Which knob am I supposed to turn to 11?
July 19, 2011 8:07 AM   Subscribe

Continuing on my progression to Rock God status, I hoped you could enlighten me with everything you know about getting particular sounds out of amps and effects--both as a general proposition, and with respect to the infinitely tweakable Line 6 Pod HD.

I just got a Pod HD effects unit, and I'm trying to learn how to use it. It's a nifty little device, allowing you to simulate and mix and match your head, cabinet, and drop in any of around 100 effects. Yes, I know that a processor is a poor substitute for a good amp and a handful of good pedals.

The catch is that I barely know what a head does, I have no idea what different cabinets I should use to get any sounds in particular, and I have zero idea whatsoever about which effects pedals do what, and what order they should go in.

To be clear, my question is not so much about the Pod HD itself (though I appreciate your insights), but rather about how to build a particular sound.

For instance:

What should I put first in the effects chain? Last? Before the amp? After?
Do you use overdrive and distortion at the same time?
How do overdrive and distortion pedals interact with gain on the amp?
Should I put reverb before the amp or after? How does a reverb pedal interact with reverb on the amp?
What's the difference between reverb and delay? Wet reverb? Digital vs. analog vs. tape?
Lo-pass filters? High-pass filters? EQ? Noise gates? WTF? And where to put them?

I've seen this helpful catalog of different musicians' setups on Guitar Geek (from this thread), and I'm trying to work my way through recreating them in the Pod, but without actual settings, I'm a bit at a loss as to how they come together (i.e., take this one of Robert Smith's setup--does he play with distortion really low, and then adds overdrive on top? I have no idea).

Really--I'm starting from zero. I've pretty much only played acoustic for close to 20 years until last month, and I have literally no idea how this works, but I have literally thousands and thousands of variables I could tweak. If there is a primer, a guitar effects for dummies book, youtube tutorial--anything--that you used to figure out how this all comes together, I'd love to hear it. (Yes, I realize that everyone makes their own sound, and that's the wonder of music, but I'm trying to learn to walk here before I can run...) I tend to play Britpoppy stuff mostly, but I'm open to hearing insights from any corner of the guitar world.

posted by Admiral Haddock to Media & Arts (10 answers total) 7 users marked this as a favorite
Some random thoughts. I am far from a great guitar player but I did stay at a Holiday Inn Express one night.

Above all else, how does it sound to you? But with your acoustic experience you already knew that.

Add effects one at a time. It is easier to tweak when you isoloate.

Here is a quick article about effects order and a small description of each: http://www.justinguitar.com/en/GG-050-EffectsPedalOrder.php

I have never used OD and a distortion pedal at the same time. I have used an overdriven amp channel and then used an OD pedal for a little boost for leads (such as it is given my talent level). I can't think of any particularly good reason you would use them both at the same time, but then, who knows?

I wouldn't mess with adding a pedal to your amp unless there was a specific reason for it. As in, "omg I hate the overdriven sound of this amp but love the clean sound." Or maybe your amp doesn't have the built in function.

Refer to that link, but reverb is last. Reverb is used to simulate playing in a real acoustic space.

Good question. I am looking forward to seeing other's answers.
posted by Silvertree at 8:54 AM on July 19, 2011

Delay is Echo Echo Echo Echo Echo, whereas reverb is Echooooo. In other words, delay actually produces an echo, whereas reverb just makes things spacious by giving it all an echoey tail. Different reverbs simulate different spaces. All reverb is wet; signals without reverb (or chorus or flanger or phaser or vibrato or delay) are dry. The more effect, the wetter it is.

Digital delays are crisp and clear, with each echo an exact replica of the original., with each successive echo just getting quieter. In a tape delay, each successive echo gets both quieter and muddier (in a good way). Analog delay is sort of in between.

Re: Overdrive vs. Distortion. Overdrive can be used subtlely, to just dirty up the signal a little bit, so often a guitarist will use it to give their "clean" tone some character, adding distortion for the loud bits. Of course, overdrive can be used like that distortion, too. It depends what sound you're going for.

