Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is & Amp Overdrive Vs. Pedal Overdrive

Which is difficult, because if you’ve been on this page for a piece, it’s obvious that I have a big mouth. Lots of opinions that I prefer to call facts, simply because they came from my own head. In which case they must be true. And then that is followed by lots of gradual back-pedaling on those opinions in subsequent posts when I realize I’m wrong; and the gradual part is so that hopefully no one notices. ;) Like, in five years, I’ll have finally gotten to the point where I can say, ‘What? I never said tubes were better than solid state!’ Which will never happen, because comparing tubes to solid state is like comparing U2 to Black-Eyed Peas. One gives you feelings of joyous tears and heartfelt, passionate longing and schoolgirl crushes (maybe that’s just me) all rolled up in a down comforter of rejoicing. And the other makes you want to put a plastic bag over your head. And if you’re not catching the reference here, this is what I’m saying: Tube tone and U2 are nature’s inherent way of rejoicing, and solid state tone and Black-Eyed Peas are nature’s inherent way of thinning the herd. And yes, before you say anything, I know that Black-Eyed Peas are opening for U2 on the west coast leg of U2′s current tour. Which means in order for me to get close enough to the stage to touch Edge (which is non-negotiable by the way…I must touch Edge), my wife and I have to stand there through the whole Black-Eyed Peas set. So, east coast, you guys get Muse with U2. Midwest, you guys score Snow patrol with U2. And me? (Which is all that matters over here on the west coast, obviously) I get ‘My Lovely Lady Lumps.’ Which is only cool if either Will Ferrell or Alanis Morissette sings it, and I have yet to see their names on the bill. So, I guess I’m just going to have to rely on my irrationally encompassing love for U2 to get me through the opening band. Which means I should be okay. 

So, sorry for the incredibly long introduction–had to make sure I put some strong opinions in there to solidify my point here. hehe Because honestly, if you play solid state, no worries. There are some good tones to be had in some of those amps. But, uh…get some tubes. Anyway, the opinions that matter to this point are these: I have railed for so long on the fact that if it meant getting a better guitar or a better amp, pedals should be of absolutely no consequence. Sell ‘em all to be able to pay for a better guitar or amp. And then I actually found a better amp. And realized how much I love my pedals. Like, as I’m removing my Tim pedal from my board, I’m noticing how comforting that scrolling paint has been over the bowling ball finish, staring up at me from my board for so long, as if to say, ‘If you need some good, saturated yet transparent overdrive tones, I’m here. I’m here.’ Sick, huh. I know. But yikes, it was hard to sell all those pedals. Suddenly, my board went from this:

Karl Pedalboard 1 (small)

To this:

Pedalboard 5-09

The idea was an experiment. The Divided by 13 has 4 inputs: 2 channels, and then a high gain and low gain input for each. And since, in theory, amp overdrive will always sound better than pedal overdrive, I decided to get all my drive tones from the amp, and sell all my drive pedals. This way, I can pay for the D13 by selling the Holland Brentwood I used for pads, and all my drive pedals; and actually get better overdrive tones anyway. And then use the Holland AC30 for the pads. Because the original plan was to sell all the ‘effects’ pedals to help pay for the new amp and then get an M13…but that proved to be impossible for my brain to accept. So goodbye Tim, Mosferatu, Fatboost, Foxey Fuzz, and Varidrive. As well as the RV3 and POG and all the superfluous effects. (No delays are being sold…delay is not superfluous. ;) )

So, after playing out with no drive pedals a couple times, these are my findings.

How it was hooked up:

I ran an AB switch at the end of my pedalboard, and ran one side to the low gain input of channel 1, and one side to the low gain input of channel 2. This would serve as clean tone, and drive stage 2, as the second channel of the D13 amps is very, very gainy. Then I ran two other cables, one from each channel’s high gain input, to two separate on/off switches. These served as drive stages 1 and 3. So, I had the low gain input on channel 1 as clean tone, the high gain input on channel 1 as drive stage 1, the low gain input on channel 2 as drive stage 2, and the high gain input on channel 2 as drive stage 3. And then I kept the Mosferatu overdrive and the Hartman fuzz on the board to compare.

