DISTORTED GUITAR IS THE
sound of rock and roll, but you
can use stompbox distortion
for a lot more than just guitar.
In the studio, because different
distortion elements give different
sounds (for example, germanium
diodes clip at a lower
voltage than silicon diodes),
your favorite distortion stompbox
could actually be more
useful than the distortion in a
Most modern DAWs make it
easy to insert external effects,
thanks to “external audio”
plug-ins that insert like a standard
plug-in, but patch to an
audio interface’s inputs and
outputs. Patch the interface
output to the stompbox input,
and the stompbox output to
the interface input, and you’re
good to go—although you’ll
probably need to reduce gain
going to guitar-level effects,
then raise the gain coming
from the effect to regain the
With moderate gain, guitar
stompboxes can toughen up
analog drums. Add a little
distortion to vintage drum machine
sounds, and they’ll
turn from audio sissies into
turbulent filth monsters. Parallel
processing can combine the
natural drum sounds with the
distortion, but another option
is to use guitar distortion as
a send effect—which is particularly
useful if your drums
have multiple outputs. Even
a little bit of distortion can
add a great edge to acoustic
drums and percussion loops.
Moderate distortion can also
make kick drums really kick
in a mix.
Distortion on bass tracks usually
gives a thin sound because
distortion generates lots of harmonics.
As with many other
effects for bass, it’s generally
best to patch the distortion
in parallel with the bass
track. With electric bass or
synth bass, split the output.
Feed one output directly into
an interface or amp input, and
the other output through distortion
into a second interface
or amp input. Bass seems
to sound best with relatively
low-gain distortion settings,
as this gives more of a deep
growl that cuts well through
a song, and adds an aggressive
effect. Too much distortion,
however, can compete
with the guitar sound.
Nine Inch Nails and hardcore/
industrial groups add distortion
to vocals for a dirty, disturbing
effect. Guitar stompboxes
are excellent for this because
the “voicing” for guitar also
works well with voice.
Classic tonewheel organ sounds
often took advantage of over driving
a rotating speaker’s
preamp to create distortion.
Adding stompbox distortion
to synthesizer B3 sounds can
give extra dirt that adds character.
Keep the gain fairly low, as
you don’t want a fizzy sound.
Like bass and drums, a parallel
connection usually gives the
Many modern amp-simulator
plug-ins have excellent stompbox
effects. (It’s easier to emulate
a stompbox’s characteristics
than the more complex characteristics
of a preamp, amp, and
cabinet.) But, distortion was
the product of experimenting,
so experiment! For example,
many DAWs include some kind
of saturation plug-in. Although
usually intended to provide relatively
effects, try feeding it with
as high-level a signal as possible
to really crunch the sound.
Now, that’s rock and roll!
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