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How to Get a Fatter Guitar Sound with Cascading Overdrive

Getting a great rock tone on guitar can be a challenge. Sometimes in the quest for gain we end up with rather thin and fizzy sounding guitars.

Often when looking for overdriven sounds, people resort to preamp gain on amps or a single pedal.

This often works well for slightly overdriven sounds but the moment you try to get more snarl out of your sound, you hit a crossroads.

The Cook

There are many recipes for overdriven rock guitar sounds.

The most traditional method is cranking the non-master volume on a tube amp all the way up.

A slight variation is using a Dallas Arbiter Treble Booster to push it even further.

A more modern method is using a boost pedal like the Fulltone Fat Boost.

50 Shades of Gain

These methods can yield some gritty tones. But, what if that’s not the shade of gain you’re looking for?

As much as I love gain from power tubes, there is a place in modern music for pedal-based overdrive. A lot of modern sounds are tighter than pure tube saturation can provide.

In this article, I’m going to discuss getting gain staging with overdrive pedals.

Two’s Company

A trick guitarists have been using for a while is cascading overdrive pedals.

Two overdrive pedals at low gain will sound fatter and less fizzy than one overdrive pedal with the gain cranked.

Cascading also allows for a less compressed signal. That’s an important detail.

Personally, pedals sometimes drive me crazy because they can get so compressed and tiny sounding.

What’s interesting is which pedals you choose greatly alters the results. As does the order of the pedals. More on that later.

The Funky Bunch

I have six overdrive pedals. They each have a unique flavor on their own, let alone together in different combinations.

There are certain overdrives that I only use in combination with another pedal.

For instance I rarely use my Maxon OD9 on its own or my MXR Distortion+. They’re both fine pedals. I’m just not fond of their personalities for a lot of the music I make.

Sometimes they’re a perfect compliment to each other. The MXR lacks some midrange. The OD9 has too much midrange. Together they balance each other out splendidly.

Place Your Order

To thicken the plot even more, the order of the two overdrives changes the sound. Not a real shocker at this point, right?

You have to figure out who is wearing the pants in the relationship. Err… more like find out which one is the wife.

Hearing Aid

In the following examples, I used two sets of pedals and swapped the order so you can hear the audible change.

For the purpose of these examples, I didn’t even get into using different gain for each pedal. I simply set both pedals for a similar gain and stacked them.

Playing with the order and gain of each pedal will yield very different results. Some pedals shine on low gain. Some pedals like to growl.

Think about countering the weakness of each pedal with the strength of another.

These examples were recorded with:

  • Victoria 35115 tweed
  • Les Paul Standard with Voodoo Humbuckers on the bridge pickup
  • Cascade Fat Head II (with Lundahl transformer)
  • Mbox Mini
  • Logic Pro X

The amp was set to clean.


For the first set of pedals I used Effectrode Tube Drive + Creation Audio Labs Holy Fire.

Example 1: Tube Drive  amp

This is a chunky tube sound. It’s the closest sound to a cranked amp.

 

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Example 2: Holy Fire → amp

You can hear more upper-midrange activity.

 

Example 3: Tube Drive  Holy Fire

You can hear some of the loosenesses of the Tube Drive, but it’s getting tightened up by the Holy Fire.

 

Example 4: Holy Fire  Tube Drive

This is a big slightly fuzzy sound. Has a lot of 70’s flavor. It’s loose but punchy due to the Holy Fire adding those upper-mids. And it’s not squished to death.


The second set of pedals I chose were the Maxon OD9 and a Fulltone OCD (v4).

Example 5: OD9 → amp

A pretty traditional boxy TS9 sound.

 

Example 6: OCD → amp

I have this set a little bit darker based on how I wanted them to play together. You can hear it has a little of that OD9 mid bump. It has a little more growl than the OD9.

 

Example 7: OD9  OCD

This feels pretty squished to me. It’s a very mid-focused sound.

 

Example 8: OCD  OD9

There is a little more punch with this order. This would likely sit well in a mix.


Preference of these sounds will vary depending on your own taste. One thing we can all agree on is they sound different.

And Another Thing

You can take this a step further by experimenting with this same setup and running into a hot amp as opposed to a clean amp. The amp should be just at the point of breaking up. Just so it fattens up and has more rich harmonics.

Hopefully, this gives you something to experiment with while holing up during these cold winter months.

cascading overdrive pedals

Learn More

Take your guitar tone, productions and recordings to the next level with the debut course from Mark Marshall: Producing & Recording Electric Guitar

Includes 9+ hours of in-depth training on all aspects of guitar. There are many variables that can impact the tone and quality of a guitar recording — from setup, string gauge, amps and pickups, to processing, effects and miking. Mark breaks it all down so you can confidently create awesome guitar tone and take your mixes, productions, performances and recordings to the next level.

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Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall

Mark Marshall is a producer, songwriter, session musician and instructor based in NYC. More at guitaristmarkmarshall.com

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