Crunch Guitar

Crunch Guitar Sounds

Crunch guitar tones are now part and parcel of the pantheon of recorded rock

guitar. Everyone loves the sound of an electric guitar that screams! From the earliest rock ‘n’

roll recordings, where amplifier speakers were torn on the way to the recording. This

results in a clipping and distorted sound EG: Rocket 88. To the early recordings with

effects pedals that ‘distort’ or crunch the guitar sound like Keith Richards on “Satisfaction”.

Let’s investigate some categories of ‘crunch guitar’. “Guitar Player” contributor

Dave Hunter offers these insights:


Among the simplest and oldest of overdrive-inducing pedals is the booster, which, at

its heart, is just a straightforward preamp that’s placed in front of an amp’s input.

These are used to increase the guitar’s signal—either to create a loud, but relatively

clean volume lift for solos, or to kick the amp into overdrive. Early examples such as

the Dallas Rangemaster Treble Booster and Vox Treble Booster and Bass/Treble

Booster owed their creamy, thick sound to a single germanium transistor. In addition

to boosting the signal, the germanium transistor added a little midrange girth and

high-end sweetening— elements that became crucial to the early lead tones of Eric

Clapton, Jimmy Page, and Brian May, and many others.



The real godfather of the dirt boxes—the fuzz pedal—arrived even before the booster,

and it was initially intended as an effect that would let a guitar player mimic the

raspy, reedy tone of a saxophone. Legend has it that one of the most famous fuzz

guitar parts of all time—the signature riff to the Rolling Stones “(I Can’t Get No)

Satisfaction”—was originally recorded by Keith Richards as a “holding track” for a

horn section that would eventually replace it. The “Satisfaction” riff was recorded

through an early Maestro Fuzz-Tone, and it is archetypal of the fuzz sound—as are

many of Jimi Hendrix’s legendary solos, often recorded through a Dallas-Arbiter

Fuzz Face. Each of these pedals, and others like them—both old and new—owe their

tone to a pair of the hallowed germanium transistors previously mentioned. Silicon

transistor-based fuzzes followed germanium units, and these are known for their

slightly harder and more crisply defined crunch guitar tones.


Just like it says on the box, an overdrive pedal seeks to replicate the sound of an

overdriven tube amp. In the course of doing so, it often facilitates the real thing a little

more quickly by pushing your amp into clipping a little earlier, just as a booster and

fuzz will frequently do. The granddaddy of overdrives is the Ibanez Tube Screamer

TS808 (and its Maxon equivalent), manufactured for Ibanez by the Nisshin company

from 1979-1981. Several name players— Stevie Ray Vaughan and Eric Johnson

among them—also used Tube Screamers for their amp-boosting functions, and the

low-gain/high- volume control settings that facilitate this have become popular with

many guitarists. Overdrive is considered the original crunch guitar sound.


Like going from a ball-peen hammer to a 10 lb. sledge, a distortion pedal seeks to

reproduce the full-stack tube-distortion rage that the kinder, gentler overdrive pedal

barely hints at. In doing so, most distortion pedals also emulate the high-production-

value version of this sound, rather than merely enhance the amp tone it starts with,

complete with a scooped-EQ curve and liberal helpings of compression.

Whatever gets you to your own flavour of filth; you will most likely want to use your

booster, fuzz, overdrive, or distortion early in the pedal chain. If you are using more

than one pedal, a quick rule of thumb says to put the milder, or cleaner, OD earlier in

the chain. All in all doing the above suggestions will help a ton in achieving the crunch

guitar sound you desire!

Profile photo of Stefan Vos

* Has played in the UK with the band Lightning Type on stages like the Camden Barfly, Dublin Castle and The London Astoria * Has recorded at Beethoven Street Studios, previously owned by Seal, through a mixing desk once used by David Bowie, with one of Brian May's amps * Has played with local rock superstars Cassette * Has been teaching for the last 10 years to all ages and levels * Listens to and enjoys playing ALL styles of music * Has spent years refining the POWER STANCE for maximum on-stage rocking * Has dedicated himself to the lifelong pursuit of ULTIMATE TONE: The Way of the TONE Master * Has never played "Guitar Hero"

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