Top 5 Overdrive Pedals

I’ve i’ve loved Overdrive Pedals since I started to play electric guitar back in 1998. I’ve had lots of different tube amps so far, and I always felt the need to have some overdrive pedal in front of the input of my amp to make it more saturated.

In this article I introduce you to my top 5 Overdrive pedals, the ones I’ve tried and enjoyed the most. I will explain you in short why I love them and how a good sounding overdrive can heavily affect your sound.

What is an Overdrive?

An overdrive is an effect used to saturate the input of a tube amp (or even an amp emulator nowadays, for example). It helps you to have much sustain, much distortion and a fatter sound that can bring you to play with more relax and dynamics in your solos. It makes your sound more “liquid” and it gives you punch to come out in the mix.

Overdrives were born officially to saturate tube amps at a decent volume. When you want to saturate properly a tube amp you’ve to increase a lot the volume of the master amp control in order to increase as much as possible the distortion of the power amp itself. This was a technique used a lot by Edward Van Halen for example and you can hear the results of his “brown sound” in his masterpiece “Eruption” even if he was also using a power amp attenuator.

Of course, you can’t always use a loud amplifier everywhere. Especially in small clubs or in your house: you can’t destroy people’s ear all the time. (even if it’s very Rock’N’Roll 🙂 ). Since you probably don’t want to go to jail, the solution to this problem is an overdrive, who will help you to reach this purpose.

Overdrives are used in pretty much every style in which an electric guitar is involved. From Hendrix to John Scofield passing by Mike Stern and lots of Metal and Djent dudes, overdrives are a very important component of every guitar player’s pedal board and it contributes a lot to the trademark’s sound of every guitarist.

I personally took my first idea of sound from Scott Henderson: he was (and I believe still is), using a Xotic Booster to increase the gain of a TS9 or a Maxon Overdrive .

So here we are. Here’s a list of my favorite overdrives, the ones I’ve had and tried in studio and live so far:

Overdrives: my top 5 best list

Ibanez Ts9

 

This one is the big classic. It has been used by a lot of guitar players, and personally I love it a lot.

The great thing about this simple pedal is that it gives you more natural distortion while being very transparent. It can also be boosted by a preamp like the MXR Micro amp and it becomes a very nice vocal sounding pedal for your solos, while being at the same time very creamy and huge.

I like it a lot, and it’s definitely my all time favorite because It adds sustain to my solos and it’s awesome for my rhythms. It’s also relatively cheap and you can find now the mini version to fit your full pedal board without occupying too much space.

What else to say? It’s just my overall favorite, It’s always sweet sounding and never ever too much high-ended or undefined. when you want to have creamy and punchy solos and always present and compact rhythms, this is the pedal for you. The pedal is equipped with a drive knob, a tone knob, and a level knob. The drive knob adjusts gain, the tone knob adjusts treble and the level knob adjusts the output volume of the pedal

You can find the TS9 here:

TS9 Original

TS9 Mini

Ibanez TS 808

It’s not a secret I’m a big fan of the almighty Steve Ray Vaughan. According to the legend, he used two Ibanez TS808 together to achieve his incredible huge and aggressive blues sound.

The sound of the TS808 is definitely richer, warmer, much transparent and creamy.

The main difference with the TS9 is the chip JRC 4558D, that made a big change back in the days when the overdrives were made only with transistors. This is the reason why the sound of this pedal is so rich and profound.

The TS808 is a true legend and a must in a pedal board of any Blues ( but not only ) guitarist.

Here’s the link to buy the TS808

Here’s the link to the 40th anniversary version

when want the sound of a true boutique pedal you might also check out the hand wired version with much punch and drive.

Maxon OD808

This pedal has got exactly the same sound of the TS808, but it’s true bypass.

It’s a very good alternative to the TS808

Here’s the link to buy the OD808

T-REX Diva Drive

This is the overdrive I can’t do without on my pedal board. Not only it sounds great but also you have one switch to the right side that lets you choose the different frequencies you want to exalt in your tone.

