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Author Topic:  "Wolf tones" with Overdrive
Paul Seager


From:
Augsburg, Germany
Post  Posted 2 Apr 2024 6:24 am    
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HI, I am not a great lover of overdrive and deliberately use a solid state amp (DV Little Jazz) which has a lot of headroom and is very clean. However I have a couple of songs that I think would benefit from some overdrive but I hit an issue straight away - Wolf tones - at least I think that is what one calls them.

I use:
- Rickenbacker DW 16 (with horseshoe pickups);
- a Boss MS-3, a multi-FX unit with a number of different overdrive pedal simulators;
- The DV Little Jazz (8" speaker)

Now I opted for the MS-3's simulated "Boss Blues Driver" pedal which is supposedly very mild but as soon as I hit two strings, and worse, if I use a forward bar-slant across strings 1 & 3, I hear a nasty, non musical sub-tone.

I checked the other OD / Distortion pedal simulations and all produce the same problem (to different degrees). The only other FX in the Boss MS-3's internal chain is delay and reverb. This is all I use!

I plan to borrow an amp and try process of elimination but appreciate any other tips.
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Donny Hinson

 

From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 2 Apr 2024 10:38 am    
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Multiple string licks with distortion are very tricky, due to the exaggerated "beating" between notes when both notes are coming through the same amp. Rockers solve the problem by using two lead guitars, each playing one distorted note. Other than that solution, it's mostly taste and technique to minimize the issue. Sometimes reducing the bass or treble on the amp will help a little. Just keep at it. Oh Well
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John Larson


From:
Pennsyltucky, USA
Post  Posted 2 Apr 2024 3:28 pm    
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Donny Hinson wrote:
Multiple string licks with distortion are very tricky, due to the exaggerated "beating" between notes when both notes are coming through the same amp. Rockers solve the problem by using two lead guitars, each playing one distorted note.


Every one calls these "wolf tones" but thats not really what they are. It's kind of like Fender inverting the concepts of tremolo and vibrato.

This phenomenon described has to do with intermodulation distortion caused by the non linear clipping inherent to most distortion circuits. (Don't worry I'll try to avoid the signal engineering lingo from here on out)

Most distortion/overdrive circuits clip the signal. In this clipping certain tones always there are accentuated and heard. This is why high gain players often utilize noise gates. Harshness or muddiness comes in the form heard as "beating", heard when chords that contain certain imperfect intervals are played due to these now heard overtones.

The classic fix is about avoiding certain intervals played together on a single instrument that contain dissonant overtones. Guitarists early on figured out that if you drop the third from the chord so it's just perfect intervals it sounded less muddy and harsh.

This is largely why the root/5th and root/4th style "power chords" became so ubiquitous in heavier styles of rock and pretty much the go to in heavy metal and punk. Unless you are playing a style where the harshness or noise from overtones is desirable (black metal guitarists play around with lots of full mostly minor Barre chords shifted around in close intervals) certain intervals are simply avoided.

Part of this issue comes from a compromise endemic to equal temperament tuning where 3rds are shifted slightly flat or sharp than they would be with just intonation. It easily creates these undesired overtones that are accentuated by the gain from distortion.

An old studio trick for metal bands where they tune the chord to a more exact just tuned thirds when recording if they wanted to use these interval with high gain and no harshness. This works when you have a basic amount of pitched instruments mainly bass and guitar but if you have more all instruments would have to be retuned to match. See the plethora of discussions on this forum about the pros and cons of sweetened tunings.

The easier method is rearranging what is played on which instrument so that if you want an imperfect interval it's being played in two different instruments, usually dual lead guitarists. Bands like Thin Lizzy, Iron Maiden, Metallica and all the Scandinavian melodic extreme metal bands pretty much exclusively do this. In Flames used to overdub like three lead parts on their late 90s albums to achieve this.

