Talk:Distortion (music)

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This article would be greatly enhanced with more and better citations, or linking to this site


Jonathan F Dean (not logged in!) — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:25, 21 October 2012 (UTC)

edit·history·watch·refresh Stock post message.svg To-do list for Distortion (music):

There are no active tasks for this page
    • Remove repeated wikilinks
    • Fulfill citation requests
    • Discuss distortion for other instruments
      • Vocals
      • Harmonica
    • Rewrite lead to more accurate summarize article body
    • Convert some External links to references

    It's good that Punk's been added. Punk is underrepresented in gear demos and discussions. MichaelSHoffman 05:24, 30 August 2006 (UTC)

    Citation needed for the original doctoring of amplifiers to produce distortion.[edit]

    Well, the Sonics were doing it pretty early, possibly the first: "If our records sound distorted, it's because they are. My brother (Larry, guitar) was always fooling around with the amps. They were always overdriven. Or he was disconnecting the speakers and poking a hole in them with an ice pick. That's how we ended up sounding like a train wreck." - Andy Parypa If that helps.

    Leo Fender and Distortion[edit]

    From all evidence, Leo Fender was interested in maximum clean power, not distortion, and the majority of his circuit changes were in this direction. Given that his test pilots were primarily Country artists in Southern California, notably Bill Carson, he would not have received many requests for a dirtier sounding amp. None of these artists showed any interest in a distorted sound, the recordings they made would bear this out, too. Jjourard (talk) 21:59, 4 February 2009 (UTC)Jeff Jourard


    "In the world of electric guitar music and guitar amplification, distortion is actively sought, evaluated, and appreciatively discussed in its endless flavours."

    Oh wow. Well, its gone now. Prepare to be Mezmerized! :D 21:39, 23 October 2007 (UTC)

    I would have thought that pedal steel players WERE asking Leo F for more distortion (Jonathan Dean) — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:45, 21 October 2012 (UTC)

    Main image - audio clips?[edit]

    I don't think that a picture of a stompbox represents the full breadth of this topic, as there are many forms of distortion that all deserve representation in whatever image we choose to depict this topic. Since we're dealing with a topic that's about audio, we should have some audio clips anyway, and I think that they would make a great main image for this article. I've been thinking about what these clips should be, and I think it would be best if we recorded a guitar direct through a DI unit and then re-amp it through each of the various distortion-producing methods (pedal, pre-amp, power amp, speaker, as well as combinations), without reverb or other effects so the listener can distinguish the contribution of each to the overall tone. Does anyone have the capability to do this? My Twin is too loud and doesn't generate much pre-amp distortion.... Steve CarlsonTalk 02:34, 29 May 2008 (UTC)

    I Love fuzz (dot com) has a large selection of exactly this - before and after waveforms from a whole selection of dirt boxes (Jonathan Dean) — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:47, 21 October 2012 (UTC)


    Distortion, Overdrive and Fuzz are pretty different things. I'm not an expert, though i think the whole electronics system works different in these three. Would someone edit it the right way? —Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 17:13, 7 November 2008 (UTC)

    No they are not. "overdrive" and "fuzz" are just terms for types of distortion derived from certain kinds of products enshrined in the guitar playing culture and vocabulary. To overdrive a circuit is to produce distortion in it. Fuzz is just another term for distortion, which made its way into the name of the "Fuzz Face" distortion box that appeared in the 1960's. Guitarists use "overdrive" to mean "mild distortion", whereas fuzz is understood to be heavier distortion (with more higher order harmonics, making it sound buzzy or fuzzy). In a high gain preamplifier, you get overdrive sounds at low gain, and fuzz at high gain (even from tubes). Simple as that. (talk) 20:36, 26 April 2011 (UTC)

    Agree - overdrive, fuzz and distortion are all types of distortion. An overdrive pedal will sound like an overdriven amp as well as overdriving the amp. Fuzz is just one type of distortion (not always square wave) — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 06:50, 21 October 2012 (UTC)

    Explanation removed[edit]

