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Official website for EarthQuaker Devices. We build guitar effects by hand in the quaint landlocked city of Akron, Ohio.

Joe Golden's Tube Town - Overtones 101

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Joe Golden's Tube Town - Overtones 101

Joe Golden

Greetings fellow Quakelings! In last month’s Tube Town we tackled preamp tubes and their compatible peers. Hope you all found it informative and carved some new wrinkles in your brains. This month’s topic is Harmonic Overtones. We’re going to chop it up about their sweet musicality, for better or worse. And, as promised, we will also take a look into one of my coworkers’ rigs, kicking off the monthly “Rigs of EarthQuaker Devices” feature. So let’s flip the power switch and let those tubes warm up!

Overtones can be best described as a series of harmonic information. They often accompany the fundamental pitch of a note, creating a tasty complexity or timbre. They usually are multiples of the fundamental pitch. For instance, if you were to play your open A string, as the note decays, overtones will be present that give the singing string it’s tone or color. The A string is vibrating at 110Hz. The overtones present may be at octave points like 220Hz, again at 440Hz, 880Hz, etc. Or more interestingly, perhaps the overtone series contains more musical tones like the Major 3rd or Perfect 5th.  

Now, instead of a composite timbre of just the fundamental note you played (A) and it’s higher unison octaves, you have the complexity and rich timbre of chordal harmony. This gives the string its own sound and distinctive quality. The instrument has this feature built into it. We may perceive the fundamental note we played as the pitch due to its dominant nature with respect to frequency, but it’s little harmonic buddies are there, in smaller amplitude, to lend some tone!  This natural characteristic of the guitar is one of the reasons I love using electronics with it. The gear, whether it be pedals, amps, plug-ins, or whatever, adds its own overtones to the equation creating vast permutations and variation to this already “harmonic” sound. This is especially true with tubes, which are known for their rich, warm, and musical tone.    

After gigging for 20 plus years I have learned that some amps have a sound to them that almost envelops the notes you’re playing, lending a life all their own to the guitar. Some amps do this so well that it almost is perceived as a reverberation of the notes, animating the sound and giving it feel and imaging. This ability of the tube to produce even order harmonics gives the sound this robust harmonic complexity. And is the basis of guitar players’ love of tube amps! To get a grasp of this in action, just grab a Hoof Fuzz. Plug it in and stomp on it. Start with the Fuzz knob low and play a note. Start turning the Fuzz control up. You’ll hear the volume increase of course. But more interestingly, you’ll also hear the overtones showcased by the pedal when the input sound of your guitar starts to clip, or distort. The pedal is now acting like a harmonic content amplifier. All techy nerd stuff aside, the sound is spectacular and has more life and color. Every piece of guitar gear on the planet leaves its mark on your sound this way, gently (and not so gently) accentuating the inherent overtones of your instrument. Kinda rad, don’t ya think?

I’m sure you’ve come across a magical combination of gear that does it for you! We would love to hear some of your pairings that blew the back wall out of your last show! Hopefully we may have even built some of the gear you used to get there!  

This month’s “Rigs of EarthQuaker Devices” belongs to Brad Thorla. Besides being a master circuit builder, having some of the steadiest hands for surface mount component soldering (yes we do that), and ambassador of all things Quake, Brad is a titan of the traps, effortlessly holding down the drums for his band Relaxer with our President and founder Jamie Stillman. Brad doesn’t just play drums though. He’s a composer and recording artist with some mean gear! Check it.

Here's Brad's description of his rig:

Photo: Brad Thorla

Signal path 1: MIJ Fender Jaguar Baritone Special HH, modded Big Muff, TC Electronics tuner, EQD Terminal, EQD Hoof, EQD Organizer, EQD Disaster Transport SR, EQD Dispatch Master, EHX Superego, Lightfoot Labs Goatkeeper, Boss RC-20XL, EQD Grand Orbiter, EQD Depths, EQD Tone Job, into input 1 of the Kustom K200B with a 2x15 cabinet. (Expression pedal into Disaster Transport SR's "Repeats.")

Effects loop off the Superego: EQD Pitch Bay, EQD Arpanoid, Behringer Flanger, Behringer Vintage Delay. 

Signal path 2: Electric Tanpura, volume pedal, EHX Octave Multiplexer, EQD Sea Machine, EQD Rainbow Machine, EQD Disaster Transport into Ampeg with an 8x10 cabinet.

Photo: Brad Thorla

Photo: Tim Fitzwater

Well folks, that's it for this month! Be sure to see us again next time, and feel free to post your own "Rigs of EQD" in the comments!

'Til next time,

Joe

Joe Golden is a circuit builder and amp designer at EarthQuaker Devices. His touring and recording credits include Bernie Worrel (Parliament / Funkadelic, Talking Heads), Chrissy Hynde, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. He currently plays guitar in the Mark Leach band and is a Fender certified amp technician. Joe lives in Akron, Ohio.

Joe Golden is a circuit builder and amp designer at EarthQuaker Devices. His touring and recording credits include Bernie Worrel (Parliament / Funkadelic, Talking Heads), Chrissy Hynde, and the Dirty Dozen Brass Band. He currently plays guitar in the Mark Leach band and is a Fender certified amp technician. Joe lives in Akron, Ohio.