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boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby ryan mead » Fri Apr 08, 2011 9:26 am

I'm trying to educate myself about these kinds of pedals in general, and have come up with the following generalization. Is it (more or less) accurate?

 
 clean boost --> overdrive --> distortion --> fuzz

These pedals are a continuum. As we move to the right along the continuum, the amount of harmonic distortion intentionally introduced by the pedal increases.  
 
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby Findo » Fri Apr 08, 2011 10:10 am

sort of.. I put fuzz in a slightly different category, rather than on the continuum of od -> dist. Fuzz to me is gritty and raw yet retains note definition better than the others. Sometimes it's flappy too - like the opening riff of bodysnatchers (though that sound may be an overloaded mic pre?)

one thing i think you will find is that no two people have an identical definition of each of those different sounds. I spent a day doing an OD/dist/fuzz pedal shootout with another guitarist and realised we spoke completely different languages with regards to terms like gain, drive, distortion, clipping, crunch, saturation etc.

It was a day well spent!
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby thefruitfarmer » Sat Apr 09, 2011 6:44 am

Just get something that sounds good to you.
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby Findo » Sat Apr 09, 2011 11:06 am

i'm a little suprised there isn't more enthusiasm to discuss this. Sure, I know it is and has been talked about endlessly for 60 years or so, but distortion is the heart of the electric guitar - both sonically and culturally.

as true as 'get something that sounds good to you" might be, it isn't that helpful to the OP if he doesn't yet have the vocabulary to articulate what sounds good to him, and hence choose the right pedal based on other people's descriptions.

If it is a general question about why one box is classified overdrive, another distortion, another fuzz, I would agree with the continuum you suggest that distortion is generally 'more' than od, but fuzz is a slightly different beast. Thing is there is such a range of distorted tones that it is very hard to generalise any more than that.

Instead I would suggest trying to break the sound down into 3 main areas:
1. compression - how flat and sustainy is the sound (think santana)? For an uncompressed but overdriven rhythm sound listen to how long the mangled inter-modulation lasts after each strum - its a bit like setting the length of a reverb, there is a decay time which is just right.
2. Tone - how grainy or smooth is the sound? you get a grainy, raw overdrive when you distort upper mids and treble. If you roll back the guitar tone pot and just distort the fundamental, you get the overtones from the clipping process, which can sound very smooth (i call this a saturated sound.) Think Brian May, or some of satch's lead sounds.
3. Gain - how much actual drive is there? How much of the sound is still down to the guitar, and how much is down to the clipping process?

these are all interrelated, but identifying the different aspects of the sound might help you to get where you want to be. Most od pedals have at minimum a gain, vol and tone knob and you can learn a lot just from playing with these (whatever pedal you might already have - it doesn't matter too much) and your guitar tone pot.

If there are any guitar sounds on recordings that you wonder what type of pedal might get you there I for one would welcome some discussion on it. I'm sure there are plenty of people here who can offer suggestions and I'd love to hear and learn from those more knowledgeable and experienced in these things.
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby dubbmann » Sat Apr 09, 2011 2:40 pm

i've been mystified for years by pedal makers and how they classify, let alone come up w/ classifications, for the various distortion boxes. honestly, i think it's 99% marketing. with boss in particular i'm often reminded of a classic tv bit from 40 years ago attempting to understanding the classification of canned olives by sizes ("jumbo" vs. "gigantic", for example).

the classic definition of a clean circuit is "straight wire with gain": the signal that comes out is the signal that went in, just with greater amplitude; no frequency boosted or suppressed, and certainly no new frequencies added. such a circuit is said to be linear across the signal spectrum.

distortion is introduced by nonlinearities, and there are dozens of these possible. probably the most famous is saturation/clipping: a signal is sent in that is too hot for the power available to the circuit, causing clipping of the waveform; it is precisely the clipping that introduces harmonic content (if you're interested, all the math behind this is pretty well worked out in books on nonlinear circuits and control systems but you need to understand fourier analysis to follow it).

in particular saturation introduces a perfect 4th harmonic, instantly harmonizing the input notes. other types of distortion are available to circuit designers like hysteresis, friction/contactor, toggle, backlash, etc. a lot of distortion circuits in the early days were built much like circuit-bending happens today: guys with soldering irons and a smattering of electronics saying "hmmm, i wonder what would happen if i changed this cap here or added a resistor there?" and the good results were kept.

