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how I use boost pedals September 19, 2007

Posted by Phillip in Amps, Effects, Guitar, Live Sound, Music.

There are a couple of uses for boost pedals. One use is to create a pure volume increase without changing your basic sound. Another use is to push the preamp section of your amp to create a more distorted tone without drastically effecting the overall tone of the amp. I want to focus on the second part.

There are two stages in which gain is added to your signal in a guitar amplifier. The first is the preamp stage (12AX7, 12AT7, 12AU7, etc) and the second is the power amp stage (EL84, EL34, 6L6, 6V6, etc). If you have a master volume control, you can crank the gain and turn the master volume down. This causes your preamp tubes to get hot and start clipping, while your power amp tubes stay relatively cool. I don’t have a master volume on my amp, so the details on your setup will be a little different if your amp has one.

I start by turning the amp up to about 1:00 on the gain knob. As I mentioned, I don’t have a master volume control, so my volume increases as the gain increases. This setting allows me to play lightly and get a nice clean tone, but I can also hit the strings harder and get some crunch.

Stepping on a boost ramps up the signal that I’m sending to the preamp. When this beefed-up signal hits the preamp, it causes it to clip (or distort) more than it did before. If I had my amp on a lower gain setting, or if I had an amp with more clean headroom, the boost would simply increase the volume without adding any gain.

Basically, I’m using the boost as a kind of distortion pedal doesn’t color the basic character of my amp too much. Does that make sense?



1. portorikan - September 19, 2007

That makes sense, and does what I thought it would. It seems to me thought that this might negatively affect the output volume of the amp. I already have issues with being too loud, so to use a boost seems like it might… not help the cause any. I like the idea though, I don’t know that I’d be interested in spending the money on it though.

So, would having the pre gain up louder combined with the boost add compression that would maybe help with the volume some?

2. worshipguitarist - September 19, 2007

My advice would be to build an isolation box before you try anything else. Volume shouldn’t be a determining factor when you’re trying to get your tone.

If the iso box alone doesn’t get your volume low enough, you should try getting an attenuator (like the Weber Mass, THD Hotplate, etc.) to help with the volume levels. An attenuator goes between the power amp output and the speaker, so you can take advantage of all that power tube distortion without playing at ear-splitting volume levels.

Having said that, I don’t use an attenuator anymore. Most of the amp volume is contained within the box. My wedge monitor bleeds into the house more than my amp does.

3. goofydawg - October 10, 2007

What kind of iso box did you get/build? I have the same issues at my church.

4. worshipguitarist - October 10, 2007

The iso box is something that the rhythm guitarist in the band built. It’s basically a box with 4 walls (no bottom, removable top) lined with foam. We just put our speaker cabs in the box and drop a mic in front. It’s totally low tech, but it works pretty well. I wish that my box was big enough to accommodate a 2×12″ cab, but oh well.

5. goofydawg - October 11, 2007

Cool. I’ve been trying to find the time to build an iso box myself for my home studio. Here’s one that will fit a 2 X 12 cab: http://www.amptone.com/diyisobox.htm

6. mike - January 24, 2008

I use the boost for the same reason but also for two other good reasons: 1) To play sound guy from the stage. Good sound guys won’t like this, but I don’t need to do it if the guy is good! It’s not so much for church but for the cover band I play in, half the time a solo will go by and the sound guy will be staring off into space – that’s when I turn my own volume up 🙂 2) For multiple guitars with different pickup gains, for instance a LP with humbuckers and a start with single coils, the strat will natrually be quieter so I bump the boost so it matches the LP. Not only will this make consistant volume from the amp, it will make consistant tone as the effects will sound different with lower gain coming in. Oh, and iso boxes are definately good! I also keep a 50 foot cable in my bag incase I need to put the cab in a different room, most churches will have a back room that works as a “natrual” iso.

7. worshipguitarist - January 24, 2008

Yeah, when I play with my strat instead of the LP the boost is always on or else it just sounds anemic.

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