1.12 Distortion


  • Distortion is created by turning the volume of a sound up too loud.
  • It is primarily a guitar effect, created using a pedal or stompbox, or a DAW plugin
  • We can control three parameters of a distortion effect:
Gain The volume of the input signal (before distortion)
Output The volume of the output signal (after distortion)
Tone Changes the frequency content of the output
  • Historically, artists created distortion by damaging their amplifiers
  • When the gain is increased, the wave peaks and troughs are clipped
  • Soft clipping rounds the tops of the waves and sounds warmer. It is often seen in valve amps. Hard clipping creates a wave with square peaks & troughs and sounds harsher; it is commonly seen in transistor amps.


  • The distorted signal has more harmonics, and filtering / EQ may be required to fit it well into the mix.



  • Fuzz is a dense distortion used by guitarists such as Jimi Hendrix

Jimi Hendrix – Purple Haze


  • Overdrive gives the sound more crunch.
  • It was originally created by pushing amps to play louder than they were able to

Chuck Berry – Johnny B. Goode

Bit Distortion

  • Lowering the bit depth leads to distortion of audio


  • The track can sound ‘electronic’ or ‘lo-fi’


La Roux – Colourless Colour

Modelling Distortion

  • We can use plugins to model the sound of distortion
  • Software plugins include Logic’s ‘Overdrive’ and ‘Bitcrusher’
  • We can also use hardware to emulate the sound of different distortions and amplifiers
  • Line6’s Pod emulates the sound of many different guitar rigs
  • This is beneficial as it means that you can have the option of lots of different amplifier settings without needing to own or transport the physical amplifiers



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