Boost Pedals and Why You need them Plus Myth Busters

Discussion in 'Pedal Pushers Forum' started by rcboals, Mar 15, 2019.

  1. rcboals

    rcboals Country Gent

    Nov 21, 2008
    Springfield Oregon
    One of the best pedal videos I have ever watched. Not specific to just one builder worth the watch.
    Check this out from the JHS pedal guy. Very informative I learned a lot and had some of my experience confirmed. Especially with the usefulness of the Boss GE7 EQ as a boost and tonal shaper for your OD tone at 13 minutes in.

    Merc and TSims1 like this.
  2. rcboals

    rcboals Country Gent

    Nov 21, 2008
    Springfield Oregon
  3. TSims1

    TSims1 Friend of Fred

    Jun 18, 2013
  4. swivel

    swivel Synchromatic

    May 13, 2018
    The best boost I know of is the onboard EC mid boost circuit. (with single coils anyway) It's so adjustable with your finger tip.. Even on 0 it makes your rig louder. I'm pretty confident that is the reason I can use my BFDR and Princeton for gigging 95% of the time. The BFDR is always on 3. I know when I try to use a guitar without it, things are not the same.
    EC Strat and new6659 like this.
  5. rcboals

    rcboals Country Gent

    Nov 21, 2008
    Springfield Oregon
    My wife told me along time ago "all your overdrive pedals sound the same it is in your head."
    I now wonder if most all the current latest magic with chips that are no longer made or hard to get is really in my head? EVERY RESTAURANT HAS STEAK, TO BE A SUCCESS IN THE BUSINESS YOU GOT TO SELL THE SIZZLE
    19MGB76 and Henry like this.
  6. Waxhead

    Waxhead Country Gent

    Aug 30, 2014
    Yeah all good info is you have a clean tube amp that doesn't do overdrive unless you crank it to max.
    There is a better option negating the need for any pedals though.

    Get a versatile 2 channel amp that does great tube driven overdrive and distortion.
    The best one's have an in built solo boost switch also.
    So I don't agree that everyone needs boost pedals.

    I don't think all overdrives and distortions sound the same at all.
    They would to the untrained ear though :)
    Last edited: Mar 15, 2019
    ruger9, new6659 and Henry like this.
  7. Ricochet

    Ricochet Gretschified

    Nov 13, 2009
    Monkey Island
    I genuinely think there is an appreciable tonal difference between different magnets, opamps, tonewoods, unicorn stuffing and stuffing unicorns.
    rockinforJesus, Waxhead and Bertotti like this.
  8. MrAstro

    MrAstro Gretschie

    Mar 5, 2015
    Sydney, NSW
    Did the guy in the OP's video actually play something or did he just sit there the whole time with a bunch of different boost pedals and extol their virtues like a stamp collector?

    OK I saw one spot where he played something phew...
    Waxhead likes this.
  9. Henry

    Henry Gretschified

    Apr 9, 2014
    I use a boost, but I dont think everyone needs a boost. That's like saying every one needs over wound pickups.

    I also don't think playing in the video is relevant, it seems a theoretical issue and not one proven by comparing A vs B, when there are so many possible combinations out there.
    Waxhead and Bertotti like this.
  10. Coffee is my boost. Prefer milk and sugar.
    rcboals likes this.
  11. Dennison

    Dennison Country Gent

    Jul 17, 2011
    Kent, UK
    Rocktron Austin Gold -- had it for years. It's build like a tank, cost very little secondhand and provides all the boost/drive I'll need. I do like those Fulltone pedals though. Guy I know uses one and it sounds very good with his Strat and a Deluxe Reverb.

  12. Bertotti

    Bertotti Country Gent

    Jul 20, 2017
    South Dakota
    My RC Booster was an always-on pedal until the Mystery Brain now it sits idly waiting for me to throw it back in somewhere. I doubt a lot of people hear a difference but I sure do and other players do. Guitars and amps and pedals are like women and clothes. Us dudes may not see a big difference but the women sure do.

