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Distortion plays a crucial role in popular music, and has since its introduction into the Chicago blues circuit in the mid-1940s. Originally, distortion came from broken gear or amplifiers pushed past their limits, but what distortion actually is has greatly evolved over the last 70 years. Now we can hear it everywhere in popular music, from distinctive guitar leads to subtle placement on lead vocals.
Distortion is achieved in many ways—rackmounts or digital signal processors for example—but the two main methods are through an amp using gain, or via effects pedals. These two methods can yield a variety of intensities of distortion depending on what the music calls for.
Spire Studio’s distortion options, while all obviously digital, emulate both stompboxes and analogue amp distortion. On the side of effects pedals, there is the Capratone. For an amplifier tone, there is the Classic Stack, Verb ‘65, Tube 30, Bass Amp, and Echo Fuzz. By splitting the intensities of distortion, you can better find the tone that fits your song. Let’s break down some examples of Spire’s distortion options using three intensities—low heat, medium heat, and high heat.
“Low heat” distortion is soft and subtle, yet warm and slightly grainy. It’s ideal for rhythm guitars or synths that need a slight boost from section to section. Using a low heat distortion on a lead can also subtly boost its signal without significantly changing the tone.
Verb ‘65 doesn’t actually have a distortion setting, but its tone is already slightly overdriven, and a great example of low heat distortion. Bass Amp and Capratone are also great options. Listen to the example below—the three rhythm guitars are using the Verb ‘65, Capratone (no reverb or delay), and the Bass Amp. The two leads are using the Verb ‘65 and Capratone (drive set to half way).
“Medium heat” distortion amps up the gain and has more of a crunchy tone. If you’re looking for a distortion sound that really punctuates a lead or adds significant beefiness to a rhythm guitar, a medium heat distortion is probably for you.
Capratone can achieve this with the drive significantly cranked up. The Tube 30 and Classic Stack will give you a crunchy sound with ease.
Take a listen to the example below. The rhythm guitars are using the Tube 30 and a high-drive Capratone. The lead solo is using the Classic Stack with the drive about halfway up.
“High heat” is what we’ll use to describe a serious overdriven, biting distortion sound. A high heat sound is reserved for ripping lead solos or heavy rhythm instruments. You can find high heat sounds in heavy metal, punk rock, or even hard and heavy electronic music.
We’ll reserve the high heat options for Echo Fuzz and Classic Stack.
Take a listen to the example below. All of the guitars are using either the Echo Fuzz or Classic Stack with high drives.
Though the concept of distortion may seem pretty singular, its purpose and range of sound can greatly vary. Whether you’re slightly accentuating a rhythm guitar part or shredding a heavy solo, Spire’s distortion options cover the entire spectrum of distortion from low heat to high heat distortion. Happy writing.