given all this, i think trying to lay out a continuum of distortion effects is not going to work too well unless the vendors have a mathematical approach i've missed over the years. as for 'gain' vs. 'master' knobs, as far as i can tell, it's just a tandem amplification circuit with each stage capable of saturation distortion. oh, and at least one has to go to '11' ;-)

cheers,

d
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby thefruitfarmer » Sat Apr 09, 2011 3:07 pm

Findo wrote:

as true as 'get something that sounds good to you" might be, it isn't that helpful to the OP if he doesn't yet have the vocabulary to articulate what sounds good to him, and hence choose the right pedal based on other people's descriptions.


I would describe my distortions in terms of

warm/cold

soft/hard

wild/controlled

What an individual pedal wil do will depend on the player, the guitar and the amp.

The language is mine and others would use different terms.

I think the original progression..

overdrive - distortion - fuzz

is a good starting point.

IMO it is something you could talk about on a forum for weeks and weeks but there is no substitute for going in to a shop and trying out a load of pedals. Let your ears choose the pedal.
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby zenguitar » Sat Apr 09, 2011 3:33 pm

I see the differences in different terms. A mixture of the history of how they all evolved and what they are used for.

Boost is just that, it boosts the signal to make it louder and/or push the amp into distortion. Fuzz was created as an effect. Overdrive was created to emulate the sound of an amp pushed into distortion to reproduce amp/channel switching. And Distortion is a more sophisticated use as an effect.

So, I make the distinction based on what I want to use them for rather than viewing them as different places along a continuum of distortion. The different names correspond to different usages and technologies rather than degrees of dirt.

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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby Wossname » Sat Apr 09, 2011 5:31 pm

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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby CPU toast » Sun Apr 10, 2011 3:18 am

Most distortion-type pedals are me-too pedals that generally harm the sound of a good guitar going into a hifi signal chain.
All those artist-endorsed toys are mostly lame.
Analog distortion still is better than digital-emulation.
Clean boost pedals are more functional than distortion pedals.
The Fulltone Mosfet 2 is excellent.
The best, most aesthetic, distortion comes from miking amp/speaker interaction. The next best is direct recording an amp into an attenuator.
But most fuzz and distortion boxes muddy the signal, most of the time in an unprofessional manner, with way too much fizz or disharmonic
nastiness.
I get depressed when I try to reamp a direct-quitar track, using both high quality pedals or digital emulation crap, and then find that the reamped sound is worse than the pure direct-guitar sound (with no amp).
Nothing beats a clean, dynamic sound.
Distortion pedals are generally too grungy, and distort the signal in
a low quality way. Buy only top brands, like Tech 21, or Class A pedals like Effectrode, or don't bother, or direct mic, or attentuate an amp, or get into folk music.
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby Dr Huge Longjohns » Fri Apr 15, 2011 1:33 pm

That's a bit harsh Mr Toast! There are an awful lot of very serious musos out there using overdrives/distortions etc on an awful lot of very serious recordings and in a lot of very serious live scenarios. Surely they can't all be wrong? I'd even be sold bold as to suggest that overdrive and distortion pedals have contributed a great deal to the definition of what we call Rock. And quite possibly Roll to boot.
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby zenguitar » Fri Apr 15, 2011 7:28 pm

Yep, trashing that nice, pristine, sound is the whole point of the exercise. You can't have too many ways of distorting.

:angel:

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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby Wimek » Fri Apr 15, 2011 8:00 pm

Gary Moore on Still got the blues: Marshall Guv'nor
Jimi Hendrix used lots of fuzz ...

If they made music unprofessional, then I like unprofessional music mr. Toast 8-)

In my opinion the equipment you use making music doesn't matter, use your ears and if you like it, it's good! (Specially regarding guitar: most of the sound comes from your technique, not from equipment)
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby Grantsos » Fri Apr 15, 2011 9:57 pm

CPU toast wrote:Most distortion-type pedals are me-too pedals that generally harm the sound of a good guitar going into a hifi signal chain.


CPU toast wrote:But most fuzz and distortion boxes muddy the signal, most of the time in an unprofessional manner...


Come on, this old "Purity in Distortion" chestnut always sounds so very wide-eyed and naive.
Guitar amps mangle tone and that's why they're magic. "Hifi Distortion" is an oxymoron, in context.
Professionals very often use pedals. And many of the most revered tones to grace rock albums were done with transistors/clippers somewhere in the path.

