me am Bobbo's Quick Tips for High-Gain Tones

  • Sculpt Your Distortion

    The odds of you finding a profile that distorts just the way you want given your personal tastes, playing style, and guitar specs is extremely unlikely. But just because a profile was dialed-in in a way that doesn't quite work for you, doesn't mean you should scrap it yet.

    Use some stomp effects before your stack block to sculpt the distortion tone you want. This can be EQ, a Booster, a Distortion effect, or even a cocked Wah. Bass tends to distort in a muddy, loose fashion, which is why many overdrive and boost effects seek to reduce bass. I like to bring the bass down so that it's barely or not quite broken up - the amp gain will compress it heavily, so you still get a chug sound on mutes, but the bass is well-defined and tight, allowing clarity in quick passages and chords but still sounding big and thick. A big dose of narrow midrange can make the tone sound quite like a transistor (typical stomp box) distortion - too focused and a bit fake. However, midrange is primarily where the distortion is happening - it's what gets the searing, harmonic-rich distortion we love. This is focused around 1 kHZ. A wide boost here will make the tone more "djenty" and squishy. Treble distorts well to a small degree but as you go too high, especially once getting above 3 kHZ, it can start making the distortion get crackly/gritty. I prefer to set a peak EQ around 2 to 2.5 kHZ rather shelving all the high-end upwards. Overdrive units do more than simply EQ the tone, adding their own character to the sound - there's no strong rules here - experiment with different effects to get a feel for them. Distortion effects can add some character to the tone by pushing the signal into a slight breakup which makes the main distortion stage distort a bit differently - usually a bit rougher and with more emphasis on pick attack. But I avoid running them hot enough to become saturated - the result is usually a sloppy mess.

    The above generalizations are pretty consistent across different amps and types of distortion; however, every amp is different and require a bit of experimentation to discern how far you can change their character. For example, a Tube Screamer in front of a Marshall definitely changes the distortion from a somewhat rough crunch to a chugging thrash machine. But you're not going to get the same result out of a Fender Deluxe Reverb or a Gibson - you're more likely to get what sounds like you are torturing the amp. Similarly, you can't make a Rectifier sound exactly like a Vox and vice versa.

    Kemper profiles are often captured with a real stomp in the signal chain. In these cases I avoid adding another Distortion-based stomp effect - you often end up with too narrow of a focus and things sound fake. However, EQ is fair game and usually quite helpful. Usually such tones will be a bit thin, and I'll use some EQ to fatten the tone up.

    The Definition parameter on the amp profile is also directly associated with pre-EQ'ing the signal before the amp distortion occurs. You can crank this up to get a tighter, modern sound (an upper mid-range peak); but I usually go the other way with it, which I find sounds a bit more natural, although less aggressive. If I need to sculpt the distortion tone in such a manner, I prefer to use EQ which I have more control over.

    The Graphic EQ is the easiest to experiment with. Keep everything flat then start turning up any particular band and pay attention to the resulting tone. Move it back to 0 and try another band. Now try the same experiment but cut instead of boost. The Studio EQ is also easy to experiment with. Set one of the parametric EQ's to +6 db and adjust the frequency up and down the spectrum. Repeat with a -6 db cut. This will give you a feel for what to expect, then you can focus on improving the tone.


    I like to use a "hill-climbing" approach. I make a tweak that I think sounds good and store this as a new rig. Then I A/B the original rig to the tweaked rig. If the tweak is an improvement, I'll delete the original. If I prefer the original, I delete the new rig and start over. I repeat this process trying a few different approaches until it becomes difficult to find any tweak that actually improves the tone. Then I've max'ed out the tone, so to speak - I'm on "top of the hill".

    Try Different Cab Profiles

    These can totally resuscitate a DOA amp profile. Unless you are trying to get the exact tone of a real rig, there's a 99% chance you will find a cab you prefer over the default one. You can download TillS's cabinet pack here. These are mostly double-mic'ed Marshall 1960 and Mesa/Boogie Rectifier cabs. The Marshalls have some with T75's, some with V30's, and some with G12H's. The Mesa is the stock V30's, and it sounds huge. My personal favorites for the Rectifier cabs are 55, 56, 59, 63, and 66. These sound like there was more of that SM 57 bite in the mix. I also highly recommend grabbing Lasse Lammert's rig pack from the support page and saving the cabinets as presets.

