Understanding Distortion

If you want to rock, you're going to have to get dirty! Here's what you need to know about guitar effects. :)

View the full lesson at Understanding Distortion | JustinGuitar

So I just got myself a squier bullet strat with a humbucker, and a fender frontman 10G amp. And in doing so, I have already stretched my budget. Can I use the mentioned amp to do basic distortion and other stuff, because I don’t have money to buy pedals at this point.

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Yeah, quick google showed me that you have knob for the gain on the amp so you can rock with it

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Welcome, Kunal!

Sure, you can do some overdrive or distortion with that setup. Try the “OD” switch on your Frontman, and experiment with turning up the the “gain” knob. You’ll be able to dial in overdrive and distortion with those. Try it with the different pickups on your guitar. You’ll probably find that the bridge pickup is the brightest and “hottest.”

Keep in mind that the distortion you’ll get from a practice amp like the Frontman isn’t going to sound exactly like the recorded tones you’ll hear on albums, but you can definitely rock with it.

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This is the first time that IF has become such an important part of this course. I have interest in the knobs on my electric guitar because they are there, but at this stage I’m still only looking to be able to create a clean sound in the kinds of music I like. The assumption that anyone is ready to rock makes me think that this course is not for me. And that makes me sad because I know Justin has a wide sense of style. My suggestion is that this module be relegated to the section of How to Choose a Guitar, or how to restring. I don’t dislike all rock music, but distortion has never been a learning goal. And I was so excited about plaining moveable chords. Please take note.

With respect that’s like someone saying that Greensleeves should be in the Song section and Rolling Chords should be somewhere else because it’s not their bag and they just want to learn Country and Western.

Justin caters for all styles and to be fair no “assumption” is made regarding peoples interests. if something isn’t for you, move on. and practice what you do like. There is something for everybody and not everything is going to float your boat.

We are encouraged to tailor our learning path to our own needs and goals.


hi @Rabbitsears!

I think you shouldn’t worry.
the course is made up to follow the most common path that caters the most.
Most of the people like to explore some rock basics as they have a low treshold and deliver some of the sounds and songs they like “to rock to”.

Your path is different? no problem at all!

It sounds to me you might be ready for the F chord and latering on the mastering of E and A shape barre variations.
Have you looked into that yet? You’ll forget about rock and power chords soon enough.
These are the TRUE moveable shapes that will boost your possibilities!

good luck and by any means, check us out again if you’re stuck!


Justins beginner course is a broad course and it gives an introduction to lots of styles so that you have an overall baseline before you then start looking perhaps at areas that really appeal to you. Powerchords start to get you used to moving around the fret board as you would when playing barre chords so are a good general technique and get you used to understanding where your root notes are. Regardless of whether you play clean or with some distortion (and they sound better with some distortion) it’s good to learn them.

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Have to disagree, this module is labelled Are you ready to rock so advice on distortion goes hand in hand. If that’s not your bag just move onto the next on. It really has nothing to do with How To Choose a Guitar. How To Use maybe but I guess that is what the lesson is about. It is not mandatory to do everything that is taught if its not your thing.


Well now I really wish I had an electric guitar… guess I’ll skip this lesson for now

You don’t really have to miss it out, you can still play Power chords on an Acoustic guitar, it’s just playing two notes of the chord triad rather than the three; it’s still useful to learn for when you do progress to an electric guitar.
I played Power chords on my Ukulele (an electro acoustic one), this is the result: Kashmir Tenor Uke Led Zep.mp3 - Google Drive

Oh yeah, still going to try practicing power chords! They seem like they’ll be incredibly useful, for both songs with difficult chords and super fast changes. Though this specific lesson is all about distortion and other effects which don’t really exist on accoustic guitars.


If you have an electro acoustic you can, if not you can get a sound hole pickup like this: Amazon.co.uk
They’re a great option and can be transferred between guitars so when you upgrade you still have it.

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It’s just a normal accoustic, but didn’t realise you could get accoustic pickups seperately! Thanks a lot! Definately going to look into them! Though I’m on a bit of a budget and don’t have any amps yet, so not sure it’d be enough on it’s own.

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If you have a laptop, PC, tablet it can be done without an Amp, you would just need an inexpensive Audio interface plus software - a lot of which is free. Behringer U-Phoria UMC22 USB Audio Interface at Gear4music

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Not to belabor the point, but this lesson is titled “Understanding Distortion” for a reason. Feel free to skip this lesson if you do not have an electric or do not care about the content.

For those on a budget: I recently got the Nux MG30 pedalboard/modeler and it is SUPERB. For around €280 / £250 you get a lot of versatility in a very great little package, including an external dual footswitch that expands the possibilities. Operation is super intuitive and the design of the software helps you understand the effects chain better and what each part does. You can also import impulse responses (that’s like a digital copy of what a speaker would sound like), so you can really get the sound you want without hurting your neighbors’ ears :wink: I bought my unit from Thomann as a bundle, including guitar cables and a nice bag for the unit itself. And no, I am not sponsored by Nux, I just love this device and can’t put my guitar down since I got it :smiley:

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What settings should i have on the acthal guitar? I have an epiphone les paul so there is 4 nobs. 2 tone and 2 volume for the 2 pickups. I have just been having them maxed out when using my mustang mini micro headphone amp. Any advice would be greatly appreciated

Knob positioning depends on the tone you’re looking for.

Tone affects the treble roll-off. Depending on the pickups, it can take the tone from the extreme of very sharp/treble sounding, to very muffled bass sounding.

Volume also has an effect on tone, but it’s more how you balance things between the guitar and amp.
By having the guitar at full volume typically results in quite a bright/harsh sound, but if you turn the guitar volume down and get the amp working harder, it typically mellows out the sound.

The easiest way to learn about it, is to experiment.
Try out a short chord sequence or riff, and try the settings at the extremes, and inbetween

Using the volume knob is really critical in getting the most out of your Mustang Micro, especially with the distorted tones.

If you keep the volume knob on your guitar maxed out, the distorted tones will sound really blown out and difficult to control. When using the Mustang Micro, your guitar volume knob acts almost like the gain knob on a full amp.

Try turning down the volume knob on your guitar to see how the sound cleans up and then slowly increase it until you get the desired amount of distortion.

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