And, with respect, there are "professional" engineers who get good results from the practices you describe, daily. Workmen - tools - saying...
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby ryan mead » Sat Apr 16, 2011 2:14 am

Well, this thread woke up! :lol:

Findo wrote:as true as 'get something that sounds good to you" might be, it isn't that helpful to the OP if he doesn't yet have the vocabulary to articulate what sounds good to him, and hence choose the right pedal based on other people's descriptions.
Thanks for that Findo, and to you and everyone for the very considered posts.

I like the Jimi-style fuzzes that increase the lower mids and make a long note sustain for ages (i.e. compress I guess). I'm eyeballing the Monsterpiece GE as it looks supremely tweakable.

I'm also after something like a boost or O/D pedal to make my single-channel Tweaker behave more like a two-channel unit.

I'd read a description something along the lines of "germanium cleans up nicely" and wondered if I could scratch both itches with one box, but I doubt it.

I don't really understand the fuss about distortion pedals. Why would I use this little box to more or less mimic the sound that my amp makes already? (It's not like I'm running from gig to gig without an amp, not knowing what I'll be playing through that night.)

Anyways, far from being a pedestrian exercise of merely recommending specific pedals to me, I quite like the angle this thread has taken-- an attempt to define the vocabulary used by the people who make and flog these pedals. So please keep it coming! 8-)
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby ef37a » Sat Apr 16, 2011 7:34 am

Complete hiding to nothing IMHO in trying to define "distortion".

You can take a pedal that gives a certain modest degree of "grunge" for want of a better word and combine it with an completely clean EQ pedal and the results will be TOTALLY DIFFERENT depending upon whether the od pedal drives the EQ or the EQ drives the od and which frequencies are boosted or cut. You could easily go from a mild bluesey "crunch" to a glass cutting scream in one hit of the EQ.

This is why amplifiers are so infinitely different. Look at various circuits and you will see that each stage usually has some form of tone cut or boost (even if it is not obvious, if an interstage resistance is high enough the following valves' input capacitance will have some effect).These "tweaks" vary amp from amp and decide at which frequency distortion starts.

The earliest od pedals were surely made to get distortion at sane sound levels or/and to drive certain amps that did not have enough intrinsic gain. After that the floodgates were open to "better" moustraps and for the AdPuff guys to go ape*hit?

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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby Grantsos » Sat Apr 16, 2011 11:50 am

ryan mead wrote:I like the Jimi-style fuzzes that increase the lower mids and make a long note sustain for ages (i.e. compress I guess). I'm eyeballing the Monsterpiece GE as it looks supremely tweakable.

I'm also after something like a boost or O/D pedal to make my single-channel Tweaker behave more like a two-channel unit.

I'd read a description something along the lines of "germanium cleans up nicely" and wondered if I could scratch both itches with one box, but I doubt it.


Well, it's possible... germanium (fuzzface, tonebender, rangemaster) cleans up really well from the guitar volume control. It's an "exciting" glassy-yet-woody clean sound,
but you get residual noise as the circuit gain is still up.

Check 5:53 for an example:
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=4ma7Pmd4fQo

You'd probably want to set it up lo-gain with the volume up though, and a booster pedal would be quieter and probably better in this app.

That monsterpiece does look like a well thought out unit.
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby ef37a » Sat Apr 16, 2011 12:01 pm

Germanium can be noisy.

If you want to chat with a shedload of guys who have used virtually every stompbox ever made and some of whom build them, pop over to:-
www.musicradar.com But come back!

You might also like to investigate one of the few pedals that uses a proper high voltage valve stage in it (cough!).

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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby ryan mead » Sat Apr 16, 2011 3:31 pm

Finally clicked on this and gave it a read/listen! :lol: It's awesome, for anyone who hasn't....

(@Dave: I did give the *ahem* pedals a look a year or two ago, in lieu of buying an amp, but at the moment they're not what I'm looking for. The orange "fake tube glow" light put me off too TBH. :frown: Thanks though. )
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby Wossname » Sat Apr 16, 2011 8:15 pm

ryan mead wrote:Well, this thread woke up! :lol:

Findo wrote:
[...] make a long note sustain for ages (i.e. compress I guess). I'm eyeballing the Monsterpiece GE as it looks supremely tweakable.

