Boost Pedals: An Expert Guide
Posted on November 29 2022
The truth about your guitar's tone is that every little tweak in your gear counts toward it. If you're looking for a specific tone, like vintage blues, there are a lot of different pieces of gear to look into. Humbuckers, amps, and boost pedals are all critical to achieving a solid sound you love. Guitar boost pedals are a piece of equipment that people often overlook, but they can influence your sound in a big way. Using a boost pedal in your sound chain can also mix it up.
Boosts have been used since the 1960s when British players tried to emulate US amp sounds. British amps were typically darker and contained a muddier sound, which needed a boost pedal to shine and be clearer. While modern-day digital amps come with far clearer sound and a variety of features, boost pedals still fill a niche that allows you to fully customise what is coming out of your amp. We'll go through the different changes in sound and volume you can have when you use a boost pedal here.
Boost Pedals Explained
A boost is a form of tonal manipulation for a guitar. It's the piece that affects the sound between your guitar's pickup and the amplifier. Boost pedals were created to boost the guitar's signal before it reaches the amplifier. All boost pedals change the sound of your guitar, but a good boost pedal will be less noticeable in changing the sound.
Raw, mighty rock has a distortion that most amps couldn't hit in those early years unless they're amped up to 10. If you want your audience to hear you after the first song, cranking it up to 10 isn't a great idea. Even the Humbucker pickup wasn't always enough of a sound push to get there.
Performers have been modding their sound for decades. The first amps didn't sound great, and that is what made guitar boost pedals essential. Guitar boost pedals transform your guitar's sound and make it larger and louder. While the effects are simple, they're needed. A guitar's volume knob can't give the loud sound that rockers need, and adding a boost pedal helps them achieve that loudness to fill a show venue.
Boost pedals overload the amp's input, so the amp's circuit starts to clip. This natural-sounding overdrive creates good-sustained and saturated sound, thanks to the compression effect. Guitar solos stand out when you pair them with a boost pedal, and you can push an amp into natural overdrive while still maintaining control over your volume.
Pairing Different Boost Pedals
Pedal boosts have different sounds and tonal qualities when paired together. A clean boost paired with a pedal that you constantly have on can help the tone be clearer. Players who still need their sound to be louder while also keeping a clear quality can consider pairing a clean boost pedal with another type of boost pedal. Where the pedals are placed in your signal chain matters when their effects are overlapping, and you could end up with a really unique tone if you play around with multiple boost pedals paired together.
Types of Boosts
Boost pedals are generally less expensive than overdrive and distortion pedals. They're often affordable because their circuitry is relatively simple, and a ton of boost pedals offer great value for their price. There are different types of pedals that really perform different functions in your rig, and it is important to understand how they work so you can know where to put the boost pedal in your signal chain and how to pair it with the right guitar and amp.
The original type of boost pedal, the clean boost pedal, is the simplest in its design, but that doesn't mean it isn't powerful. A clean boost pedal amplifies the sound from your guitar without clipping the signal. The fundamental tone of your guitar and amp is the same, but clean boosts can do a few powerful things to your sound.
Clean boosts can increase your volume for solos or lead work at a live show. They can push your amp. A clean boost pedal pushes that signal harder if your amp is on the edge of breakup. This produces a warm bluesy tone.
Want to boost another type of pedal? Clean boost pedals are the way to go. The boost pedals shape your tone but won't alter it, letting you cut through the mix during live shows.
Brian May and other classic rock guitarists famously used Treble booster pedals. When an amp is pushed hard by running a clean boost straight into the amp, you might end up with a soggier-sounding low-end. The treble booster pedal is a single-transistor pedal that rolls off the low end. The hi-pass filtering keeps the amps from sounding too muddy. Treble boosts were popular in the mid-1960s due to guitarists using Vox and Marshall amps. These amps were naturally 'dark' sounding. Treble boost pedals were used by guitarists with a dark-sounding amp to amplify their sound.
Some amps don't have a bright top-end, and treble boost pedals are where it's at if that is the case. It helps players achieve a more bluesy sound when paired with the right amp and guitar. Treble boost pedals are considered a great solution to particularly muddy amps. Brian May wouldn't have his signature sound without one.
EQ boost pedals offer a few layers of tonal contouring, which accents specific frequencies or tonal sounds. Pairing an EQ boost pedal with another type of pedal can change your sound, changing the frequencies to unlock other tonal levels that are potentially waiting on your board.
The key difference between EQ boost and treble boosters is that EQ boosters include the options to shape your guitar's frequencies. These pedals give you the option to tweak bass, mids, and treble in your signal. You'll be able to constantly tweak your tone and hit that sweet spot.
