Amp Tones and Effects
The POD HD500X is a complex device capable of a wide range of tones suitable to any musical genre. However, it can be a tweaker’s delight or tweaker’s nightmare. What follows are some notes and general advice I’ve collected over the last few months on how to setup good patches in a POD HD500X.
Try to get the most out of a each patch, and avoid switching patches too often. Setup four patches, each configured with the same effects, but using different amp and cabinet models for the specific purpose. The patches are all in the same bank, and progress from clean and mellow to distorted and aggressive.
- Clean – Blackface Dbl Vib, 2×12 Blackface Dbl
- Blues – Tweed B-Man Brt, 1×12 Blackface ‘Lux
- Crunch – Class A-30 TB, 2×12 Silver Bell
- Metal – Solo-100 Overdirve, 4×12 Blackback 30 (or some Marshall-style amp)
Get the desired amp tone first, then incrementally add effects. Use the Looper in the Pre position and record a dry guitar loop so you can tweet hands free. Check periodically at higher volumes and with a backing track.
Limit the number and wetness or depth of effects. Most of the effect blocks are taken up to support gain staging allowing a single amp to have a range of distortion tones and voicings. This results in a little overlap between the patches. But since the amps and cabinets are all different, the overlap is more in how the patch could be used rather than the actual tone. This overlap is actually useful because it allows each amp or patch to be able to be used for a wide range of tones using just a couple of foot switches.
Front of the amp effects:
- Tube Comp – I use this to smooth things out a bit and provide a little extra boost in front of the first two patches since Fender amp models don’t have that much gain. I did some experimenting with a spectrum analyzer (my iPad) and found the Tube Comp was the only compressor that didn’t have high-end rolloff.
- Fassel Wah
- Tube Drive – This provides the most aggressive tone in the patch. Tube Drive is pretty transparent with Bass: 75%, Mid 50%, Treble 75%. Use the tone controls for preamp voicing control, roll of a little bass to reduce the mud, and roll of a little treble to manage any remaining fizz/ice pick.
- Vintage Pre – this is the secret ingredient. I use the Vintage Pre essentially as another tube stage in the amp. It provides the first level of gain boost using the HPF and LPF as simple voicing controls in that gain stage to focus on the mids. Again, the Vintage Pre doesn’t do any other strange things to the tone and its simple, has its own drive control to add a little of its own color.
This allows each amp to have a progression of distortion levels and voicings. As the distortion increases, the voicing has to change, usually additional high and low cuts
- Tube Comp, Tube Drive and Vintage Pre off – the straight amp with the Gain control set to the minimum distortion level for that patch (not necessarily clean)
- Tube Comp on – just a bit more gain to push the front of the amp a little harder and provide some compression – this is often left on all the time
- Vintage Pre on – the first increase in distortion and subtle voicing change for warm bluesy leads
- Vintage Pre off, Tube Drive on – the next increase in distortion with a warmer voicing to mellow out the increased distortion
- Vintage Pre on, Tube Drive on – the greatest level of distortion with the combined voicings to reduce bass and treble.
Use the volume and tone controls on your guitar to fine tune the tone based on the song needs. Turning the tone control down about half way when using the bridge pickup can help take the edge off the tone and warm it up. Also, setup your tones using the neck pickup on your guitar, not the bridge pickup. This will provide the best compromise for overall guitar tone when you switch pickups, controlling the mud by setting the bass for the neck pickup and controlling the ice-pick using the bridge pickup tone control.
After the amp effects:
- Analog Chorus
- Digital Delay
- Chamber reverb
- FX Loop – mostly used for a Boss JamMan for longer loops.
Keep the delay and reverb on all the time for ambience, but pretty dry. Chorus comes and goes as needed.
Set the Input 1 to Guitar and Input 2 to “Same” for most patches – unless there are different instruments on path A and B. This ensures any mono effects in the Pre path (between the input and the path A/path B split) will have unity gain.
Set the mixer to path A full Left and path B full Right – unless there are different instruments on path A and B or path B is muted. In those cases, Path A and B should be centered. Use the mixer gain controls to adjust the balance between path A and B when using two paths.
Run a bit of sag to provide some power amp compression and keep the Cab Resonance to 0 to avoid over-hyping the bass and treble. This keeps the tone warmer, more natural, less fatiguing and puts the control back into the voicings at the front of the amp. When the global EQ is available, use this for after the amp/effects final output voicing. This will be used to tweak the tone for different volume levels. Quieter settings might require some additional bass and treble.