I'm also after something like a boost or O/D pedal to make my single-channel Tweaker behave more like a two-channel unit.


I was looking for this for ages myself; settled on the Blackstar HT Dual (with a compressor after it)
Channel one can be both clean (acting as a Boost for your valve amp), cunch and channel two can be Lead (fuzz, distortion, whatever you call it :-)

I'm really, really happy with it!
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby ef37a » Sat Apr 16, 2011 9:48 pm

ryan mead wrote:
Finally clicked on this and gave it a read/listen! :lol: It's awesome, for anyone who hasn't....

(@Dave: I did give the *ahem* pedals a look a year or two ago, in lieu of buying an amp, but at the moment they're not what I'm looking for. The orange "fake tube glow" light put me off too TBH. :frown: Thanks though. )

Fair enough Ryan if you have given one a fair go..
Re the orange LED. It started out I am sure as just a power indicator (it is on the bottom power board, nothing to do with the valve). Had the designers been aware at the time of certain "studio" valved equipment that does not in fact run the valve they might have had a re think.

I can assure you that the valve circuit IS real. I have been bitten!

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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby chew_rocket » Mon Apr 18, 2011 9:18 am

CPU toast wrote:Most distortion-type pedals are me-too pedals that generally harm the sound of a good guitar going into a hifi signal chain.
All those artist-endorsed toys are mostly lame.
Analog distortion still is better than digital-emulation.
Clean boost pedals are more functional than distortion pedals.
The Fulltone Mosfet 2 is excellent.
The best, most aesthetic, distortion comes from miking amp/speaker interaction. The next best is direct recording an amp into an attenuator.
But most fuzz and distortion boxes muddy the signal, most of the time in an unprofessional manner, with way too much fizz or disharmonic
nastiness.
I get depressed when I try to reamp a direct-quitar track, using both high quality pedals or digital emulation crap, and then find that the reamped sound is worse than the pure direct-guitar sound (with no amp).
Nothing beats a clean, dynamic sound.
Distortion pedals are generally too grungy, and distort the signal in
a low quality way. Buy only top brands, like Tech 21, or Class A pedals like Effectrode, or don't bother, or direct mic, or attentuate an amp, or get into folk music.

I'm afraid most of this was absolute rubbish.
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby 4TrackMadman » Mon Apr 18, 2011 11:18 am

I think most of the distinction comes from the 3rd vs 2nd grade harmonic content created in overdrive/distortion pedals, Distortion covering more of 2nd order harmonics, thus producing more of a raw and edgy sound, while OD is the other way around, mostly 3rd. Fuzz is even more 2nd order harmonic content, standard by clipping an LED (might be mistaken o n this).
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby Grantsos » Mon Apr 18, 2011 11:58 am

4TrackMadman wrote:I think most of the distinction comes from the 3rd vs 2nd grade harmonic content created in overdrive/distortion pedals, Distortion covering more of 2nd order harmonics, thus producing more of a raw and edgy sound, while OD is the other way around, mostly 3rd. Fuzz is even more 2nd order harmonic content, standard by clipping an LED (might be mistaken o n this).


Ooh... Yes, this is not very accurate AFAIK.

Being extremely general, just to give a vague idea:

Classic Fuzz (Ge Fuzzface) uses two transistors, the filtering and feedback circuit tends to create an asymmetrical waveform, which tends to sound fat and mushy at high gain/input. Cleans up very well - extremely pick/volume responsive. On a good FuzzFace, the attack will be splatty, whilst retaining some pick definition, and decay through a soft "ooh" sound, then total clarity. Relatively high even harmonic content.

Hard clipping tends to be the MO for Distortion, the tops of the waveform are smashed off, giving that more buzzy, ratty sound. Doesn't tend to clean up well, decays sound gritty. More odd harmonics.

Soft clipping (Ge diodes, Mosfet Gates as Diodes or Diodes and filtering in an op-amp feedback path) tend to roll the tops off a bit more gradually, less buzz, slightly more amp-like distortion. Smoother decays. Less odd harmonics.

There are now of course, hundreds of designs which don't adhere to any of these outlines.
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby Findo » Mon Apr 18, 2011 1:14 pm

+1
i think the odd verses even thing is in general a bit of a red herring.

