Tone Loss Finale|Tone Loss Finale is now part of! All the Boss pedals you love are still here, along with expert reviews of electric guitars, amps, and more.

I’ve been chasing tone for quite some time. I must say that with the purchase of my new Mesa Boogie & Orange TT amps, the limited time I’ve had the pleasure of spending with them has reinforced my belief that a mess of pedals only cruds up the mix. I’m not talking only about tone-suckage, buffering circuits, or multi-layered overdrive boosts into distortion on flanged phasers through pitch-shifted wah-delays etc.

Point #1:

Consider how many tone controls there are in your chain. Include signal coloration by knobs that aren’t specificially labeled Bass, Treble, Mid, Fat, Muscle, Presence, High, Low, & Frequency. Every knob that modifies the signal: Sweep, Rate, Level, Mix, etc. colors the resulting output. Couple that idea with the endless cascades of pedals into pedals & one finally concludes that the endless variation of frustrating possibilities exist that is almost
insurmountable in seeking that perfect tone for which we all strive.

My guitar, my pedals, my amps, my mixer… all have tone controls. Are they working together or are they fighting each other? How to best set them ALL & in what combinations? If you set the best tone with pedals that are on, what happens if you turn one off & add two more into play? What a nightmare. If you have a tone control on each of 10 effects as well as your amp, it can be rather difficult to dial in your sound when they’re all on. True, we hardly run 10 effects at once but conceptually, aren’t they all fighting each other? Which Bass knob should you attenuate?

Tone Loss Finale

Point #2:

Gain circuits lower your S/N or signal-to-noise ratio. This is because our ears expect clarity & when you amplify a signal, you also amplify the noise within that signal. If you add a little noise to a pristine signal, it becomes rather prominent. Its almost like if you add a tablespoon of wine to a barrel of sewage, you get a barrel of sewage. Conversely, if you add a tablespoon of sewage to a barrel full of wine, you also get sewage. Keep the noise out or at least run a bare minimum of gain enhancing effects simultaneously. I’m sure you don’t even have to imagine the sonic crap that comes from a noisy compressor before a boost, running in front of 2 or 3 overdrive & distortion boxes all on at the same time. Try playing an articulate chord through all that mud. On a side note, too much delay & reverb sounds mushy.

Point #3:

If you aren’t satisfied at the very basic tone from your guitar to your amplifier w/o effects, then how in the hell is a buttload of effects going to help? I’m slowly realizing the obvious. I’m using a lot less pedals simultaneously now & only for subtle effect. I don’t need guitar-jets swooshing & diving all about while speaking vocal “oohs” & “ahhs”. I’m trying to get back to a basic vintage guitar sound, ya know? Sure, slight stereophonic ambience creates a rich, lush presence but endless bouncing delays through sewer pipes & distorted mush just isn’t cutting it anymore. Think clarity, subtlety; clean things up a bit.

Keep it simple. Take advantage of multiple loops. Run a Boss LS-2 or other loop unit to break your effects into separate blocks to minimize noise & tone degradation. Although True-bypass pedals is a long-standing debate, they allow you to fully remove them, their buffers, & their AD/DA converters from the chain. Also, keep cables as short as possible. & close-mic your sources.

Point #4:

Say you have 10 pedals vs. a multi-effect unit. The individual pedals have buffered inputs whereas the multi-effect unit only has one. There would be more signal degradation through many pedals as compared to the multi. Additionally, many pedals today are digital. This means you have an AD converter on the input & a DA converter on the output. When you daisy-chain many of these together, latency rises. Combine this latency with 1ms/ft between you & your amp or speaker & you’ll soon perceive the inherent delay that has built up. This exhibition is not unlike recording with ambient room mics as the delay approaches noticability.


Shoot for less pedals to get your sound & strive for clarity. Multi-effects units minimize noise & tone suckage due to the fact that you’d be running fewer buffers & converters in your chain. If you like all your single effects, try setting all tone controls to unity & running a Parametric EQ at the end of your chain. Use True-bypass pedals or incorporate dedicated loops into your chain to further minimize signal degradation.

I hope this helps focus a few of you guys. I got all wrapped up in my pedal collection & as proud as I am in my materialistic ways, we must learn to use them judiciously & with meaningful effectiveness.