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Electric Guitars/Better and warmer overdrive tone


Hello Mr. Gardiner,

I have been trying to get smooth and creamy overdrive tones from my guitar, an amp, and a distortion box. All of my guitars have single coil pickups (passive), for I love the bright tone. My amp has a high gain mode, and if I play in that mode, still I sound rather "fuzzy and grainy". I understand that single coils have low outputs, and this is why I purchased a distortion box to boost the signal. Even if I use both the distortion box and amp's high gain mode, still I can not achieve that warm smooth (as opposed to
grainy") tone. Is there any way for me to get the tone I want without switching to a humbucker? Or perhaps a wah pedal to boost

Thank you in advance,



Your situation is why as guitarists we are never truly satisfied! What you are experiencing is the pursuit of 'Tonal Nirvana'!

So, first things first - let's have a full rundown of your actual equipment - amp, distortion and guitar - brand and models and approx age and a style of music or tone you wish to attain.

In the meantime I can give you the benefit of my finding along my Tone Path.


I have several guitar models - Strats, Teles, Gibsons and PRS, covering Single Coils, Humbuckers and P90s. I have both solid state and 'Tube' (Valve) amps and not too many pedals. I am not overly fussy on brands of guitar strings, but I do tend to prefer 10s but I do like a medium-to-heavy pick.

I like rock blues, classic Brit Rock 60s to mid 70s, Hendrix, Cream etc; Bowie Ziggy era and classic Blues a-la Freddie King etc. I like classic US bands also of the 60-70s era and to the guitar tones in STAX and Mowtown classics - so, basically, anything with good guitar/amp tone then I am up for it! Hopefully then, I have covered a tone that you are searching out!


OK, The first point of focus is that you say you would like a 'creamy OD, so that rules you out wanting 'Stoner' ultra High Gain Metal tones. As such the first pointer is to advise that often the driven tones you hear and love in classics are often not driven that much at all but feature a high level of treble. So if a Strat, then you probably know the bridge PUP gives the most cut and punch. It is rather trebbly though, so you need to balance this with your amps EQ. Without knowing the amp type I cannot be specific, but do add-in a smidgen of reverb if you can and/or some delay. A delay setting that offers an ambient flavour rather than repeats. Another essential ingredient is COMPRESSION. Compression can be either from a Compressor pedal or from the natural compression from a drive pedal and/or the amps gain. Ultimately, what you seek in a good tone with an electric guitar is the ability to generate and ride natural 'harmonics' from the combination of guitar/amp/effects and one other organic ingredient - your pick action on the strings.

For a creamy OD I would not use a Distortion pedal, rather an Overdrive Pedal/Tube Screamer or Transparent Drive or Boost. I could spout off hundreds of well considered models, but if you reply with a budget and other info I can give a more specific answer.

Sometimes combinations of pedals can give surprising and much welcomed results, and combining pedals such as an OD + Distortion can be just what is needed, so don't ditch the Distortion just yet!

Generally, cheaper amps with a Distortion/Hi Gain channel will be a bit of a compromise and try to emulate those amps models and brands that are renowned for their abilities in that area, such a Mesa Boogie Friedman, etc. Even the classic Marshalls did not have a dedicated Hi Gain channel as such, it was just the characteristic of the amp that delivered that quality.

Often then, you will find these Overdive/Distortion settings on cheaper amps are rather fizzy, thin and grainy - just as you are finding. The trick here is to blend that gain with the clean if your amp lets you  - OR - employ your OD pedal on the clean channel with trebble.

So to review so far: You need the aid of some compression; a stout pick; select trebble PUP; some ambient texture; a signal driven but not saturated, so dial up the vol on your Distortion pedal, but down on the gain and the tone to level with the other trebble setting on amp/guitar. Then 'Dig-in' with your pick and try angling the attack point of the pick's edge - you will be amazed at the tonal difference for free! Also - make sure your string bends get to pitch and add plenty of vibrato from your fingers. These little tweaks polish your sound immeasurably.

I have a couple of YTube clips here for you to see how you can generate good tone from inexpensive gear and both my own work. Strangely they both feature Distortion Pedals(!) but the PROEL is really a Clean Boost style OD or Transparent Drive and you will see that.

The Joyo Deluxe Crunch offers a very Square Wave signal and taming it is a trick. I have settings that emulate HiWatt and Orange Amp styles of drive which immediately makes it an invaluable addition to my demure pedal collection.

No creamy OD tone here BUT, I need to know what you have to hone that advice. So here then is end of Part One:

see my BOSS ME-5 dedicated pages too

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Mark Gardiner


Guitars, Guitar Amps, Guitar FX, Playing Guitar, Guitar based Music


Musician for 40 years

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Making Music Sound on Sound Music Week Computer Music Music Industry News Guitarist

Worked for Peter Gabriel in late 80s

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