The Results:

1. Amp overdrive sounds really, really good. It’s the real thing.

2. However, when your amp is set to be just on the verge of breakup, and you use transparent pedals to push it into its own overdrive, the sound is pretty close to the channel switching on the amp itself. The Mosferatu and the fuzz both still sounded very good. Maybe just slightly less saturated. Because channel switching is more the tubes in the amp getting pushed harder with the amp’s circuitry, and pedals are moreso (when done properly) pushing the tubes by hitting them harder on the input. Now, my switching between the low gain and high gain inputs on the same channels, is pretty much for all practical purposes the same as a pedal…just a little cleaner and more natural, as there’s less circuitry.

3. Effects like the drive behind them, not in front of them. I forgot about this part. On the highest gain on the amp (drive stage 3), the amp just sounded spectacular. However, the effects were now too dirty. The Timelines surprisingly held their own and gave off a unique sound that was still pretty cool. But the Memory Lane sounded terrible, as did most of the other effects. And the Timelines of course sounded way better when the gain was from the pedals before them in the chain. In that way, the pedals are able to control the signal more, making for a cleaner and more pronounced effect sound. When running them into gain (like on the amp), the pedals now have no control on the signal. So your dry guitar signal into the amp just sounds amazing! So saturated. But then the effected signal hits that same saturated, gainy amp…and the effect sounds terrible. This is where effects loops come in. However, the D13 does not have one, and I tend to not like what those do to the sound of the amp; so I’m probably not going to get one put in. All in all, I really didn’t think about the effects part.

4. I didn’t have as much control as I would have liked, especially over the input switching. It is what it is, and you can’t turn up or down the gain. The D13 does a great job of having both inputs sound close together, but I guess I’m just used to how much control you have with all the pedal knobs. This was the least of my worries, though, and something I could have gotten used to.

5. And lastly, the thing I really didn’t think about. Smoothness. I play a lot of textures, and smooth switching is crucial. For instance, I’ll let a high, overdriven, bent note trail off with delay, while I switch off drive and start playing a clean rhythmic passage underneath the decay. Which works great when the delay is delaying the drive pedal before it in the chain. However, when it’s all amp drive, and you turn off the gain, it takes your entire level down right away; the delay cannot keep the driven note hanging on, because the driven note is not running through the delay to be hanging on. And this was especially bad when looping. Now the amp’s overdrive is bringing my looped phrase up and down, rather than having the overdrive recorded with it.

6. This is totally off the subject, but those Boss FS5L on/off switches are annoying! They don’t disengage until your foot comes off the pedal…so that’s awkward. I only got them because Loop-Master’s won’t come in for another couple months because he’s so backed up. So that’s going to take some getting used to for a while.

So overall, I would have to say that the slight edge in sound that the amp overdrive had over the pedal overdrive, was negated by what it took away from me in the sound of my effects and in smoothness when playing multiple passages. So I guess it’s back to overdrive pedals! hehe But I think I’ll keep the amp switching capabilities, for when a song calls for just that huge amp overdrive and no effects. And it’s nice in the studio as well. I suppose I could run wet/dry rig, but I’d definitely want to get another RSA23 for that, and that is completely out of the financial question right now. So it looks like I’ll be selling the Holland AC30, too, and getting a cheaper amp for loops…or selling the Melancon strat…to be able to buy back the overdrives I just sold. So hello again, Tim, Mosferatu, Fatboost, Foxey Fuzz, and Varidrive. :) lol Ah, guitarists. 

Someone did mention to me the other day that maybe I should’ve just saved up for the new amp, and then I wouldn’t have had to sell everything and then buy it back. I did not understand the question.


43 thoughts on “Putting My Money Where My Mouth Is & Amp Overdrive Vs. Pedal Overdrive

  1. Someone wise once told me that “Tone is a Journey.” And it is such a fun journey, even if one happen down the same road (or overdrive pedal line up) more than once. :)

  2. Someone wise once told me that “Tone is a Journey.” And it is such a fun journey, even if one happen down the same road (or overdrive pedal line up) more than once. :-)

  3. On the Boss FS5L (whatever it’s called)…there should be a switch on the back to change whether it activates when you a) engage it or b) release. i’ve been using this pedal for years with my DD-20 or DD-5.

