The obsession with distortion

Discussion in 'Live Sound [BG]' started by RED J, Mar 17, 2017.

  1. RED J

    RED J Lol

    Jan 23, 2000
    Hey all, I just want to get some insight on why everyone. (edit, so many ), seemingly regardless of instrument, are
    just so into maxed out fuzz , distortion, overdrive, etc.
    Don't misunderstand me. I'm not into crystal clean, some OD to a reasonable degree gives the sound some edge.

    We buy amps with huge amounts of headroom, just to distort the crap out of everything with a box. Even electronic drums, keyboards are just into distorting everything into mush.

    Help me understand why when we now have thousands of watts at our disposal, either backline or FOH. Why the obsession with distorting the the crap out of everything.
    Last edited: Mar 17, 2017
  2. And I

    And I

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    First of all that's a huge sweeping generalization. Secondly, for some songs and styles it's the right sound.
  3. RED J

    RED J Lol

    Jan 23, 2000
    You answered my "huge sweeping generalization" with your own. :roflmao:
    Didn't really answer my question at all.
    RBrownBass and BrentSimons like this.
  4. skwee


    Apr 2, 2010
    Humans have a generalized positive response to harmonics being enriched.

    Here's a good thread at another forum on the subject. (I like Axon's and Woodinville's responses):

    Why does distortion "improve" sound?
  5. lfmn16

    lfmn16 Inactive

    Sep 21, 2011
    charles town, wv
    They aren't.

    Every distortion thread on TB, outside of the effects forum, and sometimes in it, has lots of people bragging that they only need a cord between the bass and the amp.
  6. And I

    And I

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    I can't answer your question because you've set up a straw man (everyone distorts the crap out of everything) and then asked why it's so. It's not so, so there is no answer.
  7. knumbskull


    Jul 28, 2007
    Ignoring for a moment that overdriven guitar is the backbone of modern rock music –

    Can you give us an example? I really can't think of many songs where the drums or keys are distorted. Vocals, maybe as an occasional effect.

    I don't even hear it that much on recorded bass, unless we're talking the many sub-genres of metal, punk etc.
    GlennRH likes this.
  8. RED J

    RED J Lol

    Jan 23, 2000
    One constructive answer from skwee so far. Good article. It draws a difference between positive and negative effects, and gave some good insight into the question.
  9. McFarlin


    Oct 27, 2011
    Austin, TX
    SWEEPING GENERALIZATION sounds like a great name for a filter pedal.
  10. RED J

    RED J Lol

    Jan 23, 2000
    I edited my post for the crabby semantic debaters. Took away your grumpbait too bad so sad .

    @ knumbskull, sampled and synthed music uses distortion in percussion a lot. I had an electronic drum machine that had it as an effect. Overdriven Leslie speakers were as common as overdriven guitar, and can be an effect on modern keyboards, and you've really never heard a keyboard through an overdriven amp ?

    The fact is though, it all started long ago because of underpowered amps, but my question deals with why we no longer have underpowered amps, it's such a go to thing ? What made it stick long after the fact Obviously popular but why ?
    Felken and petrus61 like this.
  11. knumbskull


    Jul 28, 2007
    Fair point re: drum machines, I was thinking of mainly rock music. Didn't know Leslie speakers had a drive element to them, I do know that some analogue synths will break up nicely if you push the internal gain stage.

    My guess is: as mentioned above and in the link, the added harmonic content can be pleasing to the ear. You might also ask, why do we use so much compression on recordings? It sounds good, but why?

    I still think your original post is overstating the case though :D :bassist:
  12. RED J

    RED J Lol

    Jan 23, 2000
    Well, that could be so, but here are a couple of things to consider: When people complain about instrument review, isn't it often because the player has the instrument so weighed down with distortion you cant really hear the natural sound of the instrument ? When guys talk about there pedal boars, they have x number of different drives and distortions, no ? High powered amps have overdrive built in, no, ? Go on the effects forum and note how many posts are about OD/Fuzz. I may be overstating the point, but I really don't think by that much. That's just with our instrument of choice. You can hardly find a guitarist in rock or pop that doesn't use it all or most of the time.
    knumbskull likes this.
  13. And I

    And I

    Feb 19, 2009
    Witchtown, MA
    Grumpbait! Nice, love it. I am definitely a grump first thing in the morning. sorry.