Smoothness or roughness, for want of better terms, depends on the spectral content of the signal being clipped, the extend of the clipping, and the frequency balance between the generated HF content and the existing mid and LF content.

No need to go into fourier transforms but square waves (and triangle, and any other shape you care to create) can be thought of (and perceived) as a series of harmonics which increase in frequency up until their amplitude becomes negligible or a filter removes them. Whether this is a summation of odd or even terms, it will still 'create' high frequency content and the harshness of the signal will be judged based on the relationship of that content to the lower frequencies.

Furthermore if you are clipping a signal which has non-simple spectral content the harmonic series' which are generated by the different overtones in the signal may clash - leading to harshness and intermodulation. (hence why octaves and power chords sound good distorted, and 7ths, 9ths or other complex chords generally don't.) Also hence why humbuckers and 'woman tone' (tone rolled off) tends to sound smoother distorted than single coils.
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby Findo » Mon Apr 18, 2011 10:34 pm

couldn't edit above post but meant to add:
*as I understand it...*
(there are many more knowledgeable than I - set me straight if I'm wrong.)


Main reason for double post is:
the HT-dual looks on paper a lot like the mesa boogie v-twin pre, but without the major limitation of only 1 vol and gain control (i.e. switching from clean or blues to lead isn't enough vol boost) - would that be correct? The mesa is the best od / dist pedal i own.

One last thought for Ryan: trying to use a fuzz as a boost as well as a fuzz might not work too well - in my limited experience you can get a weird ducking effect if the gain is also up on the amp in this scenario. In most situations I use only amp for od / dist, but a fuzz pedal for.. fuzz. (means that you ideally need to send delay / reverb to another amp or DI->PA.)
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby ef37a » Mon Apr 18, 2011 10:54 pm

"(i.e. switching from clean or blues to lead isn't enough vol boost) - would that be correct?"

Dunno but the gain hike from bypass to max is 63dB @1kHz!

There are independant gain and level controls on the crunch/boost and overdrive channels. I find it hard to visualize more versatility?

Re the even/odd harmonics. You get even harmonics from single ended stages and odd from balanced stages( as a vast generalization!) You can get odd harmonics in a more controlled way by cascading two inverting stages and attenuating and frequency tweaking inbetween. THIS gain setting and response tweaking is what takes all the playing on the test bench and endless hours of cut and try...Which is why you won't get any schematics with values on from me!

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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby ryan mead » Tue Apr 19, 2011 12:31 pm

Findo wrote:if you are clipping a signal which has non-simple spectral content the harmonic series' which are generated by the different overtones in the signal may clash - leading to harshness and intermodulation. (hence why octaves and power chords sound good distorted, and 7ths, 9ths or other complex chords generally don't.) Also hence why humbuckers and 'woman tone' (tone rolled off) tends to sound smoother distorted than single coils.
Discovered this just a couple weeks ago when trying to arrange some stuff that my bandmate had written-- the diminished fifth (is that the right term? six semitones anyways) had to get moved to the higher strings!
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby ryan mead » Tue Apr 19, 2011 12:33 pm

ef37a wrote:I can assure you that the valve circuit IS real. I have been bitten!
You mean you took 300V? Not across your chest I presume...
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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby ef37a » Tue Apr 19, 2011 12:50 pm

ryan mead wrote:
ef37a wrote:I can assure you that the valve circuit IS real. I have been bitten!
You mean you took 300V? Not across your chest I presume...

Not on that occasion no. I picked up the bottom power board in a cackhanded way and got the 10mfd 350V cap into my palm!

Over the years tho' I HAVE had 240 and even 500V dc hand to hand and survived. Much depends upon your mental "preparedness" 'Tronics techs'(old ones anyway!) tend not to "grab" but stroke and thus we let go in time.

BUT DO NOT LET MY LUCKY ESCAPES CAUSE ANYBODY ELSE TO GET LAX!!!!

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Re: boost vs. overdrive vs. distortion vs. fuzz

Postby Grantsos » Tue Apr 19, 2011 1:18 pm

Youch.
I got a belt from an amp (100w Marshall) that was unplugged for hours before I knew about bigger capacitors. Was just changing a fuse.
A lucky lesson.
Though, in France recently, I changed a small bulb, the glass sheared and somehow my fingers ended up touching the filament holders. Ba#!@£$%^rd.
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