Boost Pedal for Jazz?

So, why would I want to use a Boost Pedal between my guitar and my amp? First off, I have a nice guitar I’m super happy with and I’ve used this same guitar for gigging, teaching and recording most of my career. It’s an old 68 Gibson. I’ve always found that although I like the sound, the output has always been low and a little thin.

The other thing is that like many jazz guitarists, I like to use a small amp. I especially like all the small tube amps with EL84 tubes. This of course is my own personal taste. Even though, for a long time I opted for a nice loud, lightweight “Acoustic Image.” It wasn’t my ultimate jazz guitar sound but volume was never an issue and it sounded pretty good.

Currently, I’m back to using a small tube amp and love the sound. It’s great for recording but a little shy for volume on some gigs and when I have my regular Monday night rehearsals with the big band, I’m really pushing it.

I was curious about the pickups in my guitar and if their were any known issues with some of the older Gibson Pickups. Like most Gibson owners, we hope we have the most famous of pickups, the PAF’s. Those things are worth a fortune so we all hope we have a pair just for the sake of bragging rights if nothing else. A quick search on Google and a visit to a Gibson forum, Wikipedia, and a few other sites I soon discovered I have T-Tops. I also discovered that Gibsons from 68 with T-Tops can have low output and a thin sound.

Gibson T-Top

Why do they sound this way? From what others have suggested, the pickups are just old and lose their magnetic charge. Apparently you can have a guitar tech take apart your pickups and re-magnetize them or you can replace the magnets with fully charged magnets of your choice. I don’t really think I want to do that. If they end up sounding vastly different, I’ll be a very unhappy jazzer.

So back to the pedal. I had tried something years ago that was a little homemade pedal with in/out jacks and a single knob. It was described as giving you more volume but it wasn’t like a distortion pedal. I remember that it really made my guitar speak and it also gave a nice little boost in volume.

Well here I am again in that same place; love my tone but It’s not loud enough. Do I buy a bigger, louder, heavier amp? I remembered that pedal I had tried and started doing some research. Low and behold there are dozens of companies making Boost Pedals. There are all kinds of prices, brands, features and so on.

Nice glowing tubes!

One thing I will add is that when I plug in my Fender Strat with Lace pickups, I have tons more volume than I get from my Gibson. Interesting! So I’m thinking the Boost Pedal should give me a little more oomph going into the amp. At this point I’m sold. Time to spend a few bucks and order one of these little boxes.

I went on Amazon and found a Donner “Boost Killer.” No, not the best name for a “Boost” pedal, I know. The name kind of suggests it’s going to take something away. Why would anyone want to kill their boost? It wasn’t the cheapest and certainly not the most expensive. It seemed to get very good reviews and was described as being a steal for the price. Perfect!

Donner Boost Killer

It’s very small (good thing) but along with it’s small footprint is the obvious problem: no room inside for a battery. Be forewarned, you will also need a 9V power supply which you will also have to carry around.

So how does it sound? So far I’m pleased. I’m getting a hotter signal into the amp with no added distortion at all. This pedal will distort though so play around with the volume and gain controls until you find something you like. Is my amp way louder now? No, of course not. I do have a little more volume for sure and the fact that there is a hotter signal going into the amp has added a little more tone and sparkle to my sound.

So there you have it. I’ve joined the guitar pedal craze! I’m a jazz guitarist and I own a guitar pedal!

Author: Michael Berard

Michael Berard was a part-time music professor for over 25 years at Concordia University in Montreal Canada. There he taught jazz guitar, jazz arranging, jazz composition as well as other jazz related courses. He has worked over the years as a jazz musician playing jazz clubs, concerts and studio sessions. Michael has played on numerous recordings including 3 of his own: "It's Autumn," "Little Voices" and "Good News." Michael is also the author of "Jazz Guitar Elements," a comprehensive jazz guitar method and "Jazz Reading Elements," a new jazz sight reading book geared towards jazz guitarists.