  4. ”Someone did mention to me the other day that maybe I should’ve just saved up for the new amp, and then I wouldn’t have had to sell everything and then buy it back. I did not understand the question.”


  5. Oddly enough – I have been toying with the idea of a new amp.
    Is there an amp out there that you’d recommend for use with a board? One that takes the output of the very cool pedals I’ve collected? (No way I’m selling my Hermida line-up! – I’ve also added a KOT and an FET Dream which I like VERY much).
    A single channel amp that has that wonderful glassy big tube sound?
    What to do. What to do.

    Maybe I should just build a digital effects rack like guitar-god Henry Kaiser.

    • Silver Face Princetons are great with pedals, light to carry around, loud enough to offend someone and cheap enough to grab off of Ebay. They also draw looks from guys that know anything about gear (Of course, that’s now important. ;)).

    • Another company to check out is Frenzel. He makes hand wired tube amps in several different flavors. Prices are less than the usual boutique fair. They aren’t as pretty but they sure do sound nice. I have the FM-5E3 Deluxe Plus and swap power tubes between 6l6′s and el34′s depending on what kind of sound I’m looking for. As an added bonus, the guy is a Christian and in this day and age, we gotta support a brother. Here’s his web site: http://www.frenzeltubeamps.com/

  6. Ok, just admit it. You sold all your pedals in an attempt to “look like” you were gonna use the funds to fund your new amp. But deep down inside, you knew which way this would go :) lol

    I must admit, I was deflated when I scrolled down this post. I thought for sure i was gonna see a single M13 in that second pic :)…or not. I just got my Vox Night Train and decided to NOT EVEN DEMO my Zendrive with it. I had to sell stuff to fund the Vox. I liked some of the drives I was getting with the M13, so I figured why spoil it :)

      • Well, so far it’s been a bit of a nightmare. It has a bad hum in Triode mode. The shop I got it from had another one and it hummed too! They won’t do a return, (lame) so I’m waiting a few weeks for Vox to ship out a new one. Supposedly it’s not supposed to hum and no one else has any issue. But, having said that…it sounds pretty good (when not in Triode) I am still on the hunt for a decent speaker for it. I can’t afford a Celestion Blue (what everyone says to get) Anyone have any ideas?

  7. well thats too bad that it doesnt have an effects loop, I wonder how that could have changed things… no we will never know, and that kind of suspense might kill me.

    I love learning through your experience, btw my wallet and wife appreciate it too :)

    I give you until next year, when I’ll bet you will have at least purchased an m13 to demo. you’ll buy it because it will come preloaded with edge patches.

  8. things people do for tone, huh?! i think it’s good that you learned something with your “experiment” and really find out what works for you. have fun buying all your stuff back :D

  9. What gets me about your search for tone is that it is only beginning and will only end when the doctor ask the nurse for the “time of death”…Trust me on this one…

    I just picked up a Line6 X3Live and so far I absolutely love it. Could be a practical thing because it works for both bass and guitar. Played a gig last weekend on bass with it and it was easy to pack in and out of there. I thought about letting you have it for a bit so you can test and give us a full report on it. But that was all it was a flashing thought…

  10. Dude, pleeeeease tell me you did not sell your Tim…

    My amp has a switch on the back that you can true bypass the effects loop to bypass the extra circuitry that it adds in. I don’t know if that is an option to get installed…

    I like the drive on my amp too, I sometimes use it when I practice. But I don’t like the hassle of hooking up my delay effects through the effects loop… I haven’t tried it live in a long time, so I’m not sure how it would sit in a band mix.

  11. Eddie–haha I absolutely agree. And either you posted once before you logged in, or someone out there thinks uncannily like you! ;)

    Gary–Thanks for the advice! But I believe that might be on the FS5U? I know that’s how it worked with mine. But on the FS5L, the switch on the back seems to reverse the polarity so that you can control which setting (on or off) has the led on. I could be wrong, but that seems to be how it’s working for me.

    Andy–hehe I was serious! ;) No, not really. Any new amp builds?

