Choosing the right distortion pedal is crucial if you really want to extend the versatility of your guitar. However, all distortion pedals are wrong for you if you use them improperly. It’s not enough that you pick the right distortion pedal — you have to make sure you’re also using them correctly.
How to Use Your Distortion Pedal
- Read the manual for the distortion pedal. There may be some special instructions specific to the model you got.
- Watch lots of videos about the distortion pedal as well. Especially check out the video demonstrations and reviews that offer some tips on optimizing your use of the pedal.
- Be ready with your power setup. If you have distortion pedals that use batteries, then you should have lots of spare batteries for backup. You can also use pedals that are powered by an AC adapter, but you should make sure that you don’t end up with a mess of cables as a result of using multiple pedals.
- Jack the guitar into the pedal, then connect the pedal to your amp. Only when all the cables are plugged in should you turn on your amp. If you connect a cable after you turn on the amp, this may damage the circuitry of the amp.
- Before you turn on the pedal, turn the knobs to their default settings. Usually, this means either putting the knobs at zero or at the noon setting. Then engage the pedal by using your foot on the foot switch.
- Check that your guitar volume is at the maximum. Then see to it that the volume level of your pedal actually allows you to hear the different effects.
- Now it’s time to experiment with the various knobs on the pedal. Guitars and pedals are different, and they can result in surprising effects depending on your knob settings. So you have to fiddle with the knobs to see how different settings alter the sound and flavor of your tones.
- When you play, a good rule of thumb is to use your pedal gain to balance the intensity of the song you’re playing. Basically, if a section of the music is heavy with lots of complicated drum solos and intricate piano playing, you may want to keep the guitar tone from becoming extremely distorted at the same time. There’s no need for it, and the distortion simply becomes redundant. It sounds muddy, too.
However, at a point where the music is very basic and simple, that’s when you should really go wild with the distortion. The more basic music offers a good background to really emphasize the special sound effects.
- In general, it’s best that you match the level knob of your distortion pedal with the amp master volume. This keeps everything balanced.
- If you have a basic three-knob interface, you can try starting with a 3-4-5 configuration for the distortion, tone, and level. Your tone gets a bit of an edge, but you can still have a clean approach to your playing. This setting keeps you from being too noisy, and you don’t overly saturate the music with distortion.
- It’s preferable that your distorted tones sound a bit heavy and thick, no matter how much gain you actually use. There should be more of the low end and less of the high end.
- It’s also okay to practice with two pedals right away. This gives you more than one distortion level to play with. In fact, you don’t even need to buy two different pedals. You can buy two of the same and then use them together with different settings.
- This allows you to set a heavier distortion to a section like the chorus, while you can play a more subtle distortion for your regular verses. Choruses are often emotional and anthem-like. This is true for most rock or pop songs.
That’s why it’s best if you play your heavy distortion during this section, because distortion is great at increasing the emotional intensity of the music. If you use the distortion all the time, however, then it becomes regular and un-special. That’s why you have to moderate your use of distortion, so that you can maximize its impact.
There are actually no set rules regarding how you really want your sound to come out with your distortion pedal. Discovering the various sounds you can get is part of the fun. That’s why you practice and experiment, so that your distinctive sound can evolve. You can start out by trying to emulate the masters of guitar like Santana, Hendrix, and Clapton, but then you can develop your own sound as you become better with your guitar.