    I like the pedal myths video there are so many pedals people have told me were so much better and I would set up some of my cheaper units I had and when they played they didn't even know I had them in. Yea there are some pedals I don't like and some OD I don't like but it hasn't always been price related. Like the RC Booster, it should be a tone sucker its input and output specs are not even close to a nice buffered spec but I never noticed it nor did anyone around me who tired it. Throw it on a spectrum analyzer and you probably would see some differences but it wasn't anything that I heard and disliked. The other thing that gets me most is I can set something up and it sounds great one day come back a couple of days later and I might hate it, the gear didn't change the settings didn't change but the environment I had been working in did and that affected my hearing which can certainly affect how you hear the tones.
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2019
  13. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Admin Post
    Why is there an assumption that everyone needs an overdrive pedal? That was the starting point of the video and, IMHO, is quite telling.

    Let me start with a posit; all amplified guitar output is, by definition, distorted. By distorted, I mean that the waveform of the input is not faithfully reproduced by the amplifier's speakers. Now, the character of that change in waveform varies greatly, but even my cleanest sound is distorted.

    Sometime in the sixties, distortion began to be used deliberately as an effect. Usually this is credited to Grady Martin's playing on Don't Worry, sung by Marty Robbins. This is credited to a malfunctioning channel on the mixing desk which was deliberately chosen for its unique contribution of the sound. If you listen to the recording, the sound is highly distorted, but not mixed to be in your face. To my ear, it doesn't sound much like a guitar, it's more like a synth or a sound effect. It's almost a perfect square wave, basically "fuzz guitar".

    This is not the first time a distorted guitar sound was heard on a commercial recording. All sorts of recordings have distorted guitar on them, dating back to some of the earliest days of electric guitar, but it may not have been deliberately cultivated.

    In 1965, or so, the Rolling Stones' used a slightly less distorted sound for the intro to Satisfaction, and in this case the effect was more powerful. From that point on, various degrees of distortion have become very popular in Pop/Rock and there are more words for overdrive and distortion than skiers have for types of snow.

    Here's my point, not everyone is looking to increase distortion. There is a degree of distortion in my playing, but it's a natural consequence of amplification, not artificially induced. Overdrive and distortion pedals can operate in more than one manner. Simply boosting the signal level can overdrive the front end of a tube amp and produce some pleasing effects. A clean boost can accomplish this and, for my tastes, this is probably the way to go. Pedals can also manipulate the waveform and they can do this in numerous ways.

    One of the more popular solutions is to change the signal in such a way that pleasing harmonics are boosted, making for an intriguing sound. Another solution is asymmetric waveform clipping. A Boss Super Overdrive seems to do this.
    Another approach is to heavily clip the signal. A classic fuzz box works by knocking the tops off of the signal peaks. In extremis, this can approach a square wave. It also can affect the dynamics of the signal, because the very tops of the signal are removed. Among the multitude overdrive/distortion pedals on the market, most of them are simply combining various boosts with waveform manipulation.

    Combining waveform manipulation with boost is probably the most popular solution. From the perspective of the amplifier's input jack, the signal is strong enough to push the front end of the amp into distortion and that signal is already distorted. It's a compound effect, so to speak, with distortion coming from both the pedal and the amplifier.


    My personal theory, regarding the popularity of distortion effects, is that compression is a big part of the appeal. Compression, makes the signal sound smoother and more pleasing. It is also a natural effect, for two reasons. One, is the nature of how we perceive sound; basically the louder a sound is, the less detailed our perception. The second reason is that amplifiers will compress as they approach an overdriven level. If you turn up an amp, it will begin to "sing" at some point before it breaks up. I enjoy "surfing" that "plateau" which naturally occurs when an amp first starts to break a sweat. The amps I most enjoy playing are amps which have a fairly broad plateau between the volume where it starts to compress, but before it breaks up.

    I'm Gonna Want A Boost?

    Sorry pal, but no sale. I don't need a boost in any way, shape or form. My life is complex and my choices are carefully weighed. One of the choices I've made in my life would be my signal chain. My choice can be summed up in one word; simple.

    Let's start with his lab coat lecture. Basically, all he accomplished there was to state the obvious, some pickups have a stronger signal than others. As a rule, single coil pickups do not produce as strong of a signal as humbucking pickups. Once again, that seems to go without saying, if you choose to ignore the P-90 single coil, which is actually fairly powerful and will make its presence well known to the front end of an amp, even a titan, such as the Twin. So, my takeaway from the little labcoat shtick is that a clean boost will make a Strat hit the front end of an amp with as much signal level as a humbucker, a point I will gladly concede, but that does not equate to me wanting a clean boost.

