Pedals - Which are for Solid State and Which are for Tube Amps?

March 6th, 2009, 02:57 PM
I am just starting to get interested in the pedal thing. I have "heard" that certain pedals are better for solid state amps and others are better for tube amps. Let's start with fuzz or distortion. If I have a tube amp, are the digital or analog pedals better? Or does it matter at all?


March 6th, 2009, 07:27 PM
Try them, and see what you like. Some perennial faves around here are the SD-1 and Fulltone FDII. I have them both. I think they're great with tube amps, and sound terrible with SS amps. Others disagree. I have found that depending on the amps, a pedal that is a little edgy, can sound clangy and harsh through some rigs. A pedal that's on the smooth and warm side can sound like total mud through some rigs.

Try a bunch out, with your amp, or one just like it if possible, and see what you think. Don't get caught up in labels either. I know a country picker who swears by his Metal Zone, and a metal player who loves the SD-1 to boost for his solos. Go figure.

11 Gauge
March 7th, 2009, 01:02 AM
Considering that pedals were/are reverse engineered from technology for other purposes, there is no right or wrong.

And considering the average guitarist's approach to things such as effects, there's more than one way to get to the tone(s) that you want.

But there are some trends or plugs that continually amuse me. Perhaps the biggest is the "tube amp in a box" claim. These pedals are seldom demoed through solid state amps or better yet straight into a SS power amp, mixing board, etc. The second biggest are tube pedals, and the endless claims to "warm up a sterile sounding tubeless rig."

Another interesting trend of late is "pedal stacking," where a guitarist runs two or more OD/distortion pedals into each other, typically at low drive levels. These are the same guitarists who wouldn't be caught dead with a SS rack preamp or Boss Metal Zone, although they do the same thing.

Possibly the biggest caveat with running pedals into SS amps is that you run the risk of nasty hard clipping in you amp's preamp section. But some are well buffered with a high input impedance and a good power supply that keeps things from running out of headroom prematurely.

Theoretically, the best SS amps for pedals should be acoustic and pedal steel amps, since they meet the above criteria. But acoustic amps tend to have a bunch of things that electric guitar simply don't need, or can make things sound worse.

I've also come to realize that IMO many pedals sound much better through a more powerful tube amp as opposed to the currently popular lower wattage ones. As the frequency of the notes starts to drop below 200 hertz or so (midbass frequencies), things can get really mushy with some pedals, if you aren't packing at least 30 watts and have strong speakers. Put that same pedal thru a 50 watt head or a Twin Reverb and bang - there's the magic!

The most pedal happy SS amps that I've personally owned were from the 70's - A Peavey Stereo Chorus 212 and a Polytone Mini Brute. I've heard similar success stories with the Roland JC120, Acoustic (the company), Lab, and Kustom amps.

Basically, to overgeneralize, I'd say that any pedal that is fairly sublime in whatever it does will probably sound at least okay through SS gear. But the more that it's supposed to interact with the amp as opposed to just supply it with a perfectly processed signal, the less likely it will work well. But merely a HUGE overgeneralization, and JMO.

I've also had some gear that just didn't work with my tube amps, either. Basically anything by Tech 21 sounded muffled, lifeless, and veneered. Since those pedals are supposed to have built in cab simulations as part of their circuitry, it's no surprise.

Dan German
March 7th, 2009, 01:14 AM
Blue ones and green ones are for tube amps, red ones and yellow ones are for solid state.:lol:

March 7th, 2009, 02:46 AM
The Main issue comes with harmonics;
An overdriven Tube Amplifier will boost even order harmonics (which includes octaves) alters the timbre of the guitar a bit.

Now introduce the tube screamer circuit type, given it has symmetrical clipping (which will boost odd order harmonics) and ability to make sound similiar to tube breakup, it pushes the original timbre of the guitar into further grades of overdrive and adds sustain. Which is why SRV's tone is so illustrious.

then everyone knows distortion boxes; DS-1 types etc. these clip harder and resemble the sound of a distorted amplifier. that's what they do, most come with symmetrical clipping and the change to harmonics is the same as that of a tube screamer.

Now introduce solid state amplifers, no tubes, no overdrive with even order harmonics getting boosted. using a tubescreamer or a DS-1 will get your guitars harmonic overtones closer to a square wave, which no one entirely desires. to get the idea of what a square wave sounds like the clarinet is the instrument naturally closest to a square wave http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=fZmkWv5ApvM

Poor clarinet, it lacks popularity for a reason.

Basically if you're not using overdriven tubes you're going towards clarinet. which can easily be heard with a DS-1 on a solid state amplifier.

Now what sounds interesting on solid state; well lets introduce Asymmetrical clipping, which boosts even order harmonics; this comes in the SD-1 (tubescreamer clone with a twist). on a tube amp an SD-1 will literally push it further into breakup.

And lets go back before guitarists overdrove their amplifiers at all; well a few guys poked wholes in their amplifiers speaker to make more interesting Dirty sounds (ah dave davies and link wrey) and some other guys heard that; talked to a sound engineer on what could be done. and Fuzz was born.
Fuzz was built with the idea of treating a clean guitar signal. and making it dirty. fuzz alters the harmonic content, rounding the harmonics off a timbre similar to a sax or horn.

so to sum it all up. most distortions overdrives were designed with the idea in mind that as a guitarist you're already overdriving tubes (they were designed in the 70's really popular around then). However if you're using solid state; circuits have been built with replicating a tube sound in mind (asymmetrical clipping) they're small in number, but they're there. and lastly Don't count out the fuzz. it's the oldest and still the black sheep ("satisfaction" and Hendrx included). Also this isn't neccessarily a good sound bad sound black and white scenario. It just so happens symmetrical clipper will bring you closer to a square wave sound, the situation is as simple as that.

on a note; the boss OS-2 uses an SD-1 and DS-1 circuit (odd/even harmonic boost) so if you're looking for something that'll sound good on solid state, there's a logical candidate. they can be scraped off of ebay for fair prices. and DS/SD-1 mods can apply.