    Don't be afraid to tweak the cabinet parameters but remember to hill-climb (see above). High/Low Shift significantly affect the very high and low end frequencies, but also change the very nature of the tone. Start SMALL. I rarely go beyond +/- 0.2 here. Character has more wiggle room. I find increasing it can bring out more of that high-end shimmer, but I sometimes move it downwards too. Again, going too low/high will make the tone sound very fake, but in smaller doses can definitely make an improvement. For TillS Recto cabs, I find they have a particular low midrange roundness or resonance to them that can kind of dominate the tone and make it a bit dull. By lowering Low Shift to around -0.4, this resonance is pushed down to where you can't hear it and the cabs open up and get crispier. Similarly, increasing High Shift a tad (+0.2) can add in the high-end sizzle that is sometimes missing.

    EQ'ing - Focus on a Mix Tone

    Loop some drums and bass while dialing in your tone. If you are creating a track, definitely re-amp - you will hear things much better when you aren't playing. My philosophy is that a good tone should sound good in all situations - low volume, high volume, inside, and outside a mix. But a great tone will always sound great in a mix at a high volume, and honestly it's more important to sound good in a mix than good solo. Pulling that tone outside the mix and lowering the volume may reduce its charm, but you'll still be able to tell its a good tone. Comparatively, a "killer" tone you dialed up in the headphones at low volume outside a mix is more likely to sound like garbage inside a mix than if you took the opposite approach.

    Always set the tonestack (bass, mids, treble, presence) controls before adding a Graphic/Studio EQ effect. Save those for fine-tuning. In some cases you might not need one at all, and this will free up an effects slot.

    It's a good idea to browse through the EQ presets that come factory with the Kemper. There's a cut-through-the-mix setting that is a good template to make a tone that doesn't fit a mix fit in. It is essentially boosting around 1.5 kHZ, with smaller boosts to the surrounding areas with more focus around 1 kHZ. I have found moving this peak upwards can get you a thin-sounding tone, but sometimes this works perfectly for a lead, where you want to cut through with a sharp edge to the tone. Sometimes, I find I prefer a lower-midrange peak, but be careful not to add too much of that boominess that resides at the high-end of the bass frequencies.

    Another piece of advice is to move the tone stack controls in opposite directions. For example, I may want to boost mids, so I cut bass to prevent too much lower mid-range woofiness or boominess to the tone. Similarly, you can boost treble but back off presence to get a brighter tone but without too much top-end sizzle.

    Sometimes tweaking EQ leads you to believe you improved the tone, when what you are enjoying is the added volume. Try to compensate final volume every time you make an EQ change. This will keep you honest about your tweaks.

  • Beware Clipping

    Make sure you have Clean Sense set low enough to avoid input clipping. If you are at minimum Clean Sense setting and still getting clipping, you need to reduce your guitar's output level. Some active pickups allow you to put a gain reduction jumper on the connector pins. Otherwise, you can lower the pickups, wire in a resistor (do research on this to make sure it is tone-neutral), run your guitar into an analog attenuator (like a volume pedal) before the Kemper, or just back off the guitar volume knob.

    Always test for input clipping using headphones on a blank (or everything-disabled) rig and make sure you are not clipping output. Use your ears before your eyes - the input LED might flicker some red, but if you don't hear any clipping, it's not worth worrying about.

    When using any kind of boost to the signal, whether it be changing a cab profile, boosting in an EQ, etc. make sure you are not clipping the output. I find that I get mild clipping as soon as the Output LED turns orange. I send via SPDIF, and have SPDIF set to 0 db. In my interface's mixer, I like the signal to be between -5 and -10 db. As soon as I even approach -2 db, even though it looks like I have more headroom, I can hear clipping. It's easy to test. Output clipping should be audible in even a distorted tone, and you'll know it's output clipping if you turn down the Volume knob and it disappears.

