Amp distortion versus pedal distortion with Brian Wampler



It’s one of the most time-honored questions in all of guitar, and a topic proven to get guitarists arguing: is amp distortion better than pedal distortion? Does it sound more natural? Does it react better? Is this something you can even quantify? When it comes to tone purists, many would agree that the natural clipping that comes from pushed vacuum tubes is always superior to the grit you can get from a pedal. But is this always the case? Let’s take a seat with none other than pedal maestro extraordinaire Brian Wampler (yes, THAT Wampler, king of boutique guitar effects) over in Martinsville, IN.

Overdrive and more broadly, distortion, is an interesting concept (and veritable blackhole discussion) in and of itself. Many guitarists will spend a lifetime chasing down version after version of some iteration of an overdrive “gain” tone. Whether that’s something to heat up a blues lick, add thickness to a clean rhythm part, add fatness to a Strat, add extra gain to an already hi-gain sound, or boost up your existing tone to help yourself overpower your annoying bassist and rhythm guitarist; there is almost no limit for the many uses of the overdrive.

There are also many ways one can GET the above overdrive/distortion tones. To start in the old school of thought, there is the “non-master volume” style, where you just turn the amp itself up so far that the phase inverter, power tubes, transformer and speakers themselves all add up to create a delicious recipe of clip. Then you can also find overdrive in master volume amps, in a lovely place called pre-amp land- where you can use the master volume and gain knob to grab gain out of just the preamp section, without clipping and boosting the tail end- which really helps so you won’t blow your (and your neighbor’s) hearing out of the atmosphere. And then from there, are the many pedals to simulate the above schools of thought.


In fact, the idea of overdrive can have a different “tonal philosophy” depending on what generation you grew up in. For younger players, they may hear the term overdrive and instantly think of the Maxon OD-808, very possibly in front of an already high-gain amp. But then for older players, they may view overdrive as that sound you would get from simply cranking up that old amp in the basement until it naturally distorts, producing that tried and true AC/DC crunch.

These two setups alone are just a small section of the myriad of ways that overdrive/distortion can be added to one’s tone. The best part? There is no right or wrong way to do this, and because of that, you can build up an arsenal of gain styles to suit the various gain tasks you may need out of your rig. So, take a look at this video and hear how some of that “older” overdrive school of thought can be used to really turn an amp into something special. Who knows, you just might find a new tone idea to try out.

Starting off with a Bogner LaGrange (I’m from Chicago, so I loved the non-ZZ Top pronunciation he uses here), Ibanez TubeScreamer, and even the Pathos from Abasi and Proco RAT; he’ll visit some true classics in the distortion world, all of which are not made by his company (super cool). So, grab a great pair of headphones or good speakers and have a listen to these classic boxes to decide for yourself whether or not some of these pedals come close to a real built-in grit! For the money, it’s hard to argue with most of the pedal-tone he creates here! Best of all, if you “know of” the names of these pedals, but have always wanted to hear an objective audio demo from a true tone authority using the pedals as they were envisioned, look no further! 

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