Assuming this is the issue and not something with a bit of length of string behind the nut or such sympathetically resonating which would be more what a wolf tone proper is. Thats why the viol family has those clips that go between the bridge and end of string to "tame the wolf"
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Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous; praise is meet for the upright. Give praise to the Lord with the harp, chant unto Him with the ten-stringed psaltery. Sing unto Him a new song, chant well unto Him with jubilation. For the word of the Lord is true, and all His works are in faithfulness. The Lord loveth mercy and judgement; the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord.
- Psalm 33:1-5


Last edited by John Larson on 3 Apr 2024 2:25 am; edited 1 time in total
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Geoff Queen


From:
Austin Texas, USA
Post  Posted 2 Apr 2024 8:28 pm    
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The SMS Earth Drive addresses the weird low end overtone rumble (sub tone) you're experiencing. It somehow doesn't have any of those artifacts.

If you need higher gain than that; I've had good luck with the Zvex Box of Rock. Still has some overtones but is usable for me.

I'm guessing the Solar Flare (also SMS) is well suited for higher gain too but I haven't used one yet.

IMHO 'they' can model usable reverb, delay and mod effects; but the overdrives always fall short for me. YMMV.
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Paul Seager


From:
Augsburg, Germany
Post  Posted 2 Apr 2024 9:06 pm    
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Thanks to you all for the replies, even the technical one! I learnt a lot in the few minutes of reading them.

I did try with a bass amp (more headroom) and the problem persists and yes it is mainly with slants on thirds and yes I do use sweetened tunings. 😕

Well these effects are designed to enhance our music so I must learn how to use them as with an instrument!
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 3 Apr 2024 1:21 am    
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I tune my steel in natural intervals, and as well as occasional overdrive I also use an Electro Harmonix Synth 9.

John's explanation is very good. Intermodulation distortion is always with us and is a fact of the life of a complex waveform. When we strip it down to two or three notes, it gets easier to predict as we can identify all the difference tones. Root/4 and root/5 generate a fundamental tone which can be tuned in by making the 4th and 5th intervals exact if they aren't already. This gives us those fat power chords.

When we expand to a triad it gets messier. Even-tempered 3rds cause havoc, but natural ones are fine, as we still get the fundamental or its octaves. Minor chords are horrible, as they generate a conflicting fundamental on a flat 6th. This has been understood for hundreds of years, and a great deal of minor-key classical music omits the third from the final chord.

When I play major chords through the synth they all sound fine, but I have to be selective with the minors.

Paul has point about bass amps. In regular playing we generate all kinds of low-frequency difference tones, especially when playing close harmony on the C6. A bass amp will handle these without introducing as much distortion as a regular guitar amp. (My rehearsal amp is a Roland bass cube.)
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John Larson


From:
Pennsyltucky, USA
Post  Posted 5 Apr 2024 6:41 am    
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Ian Rae wrote:
Intermodulation distortion is always with us and is a fact of the life of a complex waveform. When we strip it down to two or three notes, it gets easier to predict as we can identify all the difference tones. Root/4 and root/5 generate a fundamental tone which can be tuned in by making the 4th and 5th intervals exact if they aren't already. This gives us those fat power chords.


This could actually be mitigated with a system that has a pickup for each string and distorts the individual notes before summing into a mixer and then back into the mono signal.
_________________
Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous; praise is meet for the upright. Give praise to the Lord with the harp, chant unto Him with the ten-stringed psaltery. Sing unto Him a new song, chant well unto Him with jubilation. For the word of the Lord is true, and all His works are in faithfulness. The Lord loveth mercy and judgement; the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord.
- Psalm 33:1-5
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John Larson


From:
Pennsyltucky, USA
Post  Posted 5 Apr 2024 7:10 am    
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Ian Rae wrote:
Intermodulation distortion is always with us and is a fact of the life of a complex waveform. When we strip it down to two or three notes, it gets easier to predict as we can identify all the difference tones. Root/4 and root/5 generate a fundamental tone which can be tuned in by making the 4th and 5th intervals exact if they aren't already. This gives us those fat power chords.


