Gear used in this article:
Axe-Fx II (Original, Mark II, XL, XL+)
MFC-101 (Original, Mark II, Mark III)
With an acoustic guitar or piano/keyboard, many musicians set their volume to half so when the time comes, they have room to turn up their volume for a solo… or to just continually try to be louder than everyone else on stage!
But with an electric guitar, we all know that the volume knob on our guitars don’t work exactly the same way, especially when using an amp with distortion. The knob acts more like a gain control, than a volume control. A common technique is to roll back the volume knob on your electric guitar to “clean up” the distortion a bit. You are providing less input gain to the amp, so the tone isn’t as distorted. But then when you want to dig in, you turn the volume knob all the way up and you have your full distorted sound.
But even with that technique, you aren’t really increasing your overall volume level, how the keyboardist and acoustic guitarist can. What you need is a clean boost that is after your amp in the signal chain (if it is before your amp, it would react the same way as the electric guitar’s volume knob).
With analog gear, people use an overdrive pedal with clean settings, or an EQ pedal or something similar, usually in the effects loop so it’s after the preamp. Also, many amps these days have Solo or Boost switches built-in, which is convenient.
But in the digital world, we have many ways to provide a clean boost, especially with the Fractal Audio Axe-FX II. In the video above, I show 2 ways to create a clean level boost and engrave it with the MFC-101 Foot Controller.
The first method involves adding a Filter block into each preset that you want to be able to boost. The benefit of this is that you can have different boost settings per preset. You may want to boost your clean tones a lot more than you would boost your distortion tones. You can also link various preset Filter blocks using Global Blocks, so they all have the same setting, and any changes automatically update all the other presets. With a Filter block boost, you can also change the position of the boost in the signal chain. Maybe you want to place the block at the end of your chain, so it boosts everything before it. Or maybe you want it after the amp and cab, but before the delay so you actually increase the gain going into the delay block and create some distortion. Using the Filter block for a boost gives you a lot of flexibility.
But what if you just want to boost everything the same amount for all your presets? You don’t need to have the boost before the delay but after the amp; you just want everything to turn up at the same time. The second method I show does exactly this.
On the Fractal Audio Forums, people refer to this method as “Matman’s Global Boost Trick.” This method does require the MFC-101, but some other MIDI foot controllers can do this trick as well.
The biggest difference here is that you aren’t adding level to create your boost. Using MIDI controllers and data (controlling the level of Output 1’s MIDI parameters), you are actually subtracting level to create an unboosted volume, something I refer to as my “rhythm volume.”
Because you can assign Output 1 to a controller (its CC# is 11 by default) this means that it responds to the full range of CC data, which is 0 to 127 (off to on). Generally our Output 1 volume is always at 127, fully on. But we use a physical volume knob on the Axe-FX front panel to adjust the analog output level sent to the next device in our PA system.
Knowing this, we can use that CC data range to do this volume boost trick, and instead of our Output 1 always being at 127, we can use it at 105, for example, for our rhythm volume, then switch it back up to 127 for our boosted volume.
As noted in the video, when using the first method (Filter block), because you are adding level to your signal chain, you have to make sure that your boost doesn’t clip your outputs. Always audition and create your presets with your Filter block boost turned on to make sure you don’t clip.
With the 2nd method, you don’t have to worry about internally clipping your signal chain, because you aren’t ever adding volume in the signal chain. This boost is coming after the signal chain and again, is just bringing your volume back up to full (127), not any more. However, you can still clip the input of the next device in your PA system (mixer, powered speaker, recording device, etc.). Make sure you tell your sound operator that you have a boosted volume so he can set the gain properly for when you engage your boost.
I always soundcheck by first playing my rhythm volume and telling the sound operator that it is my nominal level. I then tell him I’m going to engage a boost and this will be my loudest signal. If I’m doing my own sound, I will sound check with my global boost engaged, set the mixer gain to nominal, then go back to my rhythm volume and adjust the mixer channel slider for the correct mix for the band.
Well, that’s pretty much it! You can actually use both of these methods at the same time, depending on the preset or how you like to boost your tones. Have fun and be heard with these volume boost techniques!