    The Kemper is designed to be simple to use, and from all my tests it is impossible to get any kind of clipping inside the signal chain unless you have input or output clipping (besides EXTREME examples). So don't worry about gain staging all the effects in your chain - just use the Volume knob to avoid output clipping, and you're good.

    Don't Fear the Reverb

    For a high-gain rhythm tone, a touch of reverb often helps add a natural sound to the tone. Even if you just use the Small Room Reverb at 5% mix. Every other instrument needs reverb to sound natural; and even if the guitar tone sounds good without it, it may sound too dissimilar from the other instruments and hurt the mix. This is particularly evident when using headphones.

    Don't Distort into Mush

    Hey, I love distortion; and I break this rule all the time (let's be honest - crunch tones don't shake walls). Unfortunately, too much distortion will destroy your playing dynamics - for lead players this means you'll sound like 99% of the ignorable mob of bedroom players more worried about speed than phrasing and truly expressing yourself. For rhythm players, this shows up most when creating a multi-track recording. Even when only doing two tracks and panning full L/R, it becomes difficult to hear the notes being picked. Forget about accents. Double forget about those fancy M7 sus2 chords you just learned. Quad-tracking is even worse. Generally, the more tracks recorded, the less gain you'll end up using to get a clean sound. At extreme levels distortion adds too much noise and actually drowns out the pitch of the notes you are playing. Hence, the "wall of mush" analogy.

    A good compromise is to add a compressor to the chain (or use the compressor parameter in the amp profile). It can be either before or after the distortion, but I find I usually prefer before. This makes the sound big and thick (especially for palm mutes), but allows you to use less distortion for a cleaner tone. If set correctly, the compressor will still allow heavy pick attacks to pass through, so your playing dynamics are clearly audible.

  • So is this the beginning of the Me Am Bobbo Kemper KPA Guide? :thumbup:

    (For those who don't know, Me Am Bobbo wrote a very well known (and extremely useful/helpful) guide for the Line 6 Pod HD.)

  • Yes...sort of

    I'm helping Gianfranco move everything from the wiKPA document to the site and am adding little bits and pieces as I go. No point in me making my own guide when there is already such an in-depth guide already out there.

    The Pod HD was full of unintuitive design choices, missing documentation, quirks, and needed some crazy hacks to get great tones (without relying on external hardware/software). The KPA is the exact opposite. The design is ridiculously intuitive and the design makes some rather complicated functions effortless. The only real issue is that there's such a sea of possibilities it can be a bit intimidating.

    So I think my approach here beyond transferring the wiKPA content is to make some tutorial videos, highlight good profiles, and get some artist tone-matching rigs going. I'm also pondering making a librarian application - I know there's a for-pay and an official one in the works, but I have some additional ideas in mind...

  • Thanks Gianfranco. At this point I'm not really copying many of my posts to the site bc we still have so much to transfer and i dont want to "double-post" any issues. I definitely intend to add more content such as this once the transfer is nearing completion and better organization emerges.

    As for everyone else, i just wanted to make it clear that any content i create and share here, whether its simple guides like this or clips or videos, they are free to all to use as they please. I just want to help out

  • Yep, many thanks this is extremely cool of you!
    Anything on EQ especially I find really valuable as like many people I'm still coming to terms with the sound sculpting potential of placing eq pre and post amp.

    Great stuff.

    Suhr Classic Pro, Fender deluxe Strat & Baja Tele, Gibson ES335, Ibanez S Prestige 2170FW, Eastman AR371CE, Variax JTV > KPA > Patch bay inc. Strymons (Mobius, Timeline, Blue Sky), H9 Max, TC Triple Delay, & POD HD500 > Adam A7Xs

  • I used to have a Pod500 for a while and I studied meambobbo's Pod guide a lot back then :) I will definitely give these tips a try, thanks a lot!

  • Thank you for your very clear approach on explaining complex concepts.

    Taken alone, every piece can be understood rather quickly but start adding more variables in the equation and it will become very complex, very quickly.

    This is what I like about your approach, you have done all the hard work of deciphering and you provide us with much simpler reference points that we can all understand with examples, good starting points of what is affecting what and what to expect when we trial & error on our own.

    Excellent work.