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Do All Guitar Amps Have Distortion? (Answered)

I often get asked if all guitar amps have distortion. In this post, I will answer this question and more about music production and recording.

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Do all guitar amps have distortion? (answered) - audio apartment

Guitar amps can have many different types of distortion. For example, some amps offer overdrive distortion, a more aggressive distortion option that gives your guitar a rougher sound. Other amps offer clean or natural distortion, giving your guitar a more crisp and clear sound. But do all guitar amps have distortion? 

This article will discuss whether or not all guitar amps have distortion. We will also discuss the different types of distortion. So whether you are a beginner or an advanced guitarist, this post is for you.

Swart premium guitar amplifier. Source: caught in joy, unsplash
Swart Premium Guitar Amplifier. Source: Caught In Joy, Unsplash

Do all guitar amps have distortion? No. Distortion isn’t a feature of every guitar amp. Some amplifiers offer a clean, natural sound with no distortion.

What is an amplifier?

An amplifier electronically multiplies natural loudness, enabling sound to be heard in previously unheard-of large, congested areas. When an electric instrument is electronically amplified, the sound it makes, like when you pluck the strings of a guitar, is turned into an electronic signal. The electronic signal is then played much louder through a loudspeaker. This again converts it to sound.

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  • 10 Watt tube combo offering the classic VOX Top Boost tone
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What is distortion?

We can typically think of distortion as any signal that is not pure. Distortion is a harsh audio warping or modification of the sound of an instrument caused by the amplifier. This doesn’t sound very pleasant, but it often is.

Many of the first electric guitarists used overdrive or slightly broken amps on purpose to get the warm, gritty sounds we associate with blues and rock. Nowadays, it’s common to make the sound of a broken or overdriven amp on purpose without damaging expensive equipment. Many musicians use pedals that add sound effects or change the music after it has been recorded to get the right overtones. Distortion is now part of almost every aspect of modern music.

Do all guitar amps have distortion?

Does distortion exist in all guitar amplifiers? No. Not every guitar amplifier has distortion. A harsher-sounding guitar can be achieved using some overdrive distortion amps. Other amplifiers provide distortion-free, natural-sounding audio.

Image of a man playing an electric guitar with an amplifier beside him. Source: alexandr ivanov, pexels
Image of a man playing an electric guitar with an amplifier beside him. Source: Alexandr Ivanov, Pexels

Types of distortion

It might be helpful to think of distortion as an all-encompassing term for any “dirty” guitar sound, regardless of what causes it, such as a torn speaker, a stomp box, a rack effect, or an amp turned up past its clean sound-producing limit. Below are some of the different kinds of distortion.

Overdrive distortion

This is usually called overdrive when you “push” an amp past the point where it can make a clean tone. However, because of the way tube amps are built, which makes them sound “clean” at lower volumes and somewhat distorted at louder volumes, overdrive is frequently simple to accomplish in tube amps.

Although several overdrive stomp boxes are available, their intended effect is that of an amp turned up over its clean tone limit.

The primary distinction between overdrive effects (amplifier or pedal) and distortion effects is that the former often aims to produce the same degree of distortion regardless of loudness. Overdrive units work like tube amps, making cleaner sounds at lower volumes and more distortion as the volume increases.

Fuzz distortion

Fuzz is a different kind of guitar distortion. The Stones’ song “Satisfaction” features distortion. However, it is a fuzz-style distortion rather than an overdrive distortion. Or, when you hear the Kinks’ “You Got Me,” you’re hearing distortion brought on by purposefully broken speakers, not overdrive.

Clean distortion

The sound you get by utilizing distortion effects on a guitar while maintaining a crisp, gritty tone is called “clean distortion.” This configuration is ideal for guitarists who play blues and classic rock since it lacks any intrusive background noise or fuzz.

If you want even more tips and insights, watch this video called “YOU DON’T NEED AN AMP – DISTORTION PEDAL” from the Ola Englund YouTube channel.

A video called “YOU DON’T NEED AN AMP – DISTORTION PEDAL” from the Ola Englund YouTube channel.
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Frequently asked questions (FAQ)

Do you still have questions? Below are some of the most commonly asked questions about guitar amps.

How do you get distortion on your amp?

Set your amplifier’s controls to 7-9 gain, 4-5 bass, 5-7 mids, and 5-7 treble for a distorted tone. Consider lowering the mids and raising the treble and bass for metal. Lower the gain and boost the mids for severe rock distortion.

What distorts a guitar amp?

When you “overdrive” the valves in an amplifier, you get vacuum tube distortion, also called “valve” distortion. Overdriving, to put it simply is pushing the tubes past their typical rated maximum. Because of this, valve amplifiers, especially those that use class-A triodes, tend to make both even and odd harmonics through a process called “asymmetric soft clipping.”

Can you get distortion without a pedal?

Yes. Turn on the amp’s overdrive channel, also known as “crunch” or “drive,” depending on the amp, to distort without a pedal. Turning it on instantly gives you a nice crunch without using the pedal by overdriving your amp’s tubes.

Conclusion

There you have it! Every guitar amp doesn’t come with distortion, and that’s because some are built for clean sounds while others focus on overdrive or crunch. The best way to know which is right for you is to listen to different models and decide which one you like most.

This article covered what an amplifier is, what distortion is, and what causes it. Here are some key takeaways:

Key takeaways

  • An electronic device called an amplifier improves one part of a signal while keeping the other parts of the signal the same (source).
  • Any warping or modification of the clean chords your instrument “should” play is distortion.
  • First and foremost, an amp’s capacity being exceeded can cause distortion.
  • Extra tips:
    • Your amp should have a knob labeled “gain,” “overdrive,” or “distortion” that you can turn to produce a distortion effect.
    • Settings on fender amp settings for marshall boss amp controls settings for line 6 amps in orange setup vox amp additional effects. There may be additional effects integrated into your amplifier.
    • Since distortion is a constructed effect rather than a natural one, you must add valves, transistors, or digital modeling to the signal to achieve it.
    • Despite their differences in purpose, function, and characteristics, both amplifier distortion and effects pedal distortion are dependable producers of electric guitar distortion.
    • Although cranking up the volume on a solid-state amplifier may produce distortion, there are alternative methods.

So, does your amp have distortion? And did I cover everything you wanted to know? Let me know in the comments section below (I read and reply to every comment). If you found this article helpful, share it with a friend, and check out my full blog for more tips and tricks on music production. Thanks for reading, and never stop making music.

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Audio Apartment Author
Written By Andrew Ash
Hey there! My name is Andrew, and I've been making music since I was a kid. I now run this blog all about home studios and music production. If you want to improve your home studio setup, this is the place for you!

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