Playing your guitar can be a very soothing experience, especially if you play soft and lilting notes. However, sometimes you want to transition from the clean notes to notes that have a hint of distortion to them.
These are better known as “broken up” guitar tones, where the noise begins to get distorted.
It’s important to note, though, that these notes are only coming out of amps that your guitar is plugged into – and it’s all to do with the amp, actually, which causes the notes to become distorted like they do.
But how and why do amps do this? Well, we’ve got all the answers for you! In the guide below, you’ll find out all about broken up guitar tones, as well how they’re created and just what exactly is meant by the term “edge of breakup”. Read on!
What Is A Broken Up Guitar Tone?
First off, let’s try to define what a broken up guitar tone is. We’ve already touched on it earlier, where we stated that it’s when the guitar is producing more of a distorted noise – as opposed to a clean, crisp one.
The noise you would normally expect to come from a guitar is what we’d describe as “clean”, while a distorted and broken up tone will be one that sounds more shredded and jagged.
It’s a staple of heavier rock ‘n’ roll music, because it has a really punk, rebellious edge to the noise.
It’s important to mention that this is all to do with amps, though. How?
Breakup In Amps
Well, broken up noise is caused by the amps that you’re using. When your guitar is plugged into an amp, the amp is strengthening the electrical signal from your guitar and pronouncing it through speakers.
However, sometimes the inputted signal from your guitar can be too much, and the amp is unable to increase it without changes happening to it. This is where the sound becomes broken up, which is properly classified as “breakup”.
Let’s get into the science of it all! Breakup happens because your guitar has overloaded the preamp stage, which is what handles the input before it’s sent to the speaker and emitted as noise.
This overloading refers to the amp not being able to amplify the signal that’s entering it without clipping its waveform, which noticeably changes the sound of it.
All amps have “headroom”, which is the measure of how loud the amp can go before the noise starts to break up and get distorted.
However, all amps will have different headrooms, and therefore different points where breakup occurs.
It’s probable that the more expensive and high quality the amp is, then the louder it will go, and it will be much longer before you are able to get a distorted noise out of it.
What Is The Edge Of Breakup?
A term that gets used a lot within the guitar world is the “edge of breakup”.
As you may be able to guess, this is the sweet spot between the clean notes and the distorted ones, where you can get a sound that toes the line between the two drastically different types of sound.
This can be a great choice for people who don’t want to commit to the full, gungy edge that a distorted note can give them, but don’t want their playing to be completely innocent and smooth either.
The edge of breakup is really the point where you can slip between the clean and the distorted without the transition being too jarring or noticeable. The sounds almost become one, because there’s no clear leap between the two tones.
This is good for guitar players, because a jarring transition can take your audience out of the song and disrupt them too much.
On the other hand, though, you may want the transition to be really obvious – there’s nothing to wake and shake an audience like a jarring change in sound!
So, for those who don’t want a fully broken up guitar tone, the edge of breakup is going to be a favored point in their amp. You will still get hints of a clean note, but it will have a distorted edge to it.
If the player has the right amp for them, then they’ll be able to control how far they can dip their play into the distorted area.
Interestingly, a lot of modern amps aren’t actually very good for this, because they focus more on bass and gains (gain is a measure of how hard your input is hitting the preamp).
Getting The Edge Of Breakup
If you want to reach the sweet spot of the edge of breakup, then you’ll need to know how to work the amp that you have.
First, you’ll want to find out which setting on the amp will let you reach overdrive easiest. Overdrive is the operating limit, the place where you’re playing your guitar too strongly and loudly.
As a side note, you can use an overdrive pedal to help reach the point.
When you find the setting that will help you reach the overdrive easiest, and with the most control, then that’s going to be the setting you can use to try and operate in the edge of breakup area.
Alternatively, you can go to a higher setting and just dial the volume down a bit, because then you’ll be achieving the same thing.
And there you have it, you now know all about broken guitar tones! If you want to switch up your guitar playing by smoothly switching between clean and distorted sounds, you can now master the edge of breakup period.
Be sure to not push your amp too far and too loud, though, because you do not want to break it!