It also has got the control “mix” with which you can control and mix the sound of the pedal with the one from the amp and vice-versa. This control lets you choose the correct amount of sound you want from the pedal itself.

Despite less creamy and much punchy than the TS808 for example, this pedal is totally killer for the guitar rhythms in Hendrix Style and it’s also perfect for the solos. The sound is maybe less transparent than the Ibanez overdrives, but if you like the color of its tone, you’re on a perfect path.

Here’s the link to buy the T-Rex Diva Drive

Xotic BB Preamp

This is another great sounding pedal.

It can be used both as a Preamp-Booster for other pedal or as an overdrive to increase the gain of your amp.

In any case it will sound phenomenal. The EQ controls will allow you to sculpt your sound with more accuracy.

Again, for me this is less creamy and way more punchy than the classic TS9 for example, but the color it adds to your sound is very nice to hear. You will always have your proper spot in the mix with its tone, and it’s perfect for the solos as I find it much naturally mid-frequenced than the other pedals I talked about above. In any case, this is just a very good pedal according to my opinion, maybe less bluesy and much rock, but still amazing for everything. I think that this pedal can be used for boosting your solos, but it goes very well also with the rhythms.

Here’s the link to buy the Xotic BB Preamp

Here’s the link to the much elaborated version of the same pedal, the Xotic BB Plus Preamp and Boost Pedal

. It puts together the overdrive section and a booster in a two channel stomp box:

It gives you also much EQ controls to properly sculpt your sound.

Conclusion

This is my personal list of course, according to my experience and personal tastes.

I hope this article has been useful for you!

Don’t forget to leave a comment!

Ignazio

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How to learn to write songs

If you’re already a musician or a music passionate person, you most probably started with an instrument in you youth, you saw the passion growing along the years and now you are wondering how to learn to write beautiful songs and express yourself at the maximum of the level. If you are a teenager who is most probably starting his/her path in music right now, this article could most probably open you eyes towards something that can be life changing for any musician out there: how to write good songs and how to learn the correct process in order to take out the best from you music ideas and squeeze you creativity at the maximum of the level.

How can I write beautiful songs that stick in people’s head being soulful and meaningful at the same time?

Let me tell you something: if you google “how to learn to write songs” you’ll find plenty of results. Most of the time the advises are correct, but it can also be very confusing. It’s plenty of different and contradictory information out there and it’s very difficult to understand which is the most correct process to adopt in order to achieve the best results.

I’m not going to brag here. I started my career in music as virtuoso guitar player. I am and I was the guy playing eight finger tapping all along, playing fast alternate picking and legato and all I was craving was to have people loving me for that.

I’ve had my own music school in Milan with hundreds of students interested in guitar techniques and how to become a virtuoso. I loved that, but I wanted more. Recently I decided to make a big change on my career and I took some extra time to expand my knowledge in production and songwriting.

Virtuoso guitar playing can be cool, but for me nothing is more cool than reaching anyone’s heart by telling a story, carrying a message, touching the deep feelings of the people and unleash a change in them. Nothing is more satisfying for me in life.

So I decided to improve my formation, I started to take singing lessons recently and I’m growing up well vocally nowadays. I also started a band called Silent Utopia, and this gave me the opportunity to write the songs I wanted.

I’m a rock/metal songwriter now, but the advises I’m gonna give you can be applied in any style, it doesn’t matter if you’re a pop/new soul artist or a flashy rapper, a jazz songwriter, a country artist or a rock head like me.

It’s all about collecting the best ideas, creating hooks, creating lyrics that are not wordy and go straight to the point. To use the correct repetitions and the right chord progressions: not over complicated but also not predictable: this is the real challenge.

I started to learn my skills by writing music for guitar. My first album is definitely not the classic shred guitar hyper virtuoso album. My idea has always been to write songs that can be adapted and played with a lead guitar. So, no long and boring 7 minutes prog-metal virtuoso songs (I would have been able to do it of course) but more attention to simplicity and soulful melodies.