    Tom–um, I tend to like how EL84 amps take pedals. But the big glassy clean sound, now that sounds like a 6L6 amp. You shoulda bought my Brentwood! Oh wait, I meant to say…takes pedals and has a big clean sound…of course! I just happen to have one for sale right now. It’s called a Holland. ;) Just kidding…isn’t it great though how many times people just happen to recommend exactly what they’re selling?

    Of course, right now I’m on the D13 kick, so I’d recommend that for big clean sounds. :)

    Mark–good call on Frenzels and Princetons. And yes, looking cool to other guitarists is definitely all that matters! hehe

    Steven–blast! You found me out! lol

    And hey, if you’re happy with the M13, then awesome!!

    Kenrick–ya, not sure…except that I might not have bought it if it had an effects loop.

    And good call…I might just have to buy it for the programmed Edge!!

    Rhoy–haha I’m such a loser. I really should stop.

    Which reminds me…got any od’s you’re looking to get rid of? ;)

    Sal–you’re absolutely right. :)

    As far as the POD goes, there are some decent sounds in it, and you can’t beat the portability! Really makes life simpler. But what would I do without my amps? I’d feel so lost! hehe

    Ryan–you know, I thought about asking my tech to put in a defeatable effects loop; but by that time I’d already paid him for the master volume mod, gotten it home, and ran out of money. hehe Maybe down the road……

    And yes, I did sell the Tim. It’s on its way to Lancaster; but another one is coming in on Friday. So I’ll be without one for like, two days. I’m such a dork!

  12. I’m expecting a call from Paul Cochrane any day now. Supposedly my Tim was supposed to be done in May and last time I talked to him he was on schedule. Can’t wait…

  13. One of my year’s highlights was having a Zendrive from Alf Hermida in my hands for (cough) $70 less than Karl’s went for on eBay a week after initially contacting him :) Enjoy it, Ryan!

  14. Karl,

    You know that a lot of the issues that worship guitar players run into concerning the need for diverse tones aren’t quite as necessary in the secular world. I was generally able to kick a Fender or Marshall combo in the front end with a decent dirt pedal or boost and pretty much run the gambit of most classic rock stuff. A decent guitar with decent pickups and you are pretty much ready to go. Gear became much more of an issue when I started playing in a venue where:

    1.) People listened to what you were actually playing.

    2.) People that were listening were not inebriated.

    3.) Musical styles were very diverse and required more effects than I usually found necessary.

    4.) Multiple changes in style and effect were sometimes necessary within the same song.


    5.) Because my main reason for playing was to serve The Lord God of the universe, I became much more picky with not only my playing but also my tone.

    So…Even though it would be easier in most cases to show up on Sunday morning with less equipment and just blast my way through the worship service with power chords, that is not what is required.

    I went through the whole thing that you are going through now and eventually just gave up due to the necessity for flexibilty. Amp overdrive is the best (In my opinion). Amps without added effects loops are the best (In my opinion). Generally amps without master volumes give a more real overdriven tone than those with them (In my opinion).

    But…we have to play in the real world. A much more real world than most secular players because of the reasons listed above (I feel the hackles being raised on the back of secular players necks as I say that but I’ve done both and it is what it is.). So…minor concessions must be made. Luckily there is some pretty outstanding gear out there to get us where we need to go :).

    Keep rockin’ brother. And let me know when you get it figured out and I’ll go spend some more money. ;)

  15. Ryan–so stoked for that, bro! Can’t wait to hear what you think! :)

    James–haha I remember that Zen! I always start my bids on the pedals that will go over their original sale price, at 99 cents, so as not to price gouge. And then I just let the market do its thing. And it sold for $190, which was less than I paid for it. But then the buyer didn’t pay. So I relisted it the next week. And it sold for $250! What the difference was, I have no idea. lol :)

    Dan–absolutely! I’ll try to get that done by next week. :)

    Mark–incredible comment, brother! That should be a post in itself. :)

    There is so much to be said for church players needing versatility, tone, and most importantly, playing for the Creator. Plus, the modern styles call for a much more textured, effect-laden sound. And sometimes, just like you said, in order to be versatile and sound the best in the context of the band, we need to give up things like cranked amps and non-master volume amps. Nothing in the world is going to sound like a 200-watt Hiwatt with the gain knob dimed. The downside is that no one will be able to hear anything else in the world, though. ;) hehe So, we’re on the journey to find out what best grabs heartstrings both on its own and as it sits in the band mix, both with tone and playing, and what best glorifies God. A lot of fun; and a lot of work. :)

    Thanks for that, bro. Fantastic stuff you wrote!

