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The Five Finest Distortions From Hell

Published: Thu October 30, 2014  News Feed

The Five Finest Distortions From Hell

By Hugh McKenna

Five Distortions From Hell

Sometimes subtlety simply isn't the answer, you've gone around the same 4 bars trying to find the right blend of EQ, compression and reverb to make everything sit just right. Give up, it ain't happening and your burning yourself out in the process, take a radical change of direction and distort the living daylights out of it. What's the wost that could happen? There's always an Undo button or bypass switch close to hand. Going nuclear in a mixdown or jam session might sound jarring at first but you can always dial things down or maybe blend some clean signal back in. All we know is few things are as inherently satisfying or as likely to get feet tapping and heads nodding as slapping a load of fuzz or OD down on a track.

Naturally some genres of music are reliant on the fine art of distortion, metal high gain saturation, dubstep with it's air wobbling flatulence and even dub reggae wouldn't quite sound right with a liberal smearing of greasy distortion all over. Here's our run down of some classic distortion sounds and how you might achieve the same.

Aphex Twin - Come To Daddy

Reason Scream DistortionRichard D James (AKA Aphex Twin) had been known to take things to rhythmic extremes with chopped samples and skittish beats. But we hadn't seen anything quite like this from him or anyone else for that matter. An absolute masterclass in acid bath distortion and resonant filter freak outs. It took us about 5 years to calm down and start stealing the ideas for those big bottom dubstep basslines.

How To Sound Like The Acid Lord?

It might be a little long in the tooth (in computer music terms anyway) but the Scream 4 unit in Reason is still up there with the best of them. One of the hardest things to do in software is achieve a unique tone and Scream succeeds. One of the modes is even called Warp (the name of the Twin's record label), coincidence? We think not. Learn more about Scream 4 on Propellerhead's blog.

Hendrix Marshall StackA Blaring Marshall Stack

Well we started kind of 'out there' so it only makes sense to reign things in and go back to the roots of blasted, evil, grungey, hellstortion, the Marshall stack. To this day nothing sounds quite like it, even with so many other valve amps on the market. The real difficulty is actually in picking a single sound, Hendrix, Angus Young, Slash, we'll leave this one up to you.

Getting The Full Stack

Pretty simple this one really, buy a Marshall Plexi style head and partner it with the 4x12 cabinet of your choice. Classic Greenbacks or modern metal with Vintage 30's, it's up to you. The church of Marshall is broad and accepts guitarists of every stripe.

Pig Nose AmpA Tiny Little 'Pig Nose' Amp

It doesn't strictly need to be a Pig Nose but a funny thing happens when you stick a microphone in front of a tiny little amp, record it and play back through loud speakers. It sounds good, maybe even really good if you've got nice gear and a decent guitarist. Frank Zappa and Jimmy Page take a lot of credit for this trick and they certainly devised some tasty tones using it. However it all comes down to the boring old laws of physics, small amp =  less volume in the room so you get a nice dry tone without swamping the mic in reverb and uneven room frequencies.

The Mini Amp Rules

The essential ingredients are a small distorted amp (we'd recommend a reputable brand like Orange or Roland) plus a good old SM57 (pictured right is it's swanky cousin the SM7B). If you want a really unruly squawking sound then add a classic fuzz pedal into the mix for Zappa or dial it back for Motherless Children era Clapton.

Rival Sons FuzzThe Velcro Fuzz Sound

For some reason when you use and abuse old fuzz pedals in just the right way it sounds like velcro ripping, we're sure there's some deep technical explanation for this but really all that matter is that it sounds awesome. A major proponent of the creative use of fuzz and feedback is Muses' Matt Bellamy who loves the Zvex Fuzz Factory so much he got it built right into his guitar. It has fans in more reserved bands too, using the Fuzz Factory with a wet/dry blend for an extreme sound that retains the low end.

Pick A Fuzz, Any Fuzz

Load up with a germanium, silicon, octave or modeled fuzz of your choosing and let rip.

Hot Metal Valves

So you're a red hot metalcore engineer/producer, there's saturated amps, fuzz box vocals and grinding bass all over the tracks but it's not enough! Where do you turn when you wan't distortion on everything?

Essex, as it turns out. Thermionic Culture made their name with the Culture Vulture studio distortion unit. It can be used on the buss for a subtle crunch on your mix, or turn up the heat on a single track. There's even a mastering version, that's right, a distortion unit for mastering engineers who spend their whole lives making gain adjustments of 0.0001dB, madness!

Universal Audio Culture Vulture

Buying A Vulture

Converge guitarist, studio owner and all round nice guy Kurt Ballou has loads of Thermionic Culture stuff in his rig and swears by it, even though it cost him a pretty penny. You can save money and get access to a whole world of expertly recreated analogue gear by buying a Universal Audio plugin platform insead, then buying their Culture Vulture software.


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