You can listen to my most successful here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NSxTlpxaTpU

Concerning the songwriting still I’m and I’ll always be in “learning mode”. There’s always something new to learn and room to improve. Of course, you would need for some courses that would help you, and I hope that this article will be a good tip for you in order to improve you songwriting skills, it doesn’t matter if you’re a navigated musician or you’re starting you path right now. I’m bringing you through the process I’m following nowadays and you’re gonna be part of it.

 

Songwriting: how to start efficiently

Going back to what I wrote above, songwriting is an art. The more I learn it, the more I see that it’s infinite.

If you google around, you can be VERY confused. It’s plenty of “10 steps to follow” article around, and it’s a true mess.

Everyone says the truth and its contrary. It’s overwhelming.

No.

The truth is that there’s no truth at all. You can start writing songs by lyrics, by a melody, by a rhythm idea… By anything really. It’s plenty of rules but the truth is there are no rules at all. What really matters is the result. What really matters is how you transform you ideas into something useful, that carries a precise message.

My step-by-step process to write songs

 

As I told you, there are many processes. If you’re a professional songwriter, you’ll find something you know already here, so just in case leave a comment at the bottom of the article to help the users.

Let’s assume you’re an entry level songwriter, and you’re approaching this science for the first time. Let’s assume you’ve a very low/poor music theory/harmony knowledge but you want to get through this fantastic creative world.

My advises:

Creativity is a process that is more efficient when comes naturally. Despite any professional composer has got the right technique and focus to compose even when not super inspired, definitely the most interesting ideas come when not expected/predicted. At least, this is how it works for me.

My technique is to note ANY idea I could have during my daily activity by just recording myself singing or tapping the tempo or any other way that could help me to fix the idea that came suddenly in my mind

Just sing along you nana-nana or tap the tempo, or whistle it. It doesn’t matter.

To do this I use some gadget that helps me to fix my idea and archive it, or I just use one app on my mobile and I send everything to my archive via email.

This is very cool and useful. If you’re in one of those days in which you’re lazy and unfocused, struggling to find a good idea to work on, you only have to go to you personal archive and choose the best input to work on.

It’s a real wonder when you come back and suddenly you jump into an idea you forgot to develop in the past, but it’s still there.

If you want to be a serious composer and songwriter, please build you ideas archive. Don’t let life itself bringing away your best moments. When an idea (a melody, a rhythm…everything) comes out spontaneously, when developed you listeners will feel the same feelings in their bones.

So, choose one idea that you would like and develop: a chord progression, a melody, a rhythm pattern.

We will talk about the concept of HOOK in another article 😉

  • Please be a good nerd and study at least the fundamentals of music theory

Well, you can tell me that it’s plenty of successful musicians and songwriters out there that don’t know a thing about music theory and still can write good song.

Maybe it can be true for some, for many others it’s an urban legend. A lot of famous singers have songwriting teams behind their shoulders. These guys are professional in music, they most of the time received a formal music instruction.

A part of that, to write good songs you don’t have to be able to analyze The Rite of Spring, you’ve to be able to understand mostly the movements of the degrees in major and minor scales. You’ve to understand which is the main connection among the different chords and which are the most important chords progressions in famous songs.

This will be really helpful for you.

 

 

  • Understand the song structure

You can choose to be a prog artist and just screw this passage, but even the most tricky Dream Theather’s songs, has got a Verse, a Pre-chorus, a Chorus, a Bridge.

The standard construction for a song is:

Intro

Verse

Chorus

Verse2

Chorus2

Bridge

Chorus3

Finale

There are all the possible variations to this basic structure: the best thing you can do is to analyze the most famous songs.

Start easy with Let it be by Beatles, or U2’s songs. Start from something very simple, with at least 4 chords. You’ll see easily that the most famous Pop songs nowadays are based pretty much on the same chords constructions. Your task is to understand what does work and what doesn’t. Don’t be scared about analyzing songs from top 10 Pop Billboard. Sometimes in the mainstream circuit there are masterpieces, sometimes as you may know, there’s crap.

Here is not about the aesthetic judgments, it’s about understanding what works and what doesn’t.

By then, create you song structure. Please mind you’ve to fix a BPM for the song you wanna make.

