How To Achieve A “Big” Guitar Sound Playing Live – Better Guitar Tone
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Every guitarist is searching for that epic tone. While you may have found your signature sound, there may be some scenarios where you need just a little something more. While bigger isn’t always better, a bigger tone is SOMETIMES better.
Bigger, could also be interpreted in a few different ways. In this case, we’re not necessarily talking about increasing volume, gain or trying to cut through the mix.
What we mean here when referencing a “big guitar sound”, is to achieve a fatter, fuller, and/or deeper tone. Or maybe even some additional layers.
The following methods will help you experiment to find bigger guitar sounds when playing live that suit your genre and playing style.
Down-Tune or Drop-Tune
You may have thought of tuning down a half step to accommodate your vocals. Maybe you tune to Drop D to access that low D or shred some chunky power chords. Have you considered the fatter sound that comes with it?
If you’ve played much guitar, then you already know what I’m talking about. If you’re more of a newbie, then you should check out a couple of new tunings.
While standard tuning is E-A-D-G-B-E, tuning each string down a half step would lower your frequency, making your sound a little deeper (Eb-Ab-Db-Gb-Bb-Eb). You can even lower your strings a full step (D-G-C-F-A-D).
To add to this, you could then drop the bottom string down an additional step to achieve the “Drop D”, of each respective tuning. In these 2 examples it would be Drop Db (Db-Ab-Db-Gb-Bb-Eb) and Drob C (C-G-C-F-A-D) tuning.
Thicken Your Sound With A Chorus Pedal
A chorus pedal takes your original signal, doubles it and sets the second version of that signal slightly out of tune and out of time. The altered signal is then blended with your original signal.
This is a great way to thicken your guitar tone. Generally, chorus will be used with a clean tone and can kind of give you a 12 string effect. Be sure to use it wisely when coupled with a lot of overdrive, or you could lose the guitar in the mix. That being said, there are a ton of rock and metal songs using chorus with plenty of distortion.
Some famous songs that use a chorus effect are:
Come As You Are by Nirvana
Get Lucky by Daft Punk
Spirit Of Radio by Rush
More Than A Feeling by Boston
Pull Me Under by Dream Theater
Purple Rain by Prince
Paradise City by Guns N’ Roses
Most great guitarists will keep a chorus pedal on their pedalboard and you should probably have one too. This is a great way to achieve bigger sound.
Pairing 2 Guitar Amps
Just the fact of having two amps on stage can give you a bigger sound. Adjusting the gain and EQ a little differently on the second amp could then give you an extra layer. Ever so subtle, but it’s there.
The easiest sound to manage would be to use two of the same combo amps. You may find, though, that 2 different amps with a similar wattage may lend more complexity to your tone.
In the most basic setup, you would achieve this by using an ABY pedal, which would allow you to split your signal. You can select Speaker A, Speaker B or Both.
If you’re going to go through the trouble, though, there is much more you can do. After all, we’re looking for a HUGE stage presence!
Generally speaking, there are 2 popular (and better) ways to beef up your live sound with two amps:
- Hook them up in stereo.
- Set up a Wet/Dry Rig.
Let’s take a look at both options.
Morley ABY Mixer/Combiner
- Dual inputs routed to dual outputs
- Inputs have individual levels controls
- Switch outputs on/off in any combination
- LED indication
- Powers rom one 9V or 9V adapter
Stereo Guitar Amp Pairing
Adding a stereo effect to your playing can give you a HUGE live sound, especially if you’re using two guitar amps. This is where we get into a seriously bigger, thicker and more complex guitar tone.
In this case, instead of using an ABY pedal, you’re just going to add a stereo-capable effects pedal. This will eliminate the need for an ABY pedal and provide you with more layers to separate your sound. As we go over a couple of these effects below, you’ll see how this works.
Some of my favorite stereo effects include stereo Delay, Reverb, Chorus and Flanger. There are certainly other stereo pedals, though, that will knock your socks off. These are just the most obvious.
Editor’s Note: They do make “stereo combo amps”, but the effect isn’t nearly as impressive. You will notice a difference though while practicing solo or if you mic each speaker individually through a PA. You’d then want to mic each speaker separately and then pan one hard left and the other hard right. In this case, I’d probably suggest checking out the Roland JC-40.