    I recently removed an unreferenced section that discussed the way the word distortion was not quite correct in nomenclature. I pulled the section out because I couldn't make much sense of it. There most certainly is distortion between the input signal of a guitar amplifier or stomp box and its output signal. There isn't distortion of strings vibrating; by definition, the strings are the source and can't be distorted no matter what they sound like. Anyway, here's the section I deleted just in case anybody sees something work bringing back to the article:

    In modern pop music the equal temperament is most commonly used tuning. When the sound of an instrument is enhanced by overdriving the amplifier however the natural overtones increase in volume and interfere with the fundamental tones of the 'out of tune' strings. This is the reason why the sound of heavily driven guitars becomes muddy and unclear. The word distortion is a bit poorly chosen, because it enhances the sound with its natural overtones instead of 'distorting' the sound. It is distorting the chords in fact. The overtones mainly have a consonant relation to the fundamental tone making the sound harmonically richer to a certain extend, if it is not overdriven too much. The enhancement of the volume equalisation up to the sixth harmonic is considered purely consonant. However this is in theory, because the seventh, eight and further harmonics are also present and interfering the consonant value. So it's a paradoxal system with no exact optimum. — User:Outdepth

    The problems present here are legion. The first problem I have is that we begin talking about 'out of tune' strings without defining the term as used--clearly we're not talking about a string that is out of tune at root. I also don't see how overtones increase in volume and interfere with the fundamental. The assumption that muddy-sounding guitars have just this one reason is unprovable. I fail to understand how a chord can get distorted. What is "volume equalisation"? How can harmonics above the sixth interfere with the consonant value? What is "consonant value"? Binksternet (talk) 20:15, 5 December 2008 (UTC)

    The consonant value is the value you can give to one tone related to another one. If you read Genesis of a Music by Harry Partch the 'One footed bride' is described. This is a scheme which specifies which tones are very consonant and which are lesser consonant. F, P8, P5, P4, M3, m3 are considered pure consonant. the harmonic 7th and it's undertones (not present in the Western Scale) are lesser consonant. M2,m6, M6, m7, M7 are lesser consonant, m2, T are not consonant.
    The fact that chords in the equal tempered scale are made up of individual notes that have overtones which don't match up perfectly with the compromised tuning of equal tempered notes is not something that changes with sound pressure level (volume). The disjunction is there in the softest chords and the overdriven ones. Binksternet (talk) 00:10, 6 December 2008 (UTC)
    A distorted E string generates the next tones in order of decreasing volume: E-E-B-E-G#-B-D-E-F#. Some of these tones are not exactly matching with the G#-D-F# out of the 12TET (equal tempered scale) but matches perfectly with the harmonic series (music). It is the harmonic serie in fact and these are more colsely matching with tones out of the just intonation. When you add a second string for instance the B, forming a barre chord you get: E-E-B-E-G#-B-D-E-F#+B-B-F#-B-D#-etc. As you see the F# appears and this tone at the B string and is not very consonant with the E. Besides this, the G# from the E is unequal to the G# used in a major E chord (the third tone when you play 3 strings). Therefore in conclusion: Distortion is not 'distorting' sound, but distorting common Western chords, but enhancing a tone by adding it's natural overtone serie (which are 100% consonant related to this fundamental). By playing 2 tones this creates a not consonant pattern (for instance F# + E or the G# overtone and the G# as a fundamental tone out of the chord). With 3 tones it becomes even more muddy. Also read closely what difference tone is. This has a lot to do with the muddy sound. Distortion may look like adding 'noise' in the sound, but the noise is mainly because of the multiple strings are interfering, because more loud tones (the driven overtones) are added to the sound.The sound of distortion is therefore not noise, but 'sweet' and even more consonant when you play 1 tone instead of playing a chord not driven in a 12TET chord (this contains difference tones which are not equal to the fundamental E). You explainovertones which don't match up perfectly with the compromised tuning of equal tempered notes is not something that changes with sound pressure level (volume) wrongly. When you play a chord not driven the overtones are very low in volume. When you distord it the volume of those overtones increase up to the level of the fundamental tones or slightly below, depending on how much you drive it. The overtones of all strings among eachother don't match properly. The overtones on 1 string instead match quiet well, up to the 7th harmonc (even forming a clean major chord if you look closely) Outdepth (talk) 15:58, 6 December 2008 (UTC)
    I won't lie to you and say that I understand everything you're trying to convey. What seems clear to me is that this is original research, and doesn't belong in the article. I searched a bit online and in my library but I can't find research to support your explanation. My copy of Partch (2nd edition, 1974), for instance, doesn't have any explanation of why overdriven guitar chords do what they do relative to the difference between their equal tempered roots and the natural harmonic series. If you can quote a published work that discusses what you're discussing, please do. Otherwise, the section doesn't meet requirements found at WP:OR. Binksternet (talk) 17:08, 6 December 2008 (UTC)
    I think you are right about the OR, yes. There is indeed no publication which describes it is making the sound 'richer' in a harmonic way instead of distorting it by voluming up the 'noise'. Thanks very much for thinking along. Outdepth (talk) 18:01, 6 December 2008 (UTC)
    Isn't the phenomenon Outdepth is describing called intermodular distortion? And yes, ET makes everything sound worse, but we're talking about an ET instrument here. The best way around it is to use few notes and tune for a given riff or chord. Yeah, intonate your tuning for each song. (talk) 21:10, 6 May 2009 (UTC)