If you work with a DAW like Logic Pro, Cubase, Protools etc, you can easily see the length of you song, and fix the general setup, included the structure. Working directly with a DAW is top for me, it really makes the difference in the quality of my work.

If you’re old style, just grab a piece of paper and note a general structure. Make the effort to visualize the song from the beginning to the end in you mind. The more is detailed, the more it will be easy for you to go through the next steps.

  • Pick up a chord progression and sing along over it, trying to apply the first idea you found before.

You don’t have to be a pro singer, even if taking some good singing course can help a lot. You only have to nana-nana or mmmm-ing on you music. It’s easy: just find a link between the chords you choose and you voice.

You’ve to be able to find a good melodic/harmonic/rhythmic idea that merges efficiently with the chords you choose.

Concerning this topic, I’ll dedicate some more deepening on my Patreon page

This step is VERY important

Here’s where you understand if you idea is working or not. So be sure you’re having goosebumps while playing and singing at the same time.

Choose ONE good idea for each part of the song, not more. You’ve to be direct and concise, you don’t want to waste precious time. Go straight to the point in any section and don’t overwhelm the listeners with thousands of ideas.

The process could work more in this way:

One main hook idea for the entire song (mostly it goes to the chorus)

One single good idea for the verses and the other part of the songs.

Operate synthesis: you want that the length of each part of the song is reasonable. The chorus has to be the catchiest part, so keep in mind that the other sections have to prepare/embellish the chorus, and guide the listeners to it slowly and progressively

  • Sing the entire song structure from beginning to the end on the tempo

I mostly use a single metronome, this helps me to understand what works and what doesn’t.

  • Lyrics

Lyrics is of course a big huge thing in songwriting and I’ll talk about it in another article. Writing good and catchy lyrics is an art. A good book I can advise you to read is this one. In Popular Lyric Writing: 10 Steps to Effective Storytelling you will find a step-by-step guide to write your best possible lyrics.

I’ll dedicate more time to this topic in another article.

Keep in mind this is only the beginning of the trip. The topic is huge and I’m only scratching the surface.

If you’re serious in songwriting, do a favour to yourself:

follow a course to improve your skills

If you’re serious in songwriting, this course can be very helpful for you.

Superior Songwriting is a very well-structured course. You will find anything about songwriting: Lyrics, melodies and harmonies, song structures, hooks.

If you want a good helpful tool to improve you skills, this course can be the right thing to do.

Not only you will find the way to write you songs, but also how to sell them and how to become professional in you activity.

Conclusion

If you liked this article and you found it useful, please leave a comment and subscribe to my patreon page to have more information!

Ignazio

 

 

 

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The best music transcription software: how much important transcriptions are to become a better musician?

How really important is doing music transcriptions to become a better musician?

Transcribing music is the best way to improve your skills when it comes to enrich your vocabulary. In order to do this, you’ll need some solid work method and the best music transcription software that could help you to reach this purpose. You most probably spend a bunch of time every day by practicing scales, arpeggios, chords and exercises but you wonder why you still don’t sound as your favourite musicians, or even better, why you still don’t have your personal sound. This blog is mainly focused on guitar but the golden rules I’m giving you right now are valid for all kind of musicians out there, it doesn’t really matter the style played and the level you have.

Learning Music is like learning any other new language

I’m personally passionate about languages. I studied French litterature in high school and I loved the big classics: Hugo, Montaigne, Gide, Flaubert and poets like Baudelaire (my overall favourite), Verlaine and Rimbaud. I’m writing you in English now and as you may know, English is not my native language. I’m an Italian native speaker so I had to study carefully the English grammar, the vocabulary and the literature to be fluent and confident enough. Still I everytime find room for improvements but that’s the way to enjoy the trip folks!

There are many “layers” concerning the learning process of languages and the more I advanced in my studies, the more I understood how much music was helping me a lot in assimilating the languages I needed to learn.

Music and languages are more or less the same for me. You can express an idea with words, you can express it with the sounds: still you’re communicating with the world out there and your brain is synthesizing information into a format that is going to be processed and externalised in the most fluent and achievable way.