  16. You should have asked, I would have told you all your time-based effects would sound different with the amp OD :) While you have no OD pedals… I suggest you force yourself to try out simplicity – just for a few weeks. Only take 1 damage control, one pedal that you can turn into a clean boost (before the DC) and your amp. Fine, you can take a MIDI controller for the DC too. I had to do that when my pedal board was under construction and I learned a ton. A ton.

  17. Simplicity? Plug your guitar into your amp. Period. Then play in the worship band. That really teaches a person to use sustain and even more valuable; the space between the notes. The ability to make every note tasty and significant. It’s a lot harder than you think.

    I dare ya.

    • I think I missed that post! That’s funny! I was even going to cite BB King as the perfect example too!

  18. +1 for Toma’s simplicity suggestion. It will teach you a tremendous amount about your playing.

    Granted, I don’t do it as much as I should, but we’re not talking about me. We’re hear to help Karl. :-P

    When the song has a kind of quiet spot, I’ll shut
    off everything (even delay … GASP) and just use
    amp/guitar. The first time was by accident, I forgot to change the delay settings and knew I couldn’t use what was queued up. So I went “natural”.

    I found I really like the sound of my guitar and amp. It’s a cool effect.

  19. Mike–hehe Ya, I knew they would sound different…the difference just wasn’t as pleasing as I would have hoped. :) And great call on the playing with a simple board. I do this every once in a while, and you’re right, it does do ya good. :)

    Tom–good call, too! It’s nice, at least for me, to have the Loop-Masters on my board for that. So I can hit master bypass on both of them and have a visual reference for the fact that I’m forcing myself to play effectless. Not quite as cool as ‘plugging straight in’, but sounds the same, for all practical purposes. And less distracting then taking my cable out of my board and plugging it into my amp for the song that doesn’t need effects. :) But it’s important to do, every once in a while! Good comment!

    Dan–hehe My pedalboard is too big to have written that post. Must be a lie. ;) hehe

    Tom–BB is king. Wow, that sounded cheesie. But he so is.

    TimH–hehe Thanks for the help, brother! 90% of the time, I do need to be told to turn my delay off. hehe You shoulda heard me years ago when I needed to be told 100% of the time! With the mix, repeats, and verb at 100% too. Henry Kaiser had nothing on me! ;)

  20. hey, ever think about going
    guitar–> dirty amp –> mic –> reamping device –> time-based effects–> DI box or clean amp

    so it’d be like having the dirty amp/mic setup acting as an OD pedal.

    • Josh, I tried that once and it worked out pretty well. But I’ll tell you what man it was a serious setup nightmare. I had a direct out installed on my Frenzel that can give you power tube distortion over headphones. Very sweet. Stuck my tube tape echo, fender reverb and a leslie simulator in between and fed it into a Princeton running super clean. Sounded cool but….after I explained what I was doing, my band mates were giving me weirder looks that usual. Like I said, it worked but it wasn’t worth the trouble.

  21. Karl,

    Sort of off topic (But then again maybe not.), pulled the trigger on an Ultimate Attenuator. Should be in early next week. So…If you smell smoke and see fire trucks headin east, it may be one of my amps going nuclear. This is all your fault you know. ;) I had totally blocked that whole attenuator thing from my mind untill you brought it up in passing a couple of posts ago. Now I’ve got it in my head that my amps only sound good at 3/4 volume. Much too loud for the church mix. I got reading all the positive and negative propoganda on the net and finally couldn’t take it any longer and bought one off of the ‘bay. I hope it works out. If so…I’ll return the G.A.S. HA!

  22. Hey Karl – I use a Weber attenuator on my Traynor and I really like it. Good call.

    So this whole loop master thing to run straight into the amp – sounds like a crutch to me! Here’s my challenge:

    Sunday morning worship – Lead acoustic, djembe, bass, and your electric guitar straight into the amp, no effects. Leave the board at home.

