Thomann's Cool Online Guides: Distortion Effect Pedals

2. History

1960

There was a time, of course, when a distorted guitar sound was the curse of professional sound engineers - and indeed, guitarists. The earliest valve amps, many of which are highly prized now for their ability to be overdriven, were designed solely to make guitars audible above the sounds of the other instruments in the ensemble – typically a big-band or small jazz group in the early days. It seems incredible now, but the original Gibson Les Paul series was taken out of production in 1960 because its humbucker pickups delivered too much signal for the amps of the day. People just didn’t want that noisy, crunchy sound...

1965

That was until Messrs Clapton, Beck, Page, Townsend and others (including The Kinks’ Dave Davies and Jimi Hendrix, of course) started emulating the overdriven sounds of the Chicago blues players of the 50s. They heard Hubert Sumlin, Pat Hare and Elmore James - whose sounds were forged with cheap equipment in the noisy South Side clubs - and went in search of their own versions of those hair-raising, spine-tingling tones. With the appearance of John Mayall’s immortal Beano album - properly entitled ‘Bluesbreakers’ and credited to John Mayall with Eric Clapton - the Les Paul was suddenly back in fashion.

Meanwhile, Jim Marshall had introduced his now legendary range of amps and speaker cabinets. As rock music rocketed in popularity and arenas grew larger, so the demand for powerful amplification increased. But with more power, the volumes required to achieve the required crunch became ear-splittingly high, especially for guitars with single-coil pickups.

It was this new challenge that led engineers like Roger Mayer to experiment with devices that could recreate the sounds of overdriven amps, even at low volumes. The first boosters and distortion pedals began to appear, often affectionately known as ‘fuzz boxes’. By the late 60s, the combination of valve amplifiers, humbucked guitars and an increasing armoury of stomp boxes had given rise to the sounds of Cream, Led Zeppelin, and Black Sabbath. Rock music had come of age, and ‘heavy metal’ was born.

1970s

Technology advanced rapidly in the 70s with the introduction of boxes like the Ibanez Tubescreamer and Boss overdrive pedals. Guitarists were finding new ways to work with overdriven signals and high quality valve amplifiers, creating sweet, sustaining tones, as well as the hard and dirty sounds associated with distortion pedals. In the hands of David Gilmour or Carlos Santana, overdrive boxes became sources of rich, warm sounds with near-infinite sustain.

1980s

With the arrival of the new decade, amplifier technology had advanced to the stage where master volume controllers and gain controls could be used to achieve distorted, sustaining sounds without the need for pedals. You can read more about this in our Amplifier Online Advisor. It was a time when those guitarists who could afford them were hauling vast, refrigerator-like stacks around with them, complete with a rack of studio effects modules. The boom days of overdrive and distortion boxes seemed to have passed.

1990s

For many guitarists, the clinical, digitised sounds of the late 80s and early 90s were characterless and bland. They began to rediscover the joys of a simple guitar and amp combination, and quaint old pedals that were so much fun to play with. Vintage stomp boxes soared in value, and new retro-styled ranges began to appear, often using digital modelling technology to recreate the sounds and functions of the classic pedals.

2000

And so we entered the new millennium with a greater choice of high quality pedals than ever before, and at more affordable prices. Today, guitarists have never had it so good - once they can work out which of the huge range of boxes out there is right for them...

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Distortion Effect Pedals overview

Alesis Vortex Wireless 2 Alesis Surge Mesh Kit Adam T5V Subpac M2X Roland R-07 black Yamaha Stagepas 600BT Arturia Minibrute 2 Focal Listen Professional Heritage Audio HA-73 EQ Elite Focal Shape Twin Sound Devices MixPre-3 Yamaha Stagepas 400BT
(4)
Recommended
Alesis Vortex Wireless 2

Alesis Vortex Wireless 2; USB/MIDI Keytar Controller with Accelerometer; Portable Performance Keyboard with Shoulder Strap, 37 touch sensitive keys with aftertouch; Eight touch sensitive RGB illuminated Performance Pads, Eight illuminated faders for volume or parameter control; Programmable tilt sensor with...