From my humble point of view, you can make these assumptions:

Syntax = Scales, arpeggios and melodic materials in general.

Grammar = Harmony, Rhythm, Counterpoint.

Literature = Transcriptions and History of Music.

Listening = Music Listening, Going to concerts, buying records (sob 🙁 ), watch at music videos.

Speaking = Playing with other musicians or solo act if you’re a solo musician.

Vocabulary = Transcriptions.

As you may see, the dynamics involved are pretty much similar, and everything is about learning a group of differentiated skills in order to improve in different areas.

Assuming you’ve already some base on the other areas, if you don’t have a vocabulary your communication skills will be not consistent and you’ll fail in expressing your ideas. You need for something that can be helpful for you to achieve this purpose. You need to improve your vocabulary to be able to face any new life situation in which the knowledge of the language will be in demand.

Imagine you’re in a new city and you’re forced to look at or listen to the translator every time to ask for information. It will take a lot of time and your communication won’t be that efficient. You’ll have to rely on people’s patience and sometimes this can be tricky…

It’s the same with music: the more you’ll master the language, the more your speaking will be fluent and your ideas will be transformed into something achievable for your listeners, something beautiful and clear to listen to.

How to organise music transcriptions in a nutshell?

There are several ways of course and I would overall resume two main different strategies:

The reading method, pro and cons.

Well, while I was a jazz student I spent quite a lot of time by reading from the beginning to the end the Charlie Parker Omnibook and it has been very beneficial for me and my playing.

Not only your music reading abilities will improve a lot ( and if you’re a guitar player, you know how tricky reading could be) but you’ll enter easily inside all those brain mechanisms that will help you to encompass what you just read in your playing automatically. It worked really well for me to help me to master the bebop language. I just read a lot of jazz saxophone players and my abilities grow up automatically without even thinking about it too much…or maybe just a bit..

Again, music is just like any other language, the more you read the more you’ll build up links.

The method can be applied with any author in any style of music. If you’re an orchestra composer, just go and study your favourite author transcriptions (my favourite ever: Ravel Piano Concerto). If you’re a rock guitar player, just learn your favourite solos and riffs. The sky is the limit really.

Transcribing by using softwares

If you want to grow in your listening abilities, grow your music ear and your ability to translate what you ear in gestures and shapes on your instrument, you just need to listen to the music with your instrument in your hand.

The method is just simple: try and replicate as more as possible what you hear. Try and search for the right spot to play the phrase, the correct nuance, the correct timing.

An overall method I would suggest, assuming you’re transcribing a solo for example:

  1. Analyse the song/composition : Which key? Which speed? Which time signature?
  2. Focus on a little sequence at time: If you want to learn the language, most probably you don’t need to memorise an entire solo as first. You need to understand the mechanisms behind the solo construction. This is a very important concept. If you just aim to learn by heart a sequence, unless you’ll practice it every day for the rest of your life, you’ll most probably forget about some part of it. You need to relate the sequence to the music itself, understanding the melodic and harmonic process behind the notes you’re hearing.
  3. Use a software to slow down the speed and then repeat the sequence on a loop, raising the speed step-by-step. Don’t forget about focusing on the timing: if your timing is sloppy while you’re playing slow, it will be even sloppier while playing at normal speed. Just relax and focus on not more than few notes at time.
  4. Repeat the process with the next sequence and then glue everything together when you’re comfortable enough.

The software I use to transcribe, learning songs, memorise my compositions and compose new stuff

 

Riff master pro is a very good one. It works both for Mac and Windows. You can import songs, slow down and put some section in loop. You can also make the volume of the voice lower, control and equalise different frequencies and change the key. It’s a very cool and useful tool.

If you’ve some question I’m always here to answer, so don’t exitate to contact me and subscribe to my newsletter to keep in touch with me

If you want to get deeper and to know more about the topic of each article of this blog just subscribe to my Patreon page to have access to more material!

Cheers,

Ignazio

www.ignaziodisalvo.com

 

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