    Now I do see one very good use for a clean boost; a use I have tried on my own rig, BTW. That would be to boost volume for the guitar solo in a song. I control dynamic with my right hand and the master volume on the guitar is close at hand, so I have chosen not to use boost in this manner, but it is a good approach. I can also understand the approach of an Atomic Brain, which allows you to dial in some gain and then switch in a boost to that already boosted signal, a bit more. Makes sense and I know a lot of guys that love their Atomic Brains.

    But saying "you're gonna wanna boost" seems a bit far-fetched, and the fact that the guy saying it is in the business of selling boost pedals makes it even less credible.

    Other Considerations

    Before I spent money on a boost, I'd make certain that the rest of the signal chain is working properly. As i mentioned above, the nature of my signal chain is the result of choice, dare I say, an informed decision? One thing a boost will do, is add punch to a weak signal, but that makes about as much sense as supercharging a worn out engine to compensate for the loss of power caused by excessive wear. It's a Band-Aid solution.

    I've seen all sorts of pedalboards over the years, but a relatively small percentage of pedalboard owners are aware of the effect of cable lengths, capacitance and impedance on signal quality. Before the era of boutique pedals, much of what was sold by the larger manufacturers were buffered pedals. They wanted pedals which were literally plug and play and didn't want a lot of customer service calls or returns, so they built buffers into pedals and managing such a signal chain was simple. You could plug these buffered pedals together almost infinitely, and we've all seen huge boards filled with brand name pedals, lined up nice and neatly. The biggest problem of such a rig was powering them, because daisy chaining power to several pedals from a single power source could introduce hum into the system. In practice, I've done this without problems, but a power supply with isolated power outlets is a much better way to go. What works just fine at home might not work so well when you get to your gig.

    Adding a clean boost to a signal chain with impedance mismatches and excessive capacitance can mask these problems. I suspect that the appeal of the Dallas Rangemaster may have, in part, been the fact that it could restore losses to the upper range of the signal caused by long patch cables and excessive capacitance in the signal path.

    My own take on this would be to plug into your rig and have a listen with the effects all in bypass, then plug directly into your amp with a 10' patch cable and see how much difference there is. If there is a lot of signal loss when the board is in the circuit, but bypassed, I would tackle those issues before even thinking about a clean boost.
  14. Bertotti

    Bertotti Country Gent

    Jul 20, 2017
    South Dakota
    Do you have one of Nocturnes iterations of the Brain? It is a preamp but could be argued it is also a boost, could it not? All these names confuse the heck out of me. OD, Boost Preamp fuzz, gain pedals etc...
  15. Waxhead

    Waxhead Country Gent

    Aug 30, 2014
    ok Synchro - that video really got up your nose :)
    I agree with you!

    For those that want some kind of overdrive/distortion then by far the best option is tube driven built into the amplifier. It sounds better and keeps your signal path clean negating the tone suck issues that many buffered pedals cause.

    If you're a clean player you don't need anything
    If you own a Mesa Boogie, or similar 2 channel amp, you don't need anything :)
    Last edited: Mar 16, 2019
    mrfixitmi and Bertotti like this.
  16. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Admin Post
    I had a first generation Brain Seltzer.

    IMO, they are all forms of preamps. A buffer is a unity-gain preamp, which doesn't boost the signal, but conditions it, by making a fresh copy of the signal brought in through a high impedance input interface and outputting it through a low impedance output interface. A typical preamp boosts the signal above unity, usually with a Level Control, and then sends along a stronger copy of the signal. If it's strong enough, it will overdrive the amps and, voila, the amp distorts. Beyond that, the signal can be tweaked this way, or that, and tailor the nature of the signal to produce the type of overdrive desired.

    When it comes right down to it, many types of pedals are preamps, of one sort or another. My TR-2 Tremolo has to have a preamp, because if it only cut the signal, but never boosted it, there would be a significant volume drop whenever it was engaged. If an EQ is capable of boosting certain bands, and not merely cutting certain frequency bands, then a preamp must be involved. In many cases, these preamps are not adjustable, but sometimes they are.

    My Catalinbread Topanga has a level control which allows me to set a boost level. I've experimented with it as a clean boost, and it works well. If I turn the level control up far enough, the front end of the amp will overdrive and I'll get breakup.

