doom, sludge & even stoner. My Or15 is great for this tone without pedals, high gain but a bit loose & fuzzy. But as I said ive been into fuzz lately, i have a D*A*M meathead, quantum mystic & a few muff style pedals. The thick tone of the or15 suits these types of pedals well but only as long as you run the amp set pretty clean or it can flub out a bit. When it comes to old school fuzz & drive pedals i think a non master volume amp that depends on the power valves for crunch allows the pedal to shine or even enhance the drive of the pedal when combined with the drive of the power valves. But with a master volume amp there’s always a bit of a struggle for supremacy between the pedal & the preamp, which is why it makes sense to run some of the more modern distortion pedals through the fx loop.

    So for me the search for a more vintage style amp began & I’d settled on a matamp gt120 that is until the Laney (supergroup) LA30BL came out. So being a sabbath fan for most of my music loving life i had to have one. There’s no fx loop & unless you’re pushing the amp pretty hard you don’t really miss it. There’s a kind of symbiosis & clarity that just wasn’t there when using my pedals with my other amps. Plus there’s the added bonus of that vintage power valve crunch that I don’t really get from my other amp (attenuator definitely required), truly addictive tones when cranked. So yes for low tuned doom or sludge metal with fuzz or old school drive pedals a more vintage based or non master volume higher wattage amp makes a lot of sense.

    There is also a massive pedal community out there who like to play various styles of music where one or two drive pedals just won’t cut it & high headroom non master volume amps just seem to be less choosy when it comes to pedals & the added bonus of just the pure amp cranked (with an attenuator or if you can get away without one) is pretty great.

    But yeah if i was mostly playing more modern tight metal I’d definitely be choosing a high gain amp over pedals, or maybe go down the kemper helix route but that’s a discussion for another day.
     
  19. LiveOVErdrive

    LiveOVErdrive CNC hack

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    Any amp is a no-master-volume amp if you dime the master volume.
     
  20. Ogami-Z

    Ogami-Z SS.org Regular

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    Yes Technically your right but there just isn't the same interaction IMO with pedals that you get with a proper vintage based non master amp. I've tested it with my 5153 50w & orange OR15 vs my Laney LA30BL (NonMV) & apart from the juggling act with trying to get the preamp gain on the master volume amps (now acting as your main volume) set right (clean with lighter picking but just a little hair when you dig in) there's always again IMO still too much preamp tube gain there vs power tube gain which interferes with the tone of the pedal. I think most of the more modern amps are designed to run the power amp stage pretty clean & depend almost totally on the preamp to provide the gain. which can work well with pedals but the more vintage based, less compressed & open sounding non master amps work better with pedals. Again this is all my personal opinion.

    If you are using a more modern amp with modern preamp based distortion pedals, maybe your not overly into the drive the amp offers. So I think maybe the best approach would be to bypass the preamp altogether. These are videos are good examples of how IMO the Rev G3 sounded better throughout the loop vs in front of the amp.





    The Ola video is especially good at demonstrating this.
     

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