Really, you just gotta get your hands dirty and play around with it all. Effects are pretty obvious when you hear them.
posted by Sys Rq at 8:57 AM on July 19, 2011

The catch is that I barely know what a head does, I have no idea what different cabinets I should use to get any sounds in particular, and I have zero idea whatsoever about which effects pedals do what, and what order they should go in.

If you were just buying an amp, there'd be two basic categories. combos have the speaker and amp built into one cabinet. Or you can buy an amplifier head and cabinet separately.

different amp heads have different sonic characteristics. So do cabinets. Just play around till you find a combo you like - with an amp sim, you don't have to worry about cab impedences or how you're going to lug a full stack back to your 4th floor walkup.

okay, just took a look at the list of effects: do you have the POD HD300, 400 or 500?
posted by dubold at 9:07 AM on July 19, 2011

I've used a couple of Pod-like devices, but I'm a barely competent player and not a true gear-head by any stretch.

Do you live near a big guitar shop, like a Sam Ash or Guitar Center? If you can find a cool, knowledgeable salesperson during a slow time (say, daytime during the week), you could probably get a crash course over guitar effects and effects chains.

The Wikipedia article on guitar effects describes a lot of different effects and has samples. Youtube has a lot of this, too. Just search for the type of effect and add the words guitar and effect or pedal. For example, ExpertVillage has a series on guitar pedals. There are some good results for Pod HD demo videos.

You can also Google guitar effect chains for information on this kind of thing. You can find a lot of examples as well as general advice over what kind of effects come before the head and in the "effects loop" (between the head and cabinet).

Just don't get hung up on the "right" way. A lot of cool guitar sounds come from breaking the rules :). Looks like the Pod HD has a USB cable to connect it to your computer. You can use editing software to switch up your chain in crazy ways. Use that to help learn and experiment.
posted by Anephim at 9:11 AM on July 19, 2011

Response by poster: Thanks so far! Yes, I'm happily experimenting away, but with 700 million variables, I wanted some "rules" before I decide to break the rules. Since I'm a rock 'n' roll rebel.

Dubold, none of the above--it's just called the Pod HD (the desktop bean, not any of the floorboard models). The link above should go right to the product page. Manuals are here (at the top), but here's the breakdown (PDF) of the effects, amps and cabs for your perusal, should you be so inclined....
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:15 AM on July 19, 2011

Response by poster: Sorry, all--my link to the manuals just resets to the main form (though you can select Pod HD). There's also more in the advanced user guide (PDF), which discusses the parameters you can use to tweak each variable.
posted by Admiral Haddock at 9:21 AM on July 19, 2011

A basic rule of thumb for effects order is you go from least gain/distortion to most in front of the amp. There are some exceptions to this, of course. For example, certain fuzz pedals work best when they go first in the signal chain (or close to the front anyway) because of the way they clip the guitar signal to distort it. Wah pedals also generally like to be up front if you're using one of those. As an example, here's my effects chain before my amp:


I use actual pedals (don't think the specific models matter, but I'm happy to share if you're curious). As far as overdrive/distortion goes, an easy way to think about it is that overdrive is a less-distorted distortion. Usually you would use an overdrive pedal as a way to boost your amp so it starts to distort without having to run the amp's gain too high. For example, I run my 25 watt tube amp at a fairly "clean" volume level, and use the overdrive at a moderate setting to add a little breakup to the sound when I want it. Distortion is the same thing, just with more gain slamming the front of the amp and some clipping of the signal happening in the effect unit itself. I'll occasionally use my overdrive into my distortion as well if I want to go from "Distortion!" to "RAAAHHHHH DISTORTION!!!!!"