    I own one overdrive pedal, although I can't remember when I last used it. It's a Boss Super Overdrive, which affects the signal asymmetrically. If seems to accentuate some overtones and makes for an interesting overdriven sound. It's not the best, most modern or most versatile pedal for this purpose, but it is a solid entry in that market and does its job well. But at its heart, it's just a fancy preamp.

    There are some distortion pedals that don't rely upon boosting the signal. A pedal can clip the waveform and create a distorted effect without overdriving the front end of the amp. I suspect that the Heavy Metal distortion devices employ this approach.

    For my tastes, there is a big difference between fuzz and overdrive. When I listen to one of my favorite guitarists supporting one of my favorite singers, Grady Martin accompanying Marty Robbins, I don't like the sound of the guitar solo. Simply stated, it doesn't sound like a guitar. This is ironic, because Grady Martin's guitar work on Mart Robbins' El Paso is the first time I remember being aware of a guitar solo. Grady Martin is a big part of why I learned to play, but the solo in Don't Worry doesn't reach me in any positive way. It is an effect, but I don't consider it musical.

    When fuzz was king, in the late '60s, I was not a fan of the sound. I was never into it. But later on, I heard overdriven guitar, which retained more of the guitar's nature and dynamic, plus there were usually some strong overtones. ZZ Top's early material was a good example. Brian May's solos were other example, and Stevie Ray Vaughan used a similar approach. Now some of these used various effects, but the sound can be obtained with a cranked up amp and a guitar, with no signal manipulation required.

    When I am shooting for a Rock sound, this is the path I take. In my case, my baseline sound is clean, clear and strong, but if I really dig in the amp will overdrive on the peaks. I like this because it is a natural sound. I feel that it displays the sound of the guitar to good effect. The approach is clean, but if I peak into overdrive, it sounds natural.

    I saw a clip of a very well known Rock guitarist a while back. When he got ready to take his solo, you could hear the nature of the sound change as he switched a pedal into the circuit and took a distorted solo. To me, it detracted from the overall effect of the song. It was artificial; canned. There was no responsiveness, no dynamic response, it reminded me of a cheap effects processor.
    mrfixitmi and Bertotti like this.
  17. Synchro

    Synchro The artist formerly known as: Synchro Staff Member

    Jun 2, 2008
    Admin Post
    What got to me was the presumptuous nature of his approach. Had he worked at one of the stores I taught at, and asked me what overdrive pedal I used, my answer would have curled his hair and blistered the paint on the walls. I probably would have said "where the hell did you get the notion that I have an overdrive pedal?" in a calm voice, but with a facial expression that would simultaneously freeze water and melt granite. :)

    Back when I was a teacher, I never used any effects. None, zero, not one. I didn't even have reverb in my amp. I was a Jazz purist in my younger days. But even for other types of music, I went for a clean sound. I like pinch harmonics and use them liberally in my Rock playing. It works well with a clean sound and it adds a lot of expression. Most importantly, I can control it directly and in real time. One key, however, is a strong, clear base sound, and I can achieve that without a boost pedal.
    mrfixitmi and Waxhead like this.
  18. salvatore

    salvatore Electromatic

    Nov 29, 2017
    Durham, NC
    60F2991F-4429-4908-B55F-A399EE8397DB.jpeg If your looking to shape and tailor your baseline sound with an overdrive to exactly what you need I think the “Timmy” overdrive is the best. It is an “EQ”, a boost, and a gain / overdrive , all in one pedal.

    The four knobs: level, treble, bass, and gain, work together allow you to find and nail your sound.
    The treble and bass work in concert to bring in sparkle on , say, a humbucker, or to add some beef to single coils.
    The gain is as subtle as it gets, similar to a Fender Princeton on about 5 and struck aggressively on the introductory end and will cover psychedelic sounds on the other end without becoming inarticulate.
    The level is the boost , in the sense you can preset on certain songs.
    The quality of build and tone is easy to use to your own designs.

    Now, to the picture I posted of the Timmy and a straight boost pedal.
    For a clear clean simple straightforward boost I found the TC Jauernig “Luxury Drive” I have used since I bought it new in 2007 does the trick. It has one knob for level.

    When playing live, I set the Timmy and jump on the boost for dynamics.
    They make a luscious pair.
  19. blueruins

    blueruins Country Gent

    May 28, 2013
    Savannah, GA
    You're doing it wrong.
    rcboals likes this.
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