Try Using A Ping Pong Delay Setting (Stereo)
If you’re looking for a larger-than-life guitar tone, running a stereo delay into two amplifiers will kind of produce the most in-your-face result if you have a “ping pong delay” setting. Someone who doesn’t know music would probably think you have 3 guitars on stage. That’s how much depth and complexity a ping pong delay can add.
We’re going to use this example to show what setting up a stereo effects pedal would look like. We’ll cover the most basic setting configuration method.
You’ll see in the image below, with the Joyo D-Seed II, you have a mono input on the right and a mono output on the left. Using this configuration only would be perfect for one amp…. but we’re looking to hook up two amps in stereo.
Because of that, we’re going to utilize both outputs on the left of the pedal. Our dry signal will come in the mono input and the wet signal will leave the delay’s outputs – one into each amp. If you’ve already split your signal prior to the delay in your effects chain, then you’ll just use both inputs as well.
(Learn more about Ping Pong Delay in this article…)
JOYO D-SEED-II Multi Pedal Effect, Stereo Looper Effect & Delay Pedal Effect for Electric Guitar Dual Channel & 8 Digital Delay Modes
- ATTENTION: Power supply adaptor should meet the standard as below,otherwise, it doesn't work : DC 9V(center minus), over 200mA capacity, connection of positive (+ ) barrel and negative (-) center.
- Stereo input and Stereo output, 8 delay modes, supports a maximum of 2000ms delay time.
- Pingpong modes are available for each delay effect, offering optimum stereo effects. Features LOOPER function, tape recording simulation effect can be added as for playback. Set TAP TEMPO with one foot. Features LOOPER function, tape recording simulation effect can be added as for playback. Set TAP TEMPO with one foot.
- Before you test the pedal or before playing, make sure the guitar is fully connected with the pedal. In order to make JOYO pedals work properly, avoiding unexpected noise caused by power supply, we recommend that you purchase a JOYO original power adapter, or choose other reliable brands. More importantly, you need to make sure it meets the working current requirement of the pedal.
- Dual-channel design with independent parameter settings, which allow you to switch between 2 delay effects parameters.
Using A Chorus Pedal In A Wet/Dry Setup
When we talked about using a chorus pedal in our first section, we were assuming that you’re using one amp with a mono signal. This is the most common application. The chorus pedal will blend your dry signal with your wet signal and send it through one cable.
Take a look at the MXR Analog Chorus shown above. You’ll see that your guitar signal comes in as a mono signal, but there are two outputs. The first output is your wet effect and the second output will exit as a dry signal (the same way it went into the pedal).
Again, like the stereo pedal above, you can just use the mono output for use with one amp. But, if you were to take one of those outs and send it to your left amp and send the other to your right amp, you’ll have a basic wet/dry setup.
MXR M234 Analog Chorus Pedal
- All-analog bucket-brigade circuitry
- Create classically lush, liquid textures
- Ultimate tone control
- Model Number: M234
What is a wet/dry guitar setup?
What we mean by this is that one amp will receive the wet effects signal, in this case from a chorus pedal, and the other amp will receive the dry signal. Now, the dry signal may very well contain effects such as drive, distortion, wah, compression and/or anything else which was placed before the pedal which splits your wet and dry signal.
This configuration lends a fantastic layer of complexity to your live sound that still sounds organic.
Want To Hear The Difference?
Mick and Daniel from That Pedal Show have a great video explaining the difference between stereo and a wet-dry rig. Listen to this with a pair of headphones on and you’ll have a great understanding of what each sounds like. You’ll probably walk away inspired to set up your new rig also!
Developing a big guitar sound while playing live can really move your audience. There are many methods to do so, but we believe these are some of the best and easiest to achieve.
Always remember though, sometimes less is more. While you may want to shred a solo and rock out the chorus, oftentimes the novice guitarist will fail to fall back in the mix when appropriate. You want to play WITH your band – not compete with them.
Thankfully though, you can still command a huge sound without even turning up the volume!
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