Ok. I agree with you. Best gain sounds are always coming from the tubes of your amp. You are damn right BUT, this is always you can crank it without issues (disturbing neighborhood, etc) AND, your amp can do just some kind of gain textures, that's all.
This is when a good gain pedal can come into help, when you need different gain textures from those that your amp delivers and when you cannot crank your amp. But, they should sound really good, to forget that you are playing thru a gain pedal.
Currently, I have several gain pedals and, I want to choose the ones of each kind that make me happier and sell the rest so, I went to some kind of comparision to see how each one works alone and together with the rest. All them are similar but, all them are different also.
This is the list of pedals that I was comparing and retesting during this session.
Mad Professor Sweet Honey Overdrive
Mad Professor Little Green Wonder
Every overdrive has its own soul.
The Sweet Honey, when gain is well controled has a cristaline sound, with a warm voice, outstanding dynamics and nice break-up sound. It's a low-medium gain overdrive, by design. I would place it in the list of Dumble-alike. Not because the sound but, mainly because it can go very compressed if not tweaked with care. It's awesome for warm clean pieces with a touch of break-up.
The Little Green Wonder is on the league of Tubescreamers but, way more controllable so, you can enhance what you like of TS and remove what you don't like of TS. Nice for solos, blues and everything that needs to cut the mix with presence and attitude. Can go from very dynamic to very compressed and, by design is a medium gain overdrive, even that can go really hard.
Wampler Euphoria is three different overdrives in a Box. The Crunch mode is similar to those tones you can achieve from a Xotic BB pre-amp, by example, maybe more crunchy and British to my ears than the BB.
The Open mode is a transparent overdrive but, can go from clean boost to middle-high gain. The Smooth mode is in the league of Dumbles, sweet, a bit dark, with a clear compression that tames the attack and with a thick grain when going gainy.
I choosed the Open mode for this test but, I am still not sure which is the mode I like more and, it will depend on which overdrives do I finally choose.
The Fulltone Plimosoul is more gainy than I have expected. I thought this pedal was a blues break-up type. It's voiced very similar to a TS but a TAD darker, with a big bump in middle-low frequencies. It's difficult to maintain it clear just with your picking, if you don't roll off your guitar's volume control.
Probably, this is my first rejection, right now.
ProCo RAT Whiteface reissue
Those distorsions sounds very different but, the SLOstortion is far away from the other two, that can sound closer.
The ProCo RAT Whiteface reissue is less gainy than its modern and cheap version: the RAT 2. Has a similar sound but the RAT 2 has way more gain and attitude, while the WF sounds more polished and sweet. Even that this pedal can go from a bit dirt clean boost to fuzz territories, I like it more as a pure distortion pedal, where it sounds really organic and helps tubes to explode in wonderful sounds.
The Pinnacle, has a lot of gain on its input, way more than the RAT and, it's voice is quite well strident. This is like to play with a bright guitar into a British amp loaded with a 4x12" cab full of Celestion V30s.
The modern mode can tame a bit the excess of high end. But, anyway, this pedal perfectly cuts the mix and has gain enough to make your solos really easy but, always maintaining an outstanding definiton of the notes.
The SLOstortion s the gainest of all but, its sound is really dark, sometimes can go very boomy and confussing. Always I hear it, it remembers my an small closed back high gain combo. Interesting for certain niches, it's probably the distortion type that I would use less.
I wanted to test the Fender Stratocaster with classic single coils, because a gainy guitar is very stright forward to use with gain pedals but, the weakness and strongness of those kind of pedals are more noticiable when playing whith weak classic single coils.
Also, single coil induces more noise in the line so, it's also interesting to see how every pedal deals that noise.
From all them, I've found the noisiest the Pinnacle, even having less gain than the SLOstortion.
I wanted to check all this with a classic clean amp. It's quite easy to make a Marshall to sound as a Marshall (Pinnacle, by example) but not so easy to do it the same with other amps. The Fender Princeton Reverb has a clean tone and many other limitations. The grain of 6V6GT tubes is very different from the grain of EL34s or EL84s, by example. The distortion coming from those tubes is always darker, grainer and compresser, compared to the crunchy bright gain of ELs. Finally, the rectifier creates some kind of SAG compression that tames some strong attacks, sweetening the sound but killing a bit your picking dynamics.
So this amp, together with those weak single coils should be a real challenge for those pedals. Right?.
I am going first to check the textures of every Overdrive, repeating same lick and hearing and feeling the differences. I recognize that, in the video, they can sound very similar (except for the Plimsoul). That's becasuse I set up every pedal very close to the break-up boundary, to maintain the sound under the break-up with soft picking or to trespass the boundary under hard picking. That helps me to see the dynamic range of each pedal and how it react to my intentions.
I've maintained the gain really low becasue, I planned to stack those overdrives with distortions later.
I preserved the guitar volume at full all the time and, the settings for each pedal were maintained from the beginning to the end of this video so, any change in their sound is due to the interaction with other pedals.
In the second part of the video, I am testing the three distortion pedals, with more or less the same riff (I tend to loose my concentration, when playing the same once and once more).
The third part, I am stacking every one of those overdrives into every one of the distortion pedals, to evaluate if they help in any way to the distortion pedal.
Las part, I am stacking the four overdrives, first in couples, then from three to three and, finally all them together. It's interesting to see that, sometimes, you can get better distortion sounds (more organic) just stacking overdrive units.
There is no Noise Gate active during all the session, just to see how every pedal or combination deals with noise. The only other active pedal was the Deep Blue Delay, to give some ambience.