I apologize for any grammatcal errors, I'm mildly inebriated while posting this.

P.S. think about it, if you really dig the sound of a clarinet, the distortion world is your oyster.

March 7th, 2009, 10:19 AM
Treble Boosters are definitely a tube amp effect. I mean you could use it with a solidstate amp, but to fully enjoy, use, and appreciate a treble booster, I think it has to be with a tube amp...but other than that, I agree with much of what has already been mentioned...

11 Gauge
March 7th, 2009, 12:52 PM
The Main issue comes with harmonics;
An overdriven Tube Amplifier will boost even order harmonics (which includes octaves) alters the timbre of the guitar a bit.

This is not entirely true - tube amps create a composite of even and odd order harmonics. In particular, the big powerful tube amps (that became popular in the 70's, and oddly SRV favored) tend to contribute quite a bit of odd order harmonics at the phase inverter and power section stages, which are all class AB. It's what makes those amps so loud, clean, and tight.

You are treating tube amps as if they are all created equal, which they aren't.

But you're actually fairly close - it isn't just the harmonics, but how the waveform is altered overall in a tube powered circuit. Since tubes can be made to clip just as hard as solid state, it has to be something else. I've concluded that it's mainly that you can get away with a very high THD with tubes as opposed to solid state, and there's also time periods, as well. Even when tubes tend to clip hard, they still soften the corners of the waveform once the peak of the signal has passed.

So tubes can hard clip at higher THD's, you typically get better transient dynamics, and I haven't even touched the subject of compression in a tube circuit vs. SS, which has vastly different dynamics.

The problem with the even vs. odd order harmonic debate is that with pedals, most folks attribute them to a specific part of the circuit, and during a specific part of the cycle. If you remove all clipping diodes from a pedal and drive it hard enough, you will implement clipping from the amplifying circuits themselves. If you manipulate the power supply in the right way, you can inject those even order harmonics. Check out the power supply in a Timmy or Crowther pedal and you'll see what I mean.

Try a Tech 21 SansAmp, and you'll hear that you can simulate the composite effect of a tube amp, sans clipping diodes. It will replicate the dynamics and compression to a degree as well. It doesn't do so 100% analogous to tubes, but it's a decent facsimile, IMO.

There's another type of distortion that you get with tubes that is hard to replicate with SS devices - crossover distortion. It's literally as it sounds - you get kinks in the middle of the waveforms as they "cross over" in their positive to negative swing, and is easily seen on an ocilliscope. With tube amps, they are typically biased to minimize crossover distortion, but there's a bit of it there when driven hard, and if it wasn't, amps like Marshalls and Boogies wouldn't be as popular as they are...

...Crossover distortion is tricky to replicate with solid state, since it doesn't touch the peaks at all. It's easy to lop off the top or bottom of a waveform by exceeding a threshold. But to get at the crossover portion, pedal designers needed something in series with the circuit with a forward voltage low enough to switch it on at the crossover point. They figured out how to do it with a pair of 1N34A germanium diodes in series with the circuit, as opposed to in a feedback loop, or shunted to ground.

And it's only been in the past 20 years or so that effects builders have begun to implement FET and mosfet circuitry into their builds, which can be tailored to clip softly throughout their range, and add a plethora of even order harmonics in the process. Check out the FETzer Valve project at runoffgroove.com to get a really good idea of where things stand.

March 7th, 2009, 01:24 PM
Well thanks for the input 11 gauge, I'm a mild infomaniac and have a thirst for knowledge.

When it comes to people not liking certain pedals on SS my strongest theory is definitely that most distortion pedals out there make the signal closer to a square wave. and standard solid state amps don't do anything to adjust that. To which people on line begin jawing on how bad a pedal sounds on their ss amp.

even me personally I have a mild interest for something clarinet sounding from time to time, so I pop out my DS-1 on my Solid State. and I have fuzz for something saxish.

March 7th, 2009, 03:38 PM
My simple rule is- if the pedal overdrives the amp by making the signal going into the amp louder, use a tube amp. If the pedal keeps the level about the same, then it does not matter.
Avoid overdriving the first gain stage of a solid state amp.

11 Gauge
March 7th, 2009, 07:13 PM
If the pedal keeps the level about the same, then it does not matter.

This is where the level control comes into play, and carefully tweaking it to achieve unity gain, unless you do want to overload whatever you're plugging into.

It almost sounds stupid because it's so simple, but I've heard results where the tones were full of mush and/or splat, because the pedal was hitting the next stage at too high above unity gain. And I'm not talking about much, either. Most guitarists are unaware that the level pot is at the end of the pedal circuit, so it's the only thing attenuating the entire processed signal.

Dan German
March 7th, 2009, 10:26 PM
This is not entirely true - tube amps create a composite of even and odd order harmonics. In particular… blah, blah, blah… to get a really good idea of where things stand.

Hey, watch it 11 Gauge! I come to TDPRI when I'm up to here with the book learnin' I have to do in University. Don't go gettin' all edu-ma-cational on me!

(Just kidding. I love the fact that I learn tons o' new stuff every time I log on here.)