The pre-amp boost is a more recent form of the boost pedal. These pedals are built to mimic the circuits of classic pieces to try and get a classic sound. These emulation pedals are meant to make your sound more colourful and enhance the tone of your rig. They change the sound of your guitar or amp, boosting the signal and colouring your sound at the same time. Depending on the pedal, this can be a light compression all the way to a total change of your guitar's tone.
Pre-Amp boosts are usually set up as an 'always on' pedal to beef up a player's sound. This slightly overdriven blues tone is the base tone players aim for with Pre-Amp boost pedals, and then some will add another clean boost pedal in to boost the signal further.
If you want overdrive, go for a transistor boost pedal. Transistor boost pedals have enough variation to get into fuzz territory. These pedals can get dirty, but their tonal emphasis is on boosting signal rather than overdrive clipping. Transistor boost pedals can lie at the opposite end of the spectrum from clean boost pedals.
They're made using a greater number of transistors than other pedals, so you can push them harder. Transistor boost pedals swing from low gain, where they act like a clean boost, or higher gain settings, which are heavy, more overdriven tones.
To counter the fact that some transistor boost pedals amplify all of the signals equally, some pedal designers have added EQ shaping controls. That means you get more control with a heavier blues tone.
How Do I Use The Boost Pedal?
Boost pedals are versatile and, depending on where you put them, can give you different effects on your tone and sound. Place a boost pedal before overdrive to get more distortion and gain. You'll get a pure volume boost without distortion if you place a boost pedal after an overdrive and before an amplifier.
A clean boost pedal can give excellent results in your effects loop. Clean boost pedals in the effects loop make them a second master volume control you can use your foot. Mix in a tube amplifier, and the clean boost in your effects loop can push your power tubes beyond the distortion limit! Keep in mind that this will be loud, so if you've got noise concerns while practising, keep that in mind.
Boosts have a variety of uses, especially when pickups are involved. If you're using guitars across a set and one has a significantly quieter pickup, a boost at the start of the chain can compensate for this. It'll take the sound you have and make it louder. Boosts can sweeten your other pedals without adding more distortion as well. It just all depends on where you're putting your boost pedal.
Take Monty's The More! JFET boost pedal, for example. The More! is a dual boost made up of two independent 15 db JFET clean boost circuits and adds life and clarity to sterile tones. Use it as a short boost, or insert a pedal or pedals of your choice between two More!s, allowing you to drive the front end of your chosen pedals with one More!, boosting the results of the other.
The straightforward boost on the More! goes from unity to 30 db of boost, with many pre and post-drive stage combos. The fabled loop boosts pedals between two More!s, and then there is the third way to use the More!s. For an ultimate all-in-one solo boost, use the loop in conjunction with the send and return of an amp's effects loop.
Solos need to shine and using More! after an overdrive boosts your original tone. Let your sound be heard in crowded venues by using a clean boost pedal. While humbuckers are essential, they can shine when paired with a great boost that makes the sound louder.
Need just a little more boost, not a whole lot? Check out Monty's A Little More! The baby brother of the More! Double JFET boost pedals, A Little More! Has the same 15 db JFET clean boost pedal circuit that makes up one side of the More! Give your tone an expanded frequency range with a valve-like feel and response. Life and clarity are the goals, and the Little More! Boost pedal is perfect for slamming the front end of an amp for a more lively sound.
Steve Crow of Audio Kitchen helped design the More! Circuit, and that means excellent sound. A collab like this means our great minds here at Monty's and the bearded behemoth Steve Crow have come together to make unforgettable sounds.
Run A Boost Pedal Through An Effects Loop
While most players will use an effects loop for time-based effects or modulation, boost pedals are also great. Boost pedals end up more sensitive when used through a loop, meaning only a tiny boost can significantly raise the overall output! This leads to a cleaner boost that doesn't add other tonal effects. The More! JFET boost pedal can be used in an effects loop to create a clean boost paired with the amp.
Should You Boost Your Sound?
Boost pedals are back in popularity today, especially ones that emulate the vintage sound of older players. While some musicians prefer to have built-in effect amps, they still miss out on the fun of stomping on pedals to achieve a different sound. Not to mention, modern-day boost pedals can add life to a cheaper amp by making the sound louder and clearer.
Try out different boost pedals with a clean boost like Monty's The More! JFET boost pedal, and you might stumble into an awesome sound that is distinct. If you have a boost pedal and can't figure out why it doesn't sound like you want it to, try moving it to different places in your signal chain to achieve a different effect.
While using a boost pedal is a personal choice for every guitar player, different combinations can make some really fun sounds. There are even joke and gag boost pedals that make your music sound crazy. Try out different boost pedals and pair them together, like with Monty's The More!, for vibrant, clear tones.