There are a number of potential reasons for getting poor tone from the POD HD500X:
- Too many things in the signal chain making it confusing and difficult to manage
- Too many EQs potentially overlapping or fighting with each other
- Poor signal chaining or gain staging resulting in undesirable or uncontrolled distortion in the effects blocks
- Too much gain creating an overly distorted, tone with limited dynamics
- Wrong amp model for the sound your after
- Wrong speaker cabinet or mic for the sound your after
- Too much cabinet resonance
- Too much Sag, Bias an dBias Excursion Settings
There are many reasons why tweaked tones don’t sound good live. Most are all based on tweaking out of context – headphones instead of speakers, low volume instead of gig-level volumes, by yourself instead of with the whole band, controlled situation instead of the chaos of playing live, long tweak times instead of having to do everything in a hurry. All these accumulate to fool us into thinking that something that sounds big, fat, wide, swirly, whooshie, big ambience, lots of sustain, etc. by yourself at low volume will be even better turned up and in the mix with the rest of the band. But the opposite is often true. Less is more when you’re playing live with a whole band.
- Tone starts with the song and the context. Listen to what’s going on around you and see what’s required to fit in, complement and add to the sound, not pull it in a different or odd direction. Think about dynamics and motion.
- Next comes the instrument itself. Make sure it is a good instrument, is properly setup, has a good set of strings, and is well maintained.
- Pick the right pickup for the song, see above
- Its really difficult to set a single amp tone that works for all pickup combinations. Set the tone for the neck pickup, then use the tone control on the guitar to adjust the tone for the bridge pickup to avoid having it be too bright or uncomfortable
- Use the heaviest strings you can get away with. Heavy strings last longer, don’t break as easily, are easier to control when bending to get the right pitch and have better tone.
- Make sure you’re in tune – tune up, not down, stretch the strings to get out the slack so they don’t go out of tune. Make sure the instrument is at room temperature for final tuning.
- Believe it or not, this one is one of the most important parts of tone – pick the right pick. Thin picks make it easy to pick fast, but they’re too flexible to control string dynamics. Heavy picks have a wider dynamic range and sound warmer. Picks shouldn’t be too sharp. The rounder the point, the warmer the sound. Find picks that have beveled sides so they glide over the strings better. Use a good pick material. Wegen picks are very good. Try turning picks on their side to get different tones from the same pick. Use hybrid picking and picking with your fingers for more tone options. Don’t pick too hard, turn the amp up and pick softer, you’ll have more control, better tone, and won’t introduce a lot of fret buzz.
- start simple focusing on the amp, speakers and mic before adding anything else
- Keep the cabinet resonance low or at 0. Pick the microphone carefully. Mics that sound bright and full by yourself can sound fizzy and icy when turned up and with the rest of the band.
- do all the tweaking with a backing track, hopefully made from your band, but something similar will do
- start the adjustments at low volume so you don’t tire/kill your ears, but check periodically at the volume closest to gig level you can get
- adjust patches on the same FRFR amp you’re using for live playing. Headphones or studio monitors are likely to sound a lot different then the PA
- If you have to use a guitar amp with the POD, try to use a power amp input or effects return and turn off cabinet emulation in the POD. Going into the front of a guitar amp will be challenging, and patches will sound entirely different than in your headphones.
- when adding effects, be conservative, keep mixes pretty dry. Effects can add a lot of mud into a mix making your guitar become indistinct.
- Don’t overdo the gain/distortion. These can kill definition and the tone of your actual guitar. Use the minimum gain/distortion required to do the job.
- Check your gain staging between effects. Bypass all effects and add them back in one at a time making sure no effect is so hot its overdriving the input of the next effect in the chain. I like to keep effects at mostly unity gain – they’re the same volume on or off. There are exceptions, when I use something like the compressor or vintage pre to intentionally drive the amp harder. This works good for Fender amps which are naturally lower gain, but should be unnecessary for high gain amps. Use the drive control instead
- Use a dB meeter (or audio tools on your phone) to set the channel volume so that you get the intended volume differences between patches.
- Once you get some patches you like in a live setting, use them as reference patches for tweaking at home. Once you know what these good patches sound like at home and through headphones, you’ll have a good reference point for building other patches. Switch back and forth between the patch you’re working on and the reference patch and think about the differences and how they translate to the song or what you’re trying to achieve.
- Make sure you’re not clipping the input of your FRFR amp or the PA.
There are 7 controls that interact to give distortion and volume. Start from the front and work to the back.
- Drive – sets the gain into the amp model preamp and controls preamp distortion
- Master Volume – sets the volume into the amp model power amp and controls power amp distortion. Preamp and power amp distortion sound different, so the relative settings of these controls set the amount and color of the overall amp’s distortion. Set these first to get the tone you want. Its generally best to use the smallest amount of distortion needed to fit the song.
- Channel Volume – controls the relative volume of each patch. This is the control you adjust with your dB meter to balance the volume between patches. All of the above are saved in the patch. Adjust this after you have the distortion and tone you want for the patches.
- Volume – the POD output volume for all patches. Start with this about 3/4 way up. It provides a convenient control for you to adjust the overall volume of all your patches up or down into the PA.
- PA or FRFR Input Gain – set this to ensure proper signal levels into the PA, ensuring there is no clipping into the PA even if you turn the POD volume all the way up.
- PA channel strip volume – sets the volume of your instrument relative to the rest of the band, usually controlled by the sound man.
- PA master volume – sets the overall volume of the band to the audience.