    A lot missing or wrong from this article[edit]

    This article is pretty disappointing considering the mass of people who play guitar with some form of distortion. It looks like a lot of it is written by musicians rather than technicians, which unfortunately means it has a lot of incorrect oversimplifications of things that get passed around on guitar forums. It also makes a lot of assumptions, I corrected one assumption that all poweramps are class AB push-pull amps, but I'm not going to proof-read and re-write the whole article. A lot of it's also written in poor English with one paragraph starting every sentence with "because". I'll probably do some editing soon on it and I encourage anyone else with some technical knowledge, especially of how valve amplifiers and semiconductors (or as the article calls them "computer chips") distort AC voltages, to do the same.--KX36 (talk) 21:09, 9 November 2010 (UTC)

    A lot of nonsense in the article[edit]

    Distortion by itself does not add "warmth". It adds high frequency content, making the sound shrill and fizzy compared to the clean signal (even mild, soft clipping does this). Warmth is achieved (i.e. restored) by low-pass filtering the distortion electronically as well as by the use of an instrument speaker whose frequency response tapers off after around 5 Khz or so. Distortion requires careful management of high-frequency content, and tone shaping, in order to sound good. The problem with solid state distortion (or at least bad solid state distortion) is that the high-frequency content cannot be subdued without turning the signal muddy instead of warm. Tube distortion can have its annoying high frequency content removed, such that a clear, warm signal remains which can be clearly heard in a mix of instruments. (talk) 20:29, 26 April 2011 (UTC)

    Yes it does. Distortion adds harmonics, i.e. "warmth". Judging from you've said about "high frequency content", I think you may have some confused notions about what harmonics are and how they sound. Just go to Google books and type "warmth", "distortion" and "overtones".--Atlantictire (talk) 04:54, 8 May 2011 (UTC)

    Distortion adds harmonics. Harmonics are always higher frequency than the original (fundamental). Still, the additional harmonics (especially low-order even ones e.g. 2nd harmonic) contribute to a perception of "warmth". --Kvng (talk) 14:09, 10 May 2011 (UTC)
    distortion definitely adds "warmth" - all systematic (i.e. not noise) distortion necessarily adds harmonics of the input waveform, and a note with harmonics sounds warmer than a sine wave. however, i think an easy mistake was made here: applying a simple "treble cut" tone control to a typical signal, that also is perceived as a "warm" sound. as i understand it, many people preferred the tone of traditional AM radio with its limited bandwidth. i think also in the past it was more common to turn treble controls midway when maximum corresponded to the most neutral sound (i think there has been a trend away from "warm" in favor of accurate as people became more familiar with hi-fi). the poster has assumed this is the only meaning of "warmth" in accoustics, and wrongly asserted that distortion doesn't add warmth, but is not 100% wrong.

