Admittedly, I’m drawn to gear that is dramatic. You step on it and it screams, echoes into oblivion, or squawks a wah so sweeping that Hendrix fans’ ears perk up 100 miles away. However, there is something to be said for the subtle items of gear. Somehow, by changing a little in your set up, they have a huge pay off. Treble boosters are a perfect example of this. Easily unsung and underutilized, these little gems have loads to offer yet do so with sophistication.
This week on TPS, Dan & Mick did what they do best: experiment, ask questions, tinker until things sound best, and provide some reflections on the outcomes of the hour. To that end, what you’ll find here are the three insights that I took away from the tour de treble booster. Since I’m entirely inexperienced and unversed in the art of using this sort of pedal, these were the hacks and hints that made me, at the very least, and informed amateur.
A New Way to Gain-Stack: Deploying a Treble Booster with a Favorite Overdrive Pedal
One of the biggest insights for me this past year on TPS was realizing just how many ways there are to stack drive sources and to deploy overdrive pedals in non-traditional ways. This week’s topic allowed for yet another breakthrough on this topic, this time by using treble boosters.
As Dan quickly ran through the history and origins of treble booster pedals, he noted that it all started with amps run hot and the need to try and go further. “When you try and push [that] with a big, full-fat overdrive it just compresses more, it doesn’t really go anywhere.” Enter the treble booster, which only pushes from the mid to the top-end frequencies. However, with more and more players looking to their pedalboards as the source of their gain and overdrive sounds, treble boosters can serve an entirely new and unanticipated purpose.
So, take a relatively clean amp. Then have your treble booster hit the front end of an overdrive pedal. Take, for example, Dan & Mick’s use of the Analog Man Beano to boost the front end of the Kingsley Page. Rather than result in a sound that had a spikey edge to it—as was the case with just the boost and the clean sound—with the overdrive pedal in the middle the sound bloomed to fill the room. The treble booster simply gave the characteristic drive more punch. As Dan concluded, “traditionally, most guys associate treble boosters with cranked amplifiers but using a treble booster as a booster into a full-frequency overdrive pedal is the way to do it.”
Watch Your Bottom End! Make Most of a Booster with Low Frequency Control
Given their name, it is no surprise that treble boosters do their magic with the upper echelon of the frequency range. They add more up there so the sound bites harder, cuts through the mix, and gives a sonic definition that is ideal for solos. However, this can come at a cost to the bottom end. Here’s where some options on board for your pedal booster can make all the difference.
Take the Keeley Java Boost, for example, a widely used and rightly respected treble boost stompbox. In addition to tone and level controls, a toggle switch allows for selection of treble, mid, or bass. As Mick remarked, “When we were running [the treble boost pedals] into the amps that were overdriving a bit, I wanted all the bass on, whatever bass option [the pedal] had, I wanted it on…it just felt like it got a bit thin.” On first impression, this made that toggle switch for less bass a little unnecessary. However, when the signal was stacked with another overdrive pedal, Mick noted that the double dose of bass frequencies seemed redundant. “When everything’s really hammering loud and there’s loads of bottom end, [that switch means] you’re just distorting those upper frequencies.” As Dan responded, “yes, it just finds that spot and then punches into it.”
Be Aware of the Behavior of a Treble Boost Pedal in the Context and Order of Your Pedalboard
Notwithstanding Mick’s either excellent or atrocious idea for a germanium pedal refrigeration unit, the dialogue around this point was highly relevant for thinking about the behavior of some treble boost pedals.
Fans of fuzz will identify with need to be aware of when and where to stick pedals with germanium transistors. As Dan noted, since many of the best treble boosters behave likewise, it’s important to be aware of some best practices for pedal placement. Know the quirks and then work around them. He commented, “Generally, the treble booster would go first. The only time you could argue it wouldn’t go first is if you’re using a germanium fuzz face, but it really just depends on the sound you’re going for.”
The gents of TPS experimented a bit with the partnership of the Analog Man Sun Face NKT (Red Dot) fuzz and the Analog Man Beano treble boost. When the Beano came after the fuzz, the sound had its moments but bordered on nearly uncontrollable. When placed before the fuzz set at a moderate level, the germanium tag-team seemed to play better. As Dan remarked, regardless of the position, it will take some tinkering to make those components interfere as little as possible with their neighbor. Mick concluded that, “context would be everything with that kind of sound. Because you’ve carved away so many bits of it frequency-wise, in the context of a mix where you’ve got bass and drums, then I could see how that would be a cool sound.”
No matter what tools you’re looking for to sculpt your tone, stop in to check us out in store and online. And don’t forget to subscribe to our weekly newsletters for more TPS, the Riff City Sunday Papers, and daily doses of the best gear around.
TPS Rig Rundown
Guitars: Fender ’60s Reverse Headstock Stratocaster; Fender Custom Shop 1963 Telecaster; Gibson Custom 1958 Les Paul Standard; PRS DGT Model.
Amps: Marshall 1987x with 2061 2×12 cabinet with Celestion G12H Anniversary Speakers; Vox AC15C1 with Celestion Greenback.
Pedals: D’Addario Pedal Tuner, DWJ Boutique Pedals Treble Booster, Analog Man Beano Booster, Keeley Java Boost, Plosive May Booster, Bigfoot Passive Treble Booster, Analog Man Sun Face NKT (Red Dot); Kingsley Page Booster, TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2.