If the amp you're using has an effects loop, that's where you'd generally put your modulation (time-based) effects, like delays, choruses, tremelo, etc. The effects loop is after the pre-amp section of the amp (where some of the amp's gain comes from depending on the amp) and before the power amp (where the rest of them amp's gain comes from right before the speakers). On most amps that have reverb built-in, it will generally come after the effects loop as well. Here's the rest of my signal chain:

AMP Effect Loop Send>Flanger>Phaser>Tremelo>Chorus>Delay>AMP Effect Loop Return>AMP Reverb

Sys Rq had a good description of Delay vs. Reverb above. Digital/analog/tape are all types of delay. Digital delays are usually very precise sounding as the effect is making a "perfect" digital copy of the signal. Analog delays are generally considered "warmer" as the tone of the repeats will darken as they decay. Tape is warmer sounding than analog, and often times gets some warble or other modulation as the repeats decay. Reverb is basically supposed to sound like you're in a really big room.

Guitargeek is a good resource to find specific equipment and to see generally how people lay things out. Keep in mind that they probably aren't using everything together all the time. For example, when I want to play a Cure song I generally stick to a fairly clean amp, some flanger, and maybe a little overdrive and chorus. Effects pedals can be stomped on and off for a reason. As others have said, experiment and move things around because that's how you usually find the coolest combinations. And with something like a POD, I'd assume that's a lot easier than having to rearrange and hook up a whole bunch of pedals over and over.
posted by sbrollins at 9:34 AM on July 19, 2011

here's the breakdown (PDF) of the effects, amps and cabs for your perusal, should you be so inclined....

wow, you're right. there ARE a ton of options in there. Guitargeek is probably a pretty good idea of what your favorite band might be using, so yeah, try setting up some different combinations and see what you like.

Maybe narrowing things down a bit would help - try some stuff and then come back to the thread and ask why x sounds like y, and you might get some more insight.
posted by dubold at 12:28 PM on July 19, 2011

One thing that really helps is to get a basic working knowledge of analog electronics as it applies to signal processing. You don't need know enough to design your own gear or anything, just enough to understand what's happening to your audio signal as it travels through your gear. You can get a huge range of sounds just by knowing how to tweak your amp and guitar settings without even getting into effects pedals.
posted by doctor_negative at 1:32 PM on July 19, 2011

Well, naturally you're supposed to turn them ALL to 11.

Thing is, there's not really any rules to any of these gadgets and setups. For every convention, there's someone to come around and break it. Distortion- the real bedrock of rock guitar- wasn't even supposed to really happen, obviously the engineers at RCA who developed the circuits that old-school Fender and Marshall amps are based on (and by extension, 99% of all tube guitar amps) certainly were trying to avoid it as much as possible. The Wah Wah pedal was never supposed to be manipulated along with playing, and it was a foot pedal device because that was the convention for organists, for whom it was originally intended.

So I'll try and give you some stock answers that follow convention, and I would encourage you to learn the rules and then break them as soon as possible. The modern Pods definitely have a ton of options! At least they scaled the amp selection back a bit.

What should I put first in the effects chain? Last? Before the amp? After?

Players that use a compressor pedal generally put it first. This is mainly because the compressor brings up the level of the input signal, and delivers a stronger signal to all other effects. As one of the other responders noted, some fuzz pedals need to see the guitar first to properly interact with the pickups.

Last in the chain would typically be time-based effects (delay, reverb, flange, phase) because most people contend that those effects BEFORE distortion is not a desirable sound. Some amps (Fender Twin Reverb, Roland Jazz Chorus) are generally so clean that this is not an issue.

Before or after the amp is a complicated question. Most guitar amps have a seperate pre-amp and power amp section. Most amps with built in distortion 'channels' or boosts and the like, do so in the pre-amp section. You can generally state that the power amp section provides clean power (to stage volume) while the preamp section, while capable of great gain needed to amplify the magnetic vibrations of the strings above the pickups, produces a low output. Many amps have what's known as an effects loop- a patchpoint between the pre- and poweramp sections, allowing you to put effects AFTER the distortion generated by the preamp. This is also how many amps configure their built in reverbs. If you lack an effects loop, doing something like this involves like, a PA system and more amplifiers. I'll leave it at that for now.

