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# Not So Hypothetical Distortion Question

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this came up today as a question posed to me and after i sat back looking old and wise and gave an answer that was totally believable i got to wondering if i was right or not.

take two identical guitars but with two different humbuckers in the bridge position. one is, let's say, a tone zone from dimarzio. the tone zone features a 375mv output that attenuates the mids and lows and cuts way back on the highs. the other is a humbucker that has the exactl same output but is really strong on the highs and cuts way back on the mids and lows.

now, plug one guitar in and crank your amp to the exact point where it starts to distort...will it distort at the same place with the other guitar? in other words, generally speaking is it output or tone range that starts the distortion?

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It's an ambiguous question, not well-defined enough to answer. In theory, any amp that clips a sine wave at 375mV peaks will clip any other waveform at 375mV, regardless of its shape/harmonic content. In practice, the question becomes a complete Charles Foxtrot - are we talking about audible distortion, or are we using an oscilloscope (remember, low levels of lower order harmonic distortion are percieved as "tube warmth") ? Do we include crossover distortion in the power amp? Are the pickup levels quoted peak or RMS (a more complex waveform may have a much higher RMS voltage than a sine wave while maintaining the same peak level) ? How accurate are the meters at the DiMarzio lab? You can't solve any equation until all the terms are defined.

If the actual question is "Will X sound the same as Y?", the simple answer is "No, you'll have to tweak the knobs." If it's simply a theory question, the answer is, "Get two identical guitars and an oscilloscope, replace one pickup and see for yourself!". Once they've averaged the results of several hundred trials, they'll learn to ask more precise questions!

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If you look at an EQ curve, certain frequencies will be "louder" than the others. Let's say that the peak of one pickup is at 600Hz and the other guitar's peak is at 100 Hz. It seems to me that some of it will depend on what frequencies audibly drive the amp more easily.

Of course, I could be talking complete bollocks.

Greg

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why do i feel like i just got my pee pee whacked with a ruler by a nun?

It's an ambiguous question, not well-defined enough to answer. In theory, any amp that clips a sine wave at 375mV peaks will clip any other waveform at 375mV, regardless of its shape/harmonic content.

that's actually the answer that i was looking for so i'm gonna ease on out of here and find something liquid to salve my ego.

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In theory, any amp that clips a sine wave at 375mV peaks will clip any other waveform at 375mV, regardless of its shape/harmonic content.

Not necessarily. That is assuming that the amp has a flat frequency response, which we know isn't the case with guitar amps. Since each amp is voiced differently by selectively boosting and cutting certain frequencies pre- AND post-distortion, an amp could for example boost a frequency that one pickup has more of, making it clip before the other pickup.

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Right. That's what I was getting at.

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(Removes large foot from mouth...) Sorry, unclej, didn't mean to come off like Professor Buzzkill! I just get unanswerable questions like that twice a week at rehearsal, from a 42 year old guitarist who almost understands how his amp works, but still maintains that his Splawn, his Laney and his Engl all sound "...just like a Plexi...". No offense was intended, I assure you!

Saber, your point is well-taken, and hadn't really occurred to me until you brought it up. Good catch! So I guess the answer is actually, "No". Or at the very least, "not always".

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Saber? Wasn't it me? Saber's just better at explaining it than me.

GregP, glory-pig.

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(Removes large foot from mouth...) Sorry, unclej, didn't mean to come off like Professor Buzzkill! I just get unanswerable questions like that twice a week at rehearsal, from a 42 year old guitarist who almost understands how his amp works, but still maintains that his Splawn, his Laney and his Engl all sound "...just like a Plexi..." No offense was intended, I assure you!

Saber, your point is well-taken, and hadn't really occurred to me until you brought it up. Good catch!  So I guess the answer is actually, "No". Or at the very least, "not always".

lol..believe me i wasn't offended at all. but i did think the question was pretty succinct. there appear to be more variables than i thought but the question was simply would two pups with the same output but different frequency responses clip at the same time. the answer appears to be no and now i understand why..i think..but believe me, i knew there was no offense meant and there was certainly none taken.

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