While browsing through gear forums and threads, you might run across the term “sag” occasionally when referring to different pedals or amps. So what is sag and is it good or bad?
Sag and compression are often times synonymous terms. When a tube amplifier is cranked up hot and loud, the tubes will naturally start to compress, or sag while being pushed. This natural occurring compression is helping to create that wonderful tube breakup tone that so many of us are in love with.
Some of our favorite pedals, Wampler and non-Wampler, are designed to help create this phenomenon to make your pedal sound more natural and responsive – just like a tube amplifier. Sometimes a player will need/ want sag in their tone. Fender amplifiers, especially blackface style amps, have some very characteristic sag that makes them sound wonderful. Sag in fuzz pedals can also be a very positive attribute at times as well. (Giving you that big and heavy 60’s fuzz type tones for example.)
Occasionally, players do experience too much sag/ compression in their tone. Sometimes you will read about players that experience a sudden loss of volume when playing a high output guitar through a high gain pedal.
An example might look something like this:
“Whenever I play my Les Paul with burst-buckers through my Wampler Pinnacle Distortion, I temporarily have volume loss from my signal on the first few power chords that I play. The signal sounds almost delayed or ‘soft and squished’. This problem doesn’t occur when I use my Telecaster or Stratocaster – just my Les Paul.”
This is a perfect example of sag! As you probably already know, the higher the output of your pickup (Big overwound or hot humbuckers for instance) the harder you will drive the circuit of your pedal. Just like a regular tube amp, when the pedal’s signal is pushed – the signal will start to naturally sag.
However, this problem doesn’t mean that you can’t enjoy your favorite high output pickup guitar and your favorite high gain guitar pedal together again. Don’t let your sag be a drag – this problem is often times very simple to fix. Often times sag and compression issues with a pedal can be alleviated – by lowering your pickup height. (Check out Brian’s pickup spacing on his Whitfill telecaster below). So how much do you lower the pickup height? Honestly, it’s a trial and error approach. Make small adjustments with a screwdriver to the screws on each side of your pickup equally, until you hear the desired amount of sag in your signal.
Sometimes when you lower your pickups to make one pedal sound better, it might not make another pedal in your chain sound like it did before you lowered your pickups.
For example: By lowering the height of your pickups – you made your high gain distortion sound better, but now your Tube-Screamer doesn’t sound as beefy as it did on the old settings. When you lower your guitar’s pickups – you will at times need to adjust your pedal’s volume, tone, and/or dirt settings to achieve the unity with your other pedals.
Some pedals will naturally sound better with higher pickups rather than lower pickups; in this case you may have to decide which pedals you like the best with which guitars. In the same way that some guitars sound best with different amps, some pedals naturally sound better with different guitars. This isn’t a hard and fast rule! Every component of a rig has a unique sound to it and all your gear works together to form your individualized tone.
So is sag a bad or a good thing? When used in proper doses, sag can make your tone sound more robust and can add color to your solos while helping you to achieve some killer tone! So how much sag will you need? Only you can answer that one, so get out there and add or take away as much sag as you want until you achieve the perfect amount you hear in your head!
– Max Jeffrey (Wampler Associate)