    I still think my (not generalized actual) answer holds true--people play with distortion when songs / styles call for it. All-out balls-to-the-wall distortion makes the sound of the instrument more aggressive and so it works well for more aggressive music. On bass I play mostly funk, so fuzz/distortion is not something I use often. I will kick it on during the few parts of songs that we play that call for "another notch", and maybe during a solo (love the sound when combined with env filter). When I play guitar, it's a 7 string and I'm playing metal. The music doesn't sound right without heaps and piles of distortion.
    Impermanence, RED J and knumbskull like this.
  14. knumbskull


    Jul 28, 2007
    Guitarists - yes, for sure. It's the main sound of rock music! nothing wrong with that.

    we might get a little over-saturated :ninja: with distortion here on TB but I don't think that represents the wider world, necessarily.

    and yes, I hate it when people use overdrive in instrument reviews, but only because it means you can't hear the instrument.
    RED J likes this.

    MYLOWFREQ Supporting Member

    May 13, 2011
    That's one of the reasons why people like it.

    Because players want the flexibility to go clean with lots of headroom when needed. Not everyone is obsessed with distorting the crap out of everything all the times.

    Because of the same reason above, and watts are cheap these days.
    knumbskull likes this.
  16. Plucky The Bassist

    Plucky The Bassist Istanbul...not Constantinople Supporting Member

    Jul 30, 2010
    Yeah distortion, fuzz,'s definitely a matter of taste. Indie crowd is a pretty broad and diverse one, but you run into people with a lot of clean or super jangly guitar along with thumpy bass.

    Of course you go into metal or doom stuff and you'll hear distortion all over. I'm assuming on drums and keys you're referring to techno and dubstep? I guess people just like the aggression that distortion lends, I know for some forms of music I feel it's essential.
    RED J and knumbskull like this.
  17. I guess it depends on the form of distortion. I use an OD (a form of distortion) that you might not even know is on if I didn't tell you I was using it, but you'd most definitiely notice the difference in harmonic content if I were to switch it off. Lots of players will use that form of distortion to round out their sound and to add presence in a mix. I do it because it adds a certain sweetness that no amount of knob turning on my amp can hope to achieve. On the more extreme end, there are types of distortion and fuzz that folks here use and rave about that I could never find any real world applications for, unless playing alone in the bedroom counts. Every time I hear a demo of one of those insane fuzz or high distortion boxes (or whatever flavor bit assembling, sub harmonic speaker destroyer of the week), I think "That sounds amazing! I'll never use it." But that's the point, I guess. Someone out there can and does manage to utilize those types of sounds to great effect and actually incorporate it into something musical...or at least I hope they do because some of the FX boards I see here look more like a NASA space station than an actual functioning piece of musical equipment. For me, distortion and OD are the easiest to understand and justify because of those two words again: harmonic content. It's applications are obvious and readily apparent for me. Once I started using OD and realizing it's benefits to my overall sound, it was hard not to use it anymore.
    Son of Wobble, RED J and NortyFiner like this.
  18. bass40hz

    bass40hz Cigar smoker, scotch drinker, American Patriot

    Aug 13, 2014
    Richlands, NC
    Great name for a band too! Think I will go start that up ;-)
    wmmj, RED J and And I like this.
  19. Drucifer

    Drucifer Not currently practicing Gold Supporting Member

    Apr 20, 2009
    Houston Heights, Texas
    Endorsements: your name could be here, Mr. Sadowsky!
    My impression has always been that distortion on guitar was meant to replicate the lead instrument it was replacing, the saxophone. Maybe not right, but that's what's always lodged in my brain.
  20. _Some Dude

    _Some Dude

    Sep 14, 2016
    From a guitarists perspective, I think at lot of it is just people chasing new sounds... Fender to JTM45 to Super Lead to JCM800 to Mark IIC+/III/IV to Dual Rectifier... people were looking for new sounds, and when the amp manufactures didn't move fast enough people used pedals to change things up.

    IMO, on bass it's pretty much the same thing... people looking for new sounds.

    Probably the same reason someone added distortion to a drum machine.
    RED J likes this.