Something like a Pod no doubt has all sorts of routing options, and putting say, a natural room reverb AFTER all of the 'amp' stuff is possible and probably desirable.

Do you use overdrive and distortion at the same time?
How do overdrive and distortion pedals interact with gain on the amp?

I definitely have. For example, I think Fuzz (Distortion) only sounds good in front of a cranked amp (with Overdrive). Without the overdriven amp aspect, you kind of get that buzzy Satisfaction/60 Spy theme sound which is all fine and all, but not my personal taste. Many, many players who are into gear are stacking overdrives these days. You can go to Thegearpage.net and read about dudes who have like 2 overdrives on at all times, plus a clean boost (a form of overdrive), plus some Rat type pedal (distortion), a Big Muff (distortion), and a fuzz (distortion). That would be in no way uncommon to have on some of the bigger boards people have there. You can only distort a signal so much though- usually less is more.

Personally, I've never gotten into overdrives because I tend to want more gain (distortion) than any of them offer. And I usually own amps that have more than enough overdrive. Also keep in mind that the terminology can vary a great deal. There are 'overdrive' pedals that have a hell of alot more gain than some 'distortion' pedals, believe me.

To answer the second question- there are too many variables. You have to experiment and see. You could generalize though, that gain-type pedals like an amp that is beginning to overdrive and produce distortion-like characteristics.

Should I put reverb before the amp or after? How does a reverb pedal interact with reverb on the amp?

I think I started to tackle this above but most people would do so after. Reverb is one of those effects that stacking them can start to approach 'ambient' type tones with lots more sustain but less of a discernible attack.

What's the difference between reverb and delay? Wet reverb? Digital vs. analog vs. tape?

Reverb (besides the actual Spring reverb units that use springs to boing the sound around) is in fact a collection of many delays mixed together. Delay is generally more discrete repeats of a sound. Reverb is like a big parking garage. Delay is like yelling into a canyon and hearing your voice a couple seconds later. There's all sorts of in between though.

I'm not sure what Wet reverb is, but usually devices call the mix level, that is the amount of original signal that has the effect on top, as a Wet/Dry control, with Wet being all effect and Dry being none.

Digital vs Analog vs Tape is basically the different technology that was used to create delay devices. In Ye Olde tape machine, the head that records is a different part than the head that plays back. In such machines, you could take the playback head along with the original source and get a quick doubling of the signal, and then make a feedback loop to get a cascading runaway echo. Thats basically how the first 20 years or so of echo products worked, just something recording on a tape and then (multiple) playback heads playing it back. These produce a very warm and classic and beautiful sound, but usually without the extreme delay times of modern units.

Analog delays started in the 70s, and more practically in the 80s. These used IC chips (but still analog) to store voltages and then pass the voltage along creating a time differential with the original signal. It's complicated, but it's sort of like the tape delays. Sonically they are similar- warm and musical. The biggest downside with these is that the maximum delay times are often very short, sometimes as short as 1/3 of a second. The units that do have about a second or so of delay time are very expensive.

Digital delays, like anything else digital, can do anything under the sun, including simulate the tonal characteristics of the above, with very long delay times. Units that don't 'model' vintage units are typically thought of as bland and perhaps sterile, though. The early digital delays have a certain lo-fi (but digital charm), and even this kind of stuff is available in simulated form these days.

Lo-pass filters? High-pass filters? EQ? Noise gates? WTF? And where to put them?

I would ignore all this stuff for now. Mainly studio type effects. I'd say EQ wise, stick to the knobs on the simulated amp for tonal shaping. When I had a Pod XT, I definitely thought it sounded better with the built in Noise Gate off.

I have no idea what different cabinets I should use to get any sounds in particular

Again, to generalize: Clean sounds use small, open back cabinets: Fender Amps, Vox AC-30, etc. Distorted sounds use large, sealed/closed back cabinets: Marshalls.
posted by tremspeed at 10:25 PM on July 21, 2011 [1 favorite]

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