This could actually be mitigated with a system that has a pickup for each string and distorts the individual notes before summing into a mixer and then back into the mono signal.
_________________
Rejoice in the Lord, O ye righteous; praise is meet for the upright. Give praise to the Lord with the harp, chant unto Him with the ten-stringed psaltery. Sing unto Him a new song, chant well unto Him with jubilation. For the word of the Lord is true, and all His works are in faithfulness. The Lord loveth mercy and judgement; the earth is full of the mercy of the Lord.
- Psalm 33:1-5
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Donny Hinson

 

From:
Glen Burnie, Md. U.S.A.
Post  Posted 5 Apr 2024 12:06 pm    
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That’s what the Emmons “String Machine” did. It was a three-bank distortion unit with three small pickups that could placed under any three strings. The idea was to give the impression of an orchestra string section on a pedal steel. Results were mixed, though, and the setup was rather cumbersome.

By the way, distorted notes played together work far better if you tune (pure) JI. Any sweetening or tempering tends to make things worse. Tuning ET makes 3-note chords mighty jangly. Confused
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Jack Stanton


From:
Somewhere in the swamps of Jersey
Post  Posted 5 Apr 2024 7:17 pm    
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When I went to see Lyle Lovette at the City Winery in Philly (I really went to see me friend Buck Reid) they played My Baby Don't Tolerate and tossed the solos around. When it came Buck's turn he kicked in his Earth Drive, and I was gob smacked that he played all kind of intervals in all different octaves and not once did it flub out - zero wolf tone. Plus he looked very snappy with those ostrich boots!
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Ian Rae


From:
Redditch, England
Post  Posted 6 Apr 2024 7:20 am    
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There you are, Paul. Ostrich boots. Case solved.
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Fred Treece


From:
California, USA
Post  Posted 6 Apr 2024 9:18 am    
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You have to very much want the sound you are talking about (which is not “wolf tone”) when using a fuzz/dist/OD effect. Two or more “imperfect” notes are going to have a dissonant ring, and what I call an “undertone” that would not be as pronounced when playing with clean tone, for all the technical reasons described in the posts above. That sound has been utilized artistically by every great guitarist who ever stepped on a OD pedal, or cranked their Marshall amp. It’s not so much something to avoid, as it really is just a matter of getting acquainted with the creative possibilities, which are different from what is available to you with a clean tone.

Wolf tone, as regards guitars with pickups, explained very briefly:
https://www.seymourduncan.com/blog/the-players-room/eliminating-wolf-tones
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Raybob Bowman


From:
S. Lake Tahoe, CA, USA
Post  Posted 6 Apr 2024 9:29 am    
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Those tones are summation tones and differential tones. When an interval is played, those tones are also sounded but not really perceived until distortion is involved.

When two notes are sounded together, say 200 hz and 300 hz, the summation tone is500 hz and the differential tone is 100 hz.

Interesting to hear the movement of those tones, when you play a 4th interval (C and F) then bend the C up to D so interval is minor 3rd,
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Paul Seager


From:
Augsburg, Germany
Post  Posted 8 Apr 2024 9:09 am    
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Ian Rae wrote:
There you are, Paul. Ostrich boots. Case solved.

Dammit, I only have lizard boots. Well I started the thread with an animal noise so I guess it was inevitable that it ends with this.

I am honestly grateful for the responses. As I said from the start, I'm not a great fan of overdrive. The inspiration came from watching a local blues guitarist, just one man, a Tele and a Deluxe Reverb; He had such control over the set up! And of course I thought, I'd like some of that!

My secondary problem is that I bought the Boss unit because a friend (another Steeler) convinced me with his demo! Now I just search for reasons to keep it - all I use is delay and reverb!

Maybe I should just get a Deluxe Reverb 😁

Oh honey ...
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\paul


Bayern Hawaiians: https://www.youtube.com/@diebayernhawaiians3062
Other stuff: https://www.youtube.com/@paulseager3796/videos
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