    Removed from history[edit]

    • Info on Fender amps more relevant to history of Marshall amplifiers than distortion effects. While EARLY Marshalls were modeled on the Fender Blackface and Bassman, contrary to having anything to do with distortion these amps were noted for their clean tone. Marshall distortion came from that company's own unique innovations. See article citation, also: The Gibson Les Paul Handbook--Atlantictire (talk) 04:54, 8 May 2011 (UTC)
    • "Pete Townshend used a Univox Super Fuzz pedal starting from 1968 on many recordings and stage shows by The Who. Fuzz was his only pedal for concerts from 1968 through 1978." No references found, only support for this is a fan page.--Atlantictire (talk) 15:18, 8 May 2011 (UTC)
    • "Early fuzzboxes used germanium transistors, but by the end of the 1960s these were starting to replaced by silicon transistors which are more uniform in performance and less affected by changes in temperature and by source impedance. In the 2000s, many boutique guitar effects builders began to offer fuzz pedals with germanium transistors for a "retro" sound." No references found, appears to be original research.--Atlantictire (talk) 15:39, 8 May 2011 (UTC)
    Nonetheless, it's true. For references for the first part, you'd need the schematics of several early fuzzboxes, plus a few later ones, but they're all out there on the internet for anyone who wants to look. For the second part, you only need do a quick search for boutique fuzzes to find a pile that use germanium transistors.Electricdruid (talk) 19:59, 13 February 2014 (UTC)
    Please have a look at WP:OR. Looking at schematics and other WP:PRIMARY sources is not an ideal approach. It would be better to find a magazine article or book or even a blog that talks about this. ~KvnG 16:06, 16 February 2014 (UTC)


    I've added a Todo template to this page and populated it with things I noticed during my recent edits. Feel free to add more stuff. If anything on the list strikes you as controversial, feel free to discuss it here. --Kvng (talk) 18:18, 10 May 2011 (UTC)

    Let's first try to reference the information already in the article. Searching for references is a good way to sift the original research from the verifiable info. I'd hate for anyone to write a lead for stuff that needs to be cut!--Atlantictire (talk) 20:27, 10 May 2011 (UTC)
    Also, when you're using terminology that's new to a general audience, I think it's fine to repeat wikilinks. For example, some folks might just be coming to this page to read the history, and need to look up "gain". So, I'm in favor of terms specific to electronic components and properties having their own links in each section.--Atlantictire (talk) 20:32, 10 May 2011 (UTC)

    I've been reading this type of stuff for years, but I still struggle with things like

    "warmth" ... in technical terms, when is a sound "warm"? "muddy" ... ditto ... is this distorted low frequencies? and a bit less so "bright" ... is this high frequency? — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:03, 21 October 2012 (UTC)

    I really don't think there is any need to refer to company names (Ibanez etc) as this just makes the article an advert. Tube Screamers and Big Muffs are now such copied and cloned circuit designs (and were hardly original when first introduced in any case) that the brand name owner is irrelevant. I would give an exception to "Maestro" for the Fuzz Tone though, as that is now as univeral as Hoover

    (Jonathan Dean - not logged on) — Preceding unsigned comment added by (talk) 07:10, 21 October 2012 (UTC)

    Cut from Theory and circuits[edit]

    "Harmonic distortion adds frequencies that are whole number multiples of the input frequencies, while intermodulation distortion produces frequencies that are sums and differences of the signal's frequency components."

    The section was getting a bit bogged down in “the physics of clipping”, and I figure if people want this information they can click on the links to harmonic distortion and intermodulation distortion's respective articles.--Atlantictire (talk) 08:29, 12 May 2011 (UTC)

    That information is completely relevant and central to the issue of harmonic distortion. It definitely didn't need to be removed. I reckon the basic principles of this kind of distortion are more even important than, say, who used the first fuzzbox. (talk) 12:57, 27 May 2011 (UTC)

    Power Chords[edit]

    i don't know where it would fit in the article, but i think it would make sense to mention power chords even though the article is essentially (and rightly) based on physics. because distortion is non-linear, combinations of notes produce more harmonics than the individual notes separately. so, many chords generate harmonics that spoil their non-distorted character (e.g. sounding muddy or unpleasant). power chords are simplified (generally three-note) chords that work well with large amounts of distortion. the complexity that is normally produced by having six or more notes in a chord is replaced by the complexity added by the distortion harmonics

    Power chords have only two notes. There is already a link and explanation in the article. It could possibly use improvement. --Kvng (talk) 16:47, 11 August 2011 (UTC)

    Soft/Hard Even/Odd clipping[edit]

    This section, and the reference (number 40), is wrong. It's such an oft repeated myth that many believe it.