to the product
€249
Recommended
Alesis Surge Mesh Kit

E-Drum Set 385 Sounds, 40 kits, 60 songs, Additional input for a fourth tom and a second crash pad, 2 Master outputs 6.3 mm mono jack, Headphone output 3.5 mm stereo jack, Aux input 3.5mm stereo jack, MIDI input...

to the product
€585
(1)
Recommended
Adam T5V

Active Nearfield Monitor Equipped with: 5" woofer and 1.9" U-ART ribbon tweeter, 2x Class-D amplifiers: 50W RMS woofer, 20W RMS tweeter, Frequency range: 45 - 25000 Hz, Crossover frequency: 3 kHz, Maximum input level: 106 dB (1m/pair), Rear bass...

to the product
€169
Recommended
Subpac M2X

Subpac M2X, Mobile tactile bass system, SubPac adds real depth, connection and enjoyment to whatever you play through it - your music and media comes to life with the added dimension of physical bass. Frequency Response: 1hz-200hz, Wired Input: 3.5mm...

to the product
€385
(1)
Recommended
Roland R-07 black

Portable MP3 / WAV Recorder with Bluetooth Functionality Stereo recordings up to 24 Bit / 96 kHz in WAV format or up to 396 kbps in MP3 format on microSD / SDHC card, Built-in stereo microphone, Integrated hybrid limiter,...

to the product
€225
Recommended
Yamaha Stagepas 600BT

Mini-PA System with Bluetooth Function Consisting of 2x passive 2-way boxes and 10-channel power mixers, Power mixers and speaker cables can be stored in the boxes for transportation, Successor of the Stagepas 600i, Including 2 speaker cables, each 6...

to the product
€799
(2)
Recommended
Arturia Minibrute 2

Arturia Minibrute 2; analog semi-modular Synthesizer; Combination of classic and modular Synthesizer; 25 note Keyboard with Aftertouch; Brute-Oscillator; Steiner-Parker-Filter; additional Loop-Envelope; linear FM; Hardsync; two free assignable LFOs; integrated Step Sequencer; Arpeggiator; 48 point Patchbay; Pitch- and Modulation Wheel; Connections:...

to the product
€649
Recommended
Focal Listen Professional

Headphones Closed, Circumaural, Conversion technology for acoustic transparency and dynamics, Impedance: 32 ohms, Sensitivity (@ 1 kHz - / 1 Vrms): 122 dB SPL, THD (THD, @ 1 kHz / 100 dB SPL): 0.3%, Frequency range: 5 Hz to...

to the product
€249
Recommended
Heritage Audio HA-73 EQ Elite

Heritage Audio HA-73 EQ Elite; 1-Channel Mic-Preamp wit EQ; based on the 1073; hand wound Carnhill Transformers; 3 stage fully discrete class A mic preamp; max. Gain: 80 dB Mic and 50 dB Line; -20 dB Pad; LO-Z switches the...

to the product
€945
(1)
Recommended
Focal Shape Twin

Active Near Field Monitor Tweeter with low directivity for flexible listening position, Closed design with two passive membranes for easy installation near the wall, 2.5-Way concept for optimal control of the bass and lower mids, Optimal integration through extensive...

to the product
€849
Recommended
Sound Devices MixPre-3

Sound Devices MixPre-3; portable audio recorder with USB audio interface; 5 tracks: stereo mix + 3 isolated tracks; Kashmir microphone preamp with 76db gain; equivalent Input Noise: 128dBu max (A-weighting, gain=76dB, 150 Ohm source impedance); limiter per channel; low cut...

to the product
€745
Recommended
Yamaha Stagepas 400BT

Mini-PA System Bluetooth Function Consisting of 2x passive 2-way boxes and 8-channel power mixers, Power mixers and speaker cables can be stored in the boxes for transportation, Successor of the Stagepas 400i, Including 2 speaker cables, each 6 m...

to the product
€555
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