    Play your set using both overdrive and clean sounds and make it sound tasty. Your playing should be the “atmosphere” of the songs, not the drive.

    Give it a try! Again – I dare ya!

  23. Josh–that totally did run through my mind for a few seconds! hehe But I’m trying so hard to suppress my tendencies for those crazy complicated rigs until Coldplay calls. It’s gonna happen, I know it! ;) But ya, that’s a great idea…I’m just trying to go a little less complicated on the setup at the moment. We’ll see what happens next week, though. hehe :)

    Mark–just what I was thinking. Killer if you were touring with a crew, though, or if music was your only job! One can only dream. :)

    And you got the Ultimate Attenuator? I’d love to hear what you think of it!! I ended up not going with an attenuator, and had my tech put in a PPIV master volume instead. I am so loving it right now! But I’m really curious to hear how the UA does!

    Tom–hehe Wow, you’re really after me to plug straight in! hehe Honestly, though, it’s nice to practice that way sometimes, and every once in a while, if the set calls for it, I’ll show up with just an amp and a guitar. :)

    The crutch thing is interesting, though. I once met a guy just totally tearing it up on an old blues amp and vintage guitar at a Guitar Center, who told me that picks were a crutch. And one could argue as well that the amp’s own natural overdrive could be a crutch too. Actually, that high e string is a crutch as well! Hendrix didn’t need it! ;)

    I think what it comes down to is what the particular set, song, or passage of music needs to sound beautiful and to grab people’s hearts. Sometimes it needs soaked delay. Sometimes it needs guitar straight into the amp. Sometimes it needs tremolo. And sometimes it needs acoustic…and no electric. And sometimes it needs us to leave our guitars at home and let the piano lead. Everything’s a tool; and the point is to know when to use which tool to support the music at the proper time.
    :) Great conversation-starting topic, though! I love it! And I promise, next time I do a set plugged straight in, I’ll make a recording of my terrible playing, and send it to ya…just so you know I’m not faking it! And if you hear any delay thrown in every once in a while…uh…that was the…other guitarist. lol :)

  24. Actually, I’m not sure. I’ve been told by some people that he took it off, and by others that it was just that he flipped a right-handed guitar left-handed, and then re-strung so it would be normal; but this meant the bridge pickup is now slanted backwards, cauing his high e string to be less trebly and not sound like a high e string. I really have no idea which is right, or if both are right. hehe :) I just figured I’d throw it out there.

  25. Ok to much to digest in one sitting and didn’t understand half of it you are gonna have to instill some of your guitarist wisdom and knolledge into me!! LOL!!

  26. I think everyone searching for that perfect overdrive sound has wrestled with the amp verse pedal conundrum .It really is a tough call. I personally tend to prefer an amp being pushed for overdrive ,but if you are playing a solid state amp forget it . Tube amps are like people in that they have distinct personalities, there is far less tonal consistency . A solid state amp is more akin to a robot, program it, turn it on It pretty much is tonally consistent. A tube amp is more like a band mate, often unpredictable often sounding different from day to day or hour to hour.As the tubes change temperature the tone changes. I tend to experiment with many different small amps, both solid state and tube and as a general rule I push my tube amps into overdrive using no fx but my solid state amps need an overdrive unit. I have tried many overdrive pedals and the one that gets me closest to that rich tube sensation is the catalin bread super charged overdrive. I also prefer tubes for my home stereo but I am somewhat of a ludite and I still listen to lps, The search for tonal bliss is part of the fun .

  27. +1. Great comment, bro! :) I do love me my tubes, but yes, they can be frustrating in the different temperatures, atmospheres, and just general conditions. But that’s part of the fun, too. And yes, the journey on the way to tone is the best part! :)

  28. Hey Greg! Welcome to the site. :)

    I tend to like the simpler circuit sound of amps without effects loops, and I also like the sound of everything out front. However, a well-buffered effects loop mod might be the way to go…I’m still kicking the idea around. I haven’t sprung for it yet because that still won’t take care of being able to let one overdriven texture fade out with delay after it while I’m switching to another texture. So I’m back to pedals…we’ll see how long that lasts! hehe :)

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