I don't use PEDALS!Written by Grant Stab
You don't really need to know anything about electronics to understand this article. It's as simple as looking for shapes in pretty pictures. That's all electronics is, really, and now you're fully-qualified to work for Apple.
When I was an idiotic young guitarist, I'd say, "I don't use pedals. I just play straight into the amp". In truth, I couldn't afford pedals because I was a penniless scumbag and convinced myself they were unnecessary. Over the years, I've actually heard a surprising number of guitarists and bassists emphasise that they just play straight into the amp.
When I started making my own pedals and gigging with them, through all sorts of amplifiers, I began to discover a much-wider variety of sounds. This strangely-widespread idea of tonal purity from "playing straight into the amp" just doesn't really make much sense to me anymore. As I looked inside more and more amps and pedals, I slowly formed two opinions:
-Solid-state pre-amps are just big pedals, and
-Pedals do not ruin the tone of your expensive tube amp.
In the below image, look for the big triangles (op-amp chips). An op-amp is the first active component your guitar goes through in pedals such as the classic MXR Distortion+ pedal, but also in plenty of guitar amps.
In older solid-state amps, you're more likely to find bipolar transistors on the inputs. The Tube Screamer also uses a single bipolar "NPN" transistor. This time, look for the circle thingies.
What about pedals ruining the tube sound? That just won't happen. If your pedals are plugged into the front of your amp, your playing is still going to receive the tube goodness. Boost, overdrive and compressor pedals can completely change the touch-sensitivity and tone of that tube clipping, though, so can be enhancers rather than problems. A bad pedal will sound bad with any amp, though some are more popular for tubes and others solid-state.
Another thing: It's no surprise that hybrid amps such as the Marshall Valvestate series will have a solid-state input, but even modern "all-tube" guitar amps will likely use op-amp chips in their effects loops. Because the op-amps and transistors run at a much lower voltage than tubes, your pre-amp signal has to be lowered to be safe for the pedals, then boosted back up again. This shouldn't colour your tone, but will add a bit of noise to your signal - even when the pedals in the loop are all bypassed!
So get out there and steal some stompboxes!