Why isn’t my clean boost pedal increasing my overall volume?

I see quite a few google searches about “boost pedals” pointing to this site and I have had several questions about them not having the desired effect, so I think a short post about their use is in order.

To put it simply, there are three cases:

  1. The clean boost pedal is placed before your overdriven amp or your favorite distortion pedal: activating the clean boost will not increase the overall volume much or at all. This is because any overdrive or distortion is inherently compressed and levels the volume. It will instead increase the gain i.e the amount of overdrive/distortion. Before the arrival of high gain amps and pedals, a lot of guitarists used treble boosters or overdrive pedals to boost cranked amps in order to achieve big distorted tones. Brian May is a prime example.
  2. The clean boost pedal is placed after the overdrive of your amp in the effects loop or after your favorite distortion pedal in your pedal chain: activating the clean boost will increase the volume but not the amount of overdrive/distotsion. I recently wrote  a post about using a clean boost pedal and other solutions to boost the volume for solos in a live situation. For overdriven amps without an FX loop, it is difficult to increase the volume through a pedal. Any clean boost will increase the amount of overdrive and not the volume (see case 1).
  3. The clean boost pedal is placed before a clean amp: it will increase the volume and might push the amp into “break up” which is a slight overdrive, depending on how much clean headroom your amp has got.

As I pointed out in a previous post, the only way to increase the volume for your solos is to somehow put some form of volume control (clean boost, volume pedal, equalizer, etc.) after your overdrive/distortion. It does not matter if this overdrive/distortion comes from an amp or a pedal. A clean boost placed before will increase the gain, not the volume so much whereas a clean boost placed after will increase the volume.

For more information, you can also refer to my previous posts about effect placement and the difference between overdrive and distorsion.

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11 thoughts on “Why isn’t my clean boost pedal increasing my overall volume?”

  1. I just found this website and perhaps I have found a decent place to comment and read.

    There always seems to be a great deal of confusion regarding pedal effects no matter where you try to find information. It’s not that there “are no rules” it’s just that the full gamut of relative options and interactions is really hard to pin down. One can give a relative order of effects in a chain but there are options and once again some effects respond differently. A case in point is phasers, flange, vibes and chorus, some swear to put them before OD or gains. Well here again is the fine case of differing effects. An OD is more tollerant of modulation than a dist. Some phasers will sound good in front some will not. Some do no like modulation after or in the loop but in reality this is where they are going to have a greater band width and sweep. Put a chorus in the loop and hear its beauty run it into something and it is muted and dulled. An MXR type phase works in front of OD or gain but a phase like a Small Stone, no way. Each effect has an option possibility and it depends on the effect itself and the overall interaction.

    A great majority of the confusion arises from generic statements without regard to the individual nature of ones guitar amp & guitar AND their interaction. Some effects will not respond well or work some amps or guitars but with others they are gold. Rather impossible to define which amps and guitars and what effects, best to listen to what commentors say (although do not bet too much they have an IQ greater than a house plant).

    What is said here regarding clean boost is eseentially true, I do find one FYI point to add and that is the relative ability of your effects loop. Some effects are just instrument level and most effects loops are line level. Some effects have a db boost switch for line level and some loops have a level adjust. Common sense will tell you that a instrument level clean boost is not going to work well in a line level loop, it cannot. I am lucky and my amp (Carvin V3) has 2 programable to channel clean boosts (one is a mod) which raise the amp vol and not the gain intensity. rather cool.

    I use all three on my board, a clean boost, ODs, and gains. I like differing options. I prefer clean boosts and ODs before high gains if one is stacking for an effect. An OD after changes the character and voice of the higher gain. Exception is that I use a Fat Boost 3 end of chain as Fuller recommends the unit, it fattens up anything without coloring it before it, but is not set to increase the vol.

  2. Thank you for your comment. You are right, FX loop capabilities differ from amps to amps and what applies to FX loops applies to every element of the chain. It is hard to predict exactly how a given piece of equipment will sound with your particular chain (and the player is part of the chain).

    Nevertheless, I still like to think that somehow “there are no rules” in a way that everyone’s taste is different. Case in point, the Boss DS-1 distortion pedal is loved by some and just despised by others, personal preferences do play a big part in how we perceive and rate a tone. That is why my aim on Guitar Tone Overload is to give advice about how to get the tone you are looking for, not absolute rules. For example, about the placement of flangers or phasers, I have shown in 2 different posts (phaser here, flanger here the difference between placing these effects before and after the distortion/OD.

  3. Sir,can i ask you about pedal placement?
    I have ep booster,rc booster,bb preamp,ac booster,riot,barber tone press,volume pedal ,crybbay,nova delay and reverb pedal…
    Im so confuse to arrange my pedal placement.
    Can you help me with this?
    Regard
    John

  4. Sir,can i ask you about pedal placement?
    I have ep booster,rc booster,bb preamp,ac booster,riot,barber tone press,volume pedal ,mxr micro amp,,crybbay,nova delay and reverb pedal…
    Im so confuse to arrange my pedal placement.
    Can you help me with this?
    Regard
    John

  5. i have a rocktron tonal booster pedal….and i hook it up with a digitech death metal….hwn i place the booster pedal before the distortion pedal it inreases volume but when i place it after the distortion pedal it increases gain….may i know why this is happening

  6. Nice website! Been enjoying reading through. I came across it while I was looking for info regarding the placement of my clean boost (Keeley Katana) and voilà, look what I found!

    I use the following rig setup.

    Boss Chromatic Tuner
    Keeley Katana Clean Boost
    TS9 Tube Screamer
    Boss ME-70 (multi effects processor)

    I know I can make present channels for both rhythm and lead tones and volume levels, but I also like just stompin on the Keeley to get a little extra punch at times.

    What is the best order for me if I want my clean boost to only act as a volume. I am thinking I would go as follows (please correct):

    Guitar-tuner-TS9-ME-70-Boost?

    Thank you!
    -Zach

  7. Yes if you want to have the boost act as a “volume booster”, I would try it at the end of the chain indeed. Be careful thoguh that the boost does not add any grit but is transparent, some boost pedal add some “dirtyness” to the tone which might not be wanted when placed at the end of the chain.

  8. I just wanted to thank you for this incredibly informative post. I almost returned my Fulltone Fat Boost 3 thinking it didn’t work the way I wanted to in front of the amp. So I decided to run it through my effects loop and, boom, perfect. Thank you!

  9. Hi
    Could you recommend a clean boost pedal that would not add grit when placed at the end of the chain into the effects return. The amp is a Matrix VB800 with an effects level.
    Best Regards
    Orlando

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