    The symmetry/asymmetry of clipping (and of amp topology) decides whether odd or even harmonics are created by distortion, not the hardness of the clip.

    Also the tube/transistor difference is also bogus. A transistor topology, and a tube topology, can be made which clips symmetrically or asymmetrically. It's just that typical tube circuits happen to clip more asymmetrically (so even harmonics), by virtue of their topology, not because of the properties of tubes. — Preceding unsigned comment added by Mongreilf (talkcontribs) 10:27, December 29, 2012

    Your next step, then, is to find another author who corrects what you see as the myth put forward by Denton J. Dailey in Electronics for Guitarists. Binksternet (talk) 14:58, 29 December 2012 (UTC)
    Can't be fucked. But to anyone with more interest in improving this article than me, look to authors who know some mathematics, in particular fourier analysis, for the causes of even and odd harmonics. Denton Dailey, though in print, is a pseudo-academic hobbyist with a part time teaching job in a community college.--Mongreilf (talk) 23:39, 4 October 2013 (UTC)
    Seconded. Any basic investigation into waveshaping synthesis will reveal the truth of what Mongreilf is saying. You'll find plenty of authors who repeat the usual "tubes sound better than transistors" nonsense, but it only stacks up if you look at why - asymmetrically clipping is the key. Marshall knew this and built it into their amps. And no, I haven't got reference for that either - go and check the schematics.Electricdruid (talk) 23:05, 13 February 2014 (UTC)

    Dissonant odd-order overtones?[edit]

    Clipping is a non-linear process that produces frequencies not originally present in the audio signal. These frequencies can either be "harmonic", meaning they are whole number multiples of the signal's original frequencies, or "'inharmonic", meaning dissonant odd-order overtones

    440Hz and its (odd-order) third harmonic 1320Hz are far from dissonant. 1320Hz is in fact one octave above the perfect fifth - hardly dissonant! (talk) 07:40, 21 January 2013 (UTC)

    Lots of trouble there. Odd harmonics are not necessarily dissonant. Harmonic distortion can be either even or odd but is never inharmonic. I think what's trying to be conveyed here is the idea that odd harmonics sound subjectively more harsh than even ones. I don't have access to the citations so I can't be sure. -—Kvng 15:03, 24 January 2013 (UTC)

    Unduly limiting statement?[edit]

    I don't want to pick a fight by changing a sentence out of hand, so:

    "Distortion effects are used with electric guitars, electric basses (fuzz bass), electronic keyboards, and in some cases with vocals."

    I'm a cellist. I don't own an electric cello (even though even that wouldn't be included in the above statement), but I have certainly had cause to use discortion effects, using analog and digital implements, in my own work. A body or bridge mic and a distortion pedal makes everything good to go, and just about any acoustic stringed instrument can use it. Acoustic wind or brass intstruments can route a mic signal through a pedal as well, though it requires some tweaking through a mixer for optimal effect.

    So no, distortion effects are not the sole domain of electric guitars and basses, or even only electric instruments.

    OK, but I assume you understand that adding cello to the sentence is probably not the answer here. Maybe something like, "Distortion effects are used with electric guitars, and other instruments, and in some cases with vocals." ~Kvng (talk) 00:25, 28 April 2015 (UTC)

    Please provide audio files as Examples[edit]

    Please provide audio files as Examples for different kinds of distortions. Best will be, if wave-form of original-sound , and its distorted form, also shown.

    RIT RAJARSHI (talk) 08:21, 14 April 2016 (UTC)

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