Treble boosters skyrocketed to fame in the 1960’s through their use by popular guitarists like Brian May and Tony Iommi.

While modern guitarists often have the attitude that a treble booster is something only vintage blues-dads would play in their basements, they’re just as useful today as they were back then.

What Is A Treble Booster?

Certain amps were found to be a little too dark and muddy when used with a decent amount of overdrive, so the solution of a treble booster was born.

As the name implies it’s function is simple, it raises the prominence of the high-end frequencies, similar to turning up the treble on your amplifier’s EQ.

They can be found both in fixed and variable versions, with the variable models including one or two knobs. Typically, one that controls the intensity of the effect and another that controls either the volume output or the cutoff point for the boost.

What many people don’t realize is that – by design – was also introducing some distortion into the signal as well. This was happening in two ways.

The first is that if you increase your input signal you will naturally get more distortion. This can be demonstrated by taking two guitars and plugging them into the same amp with the same settings. If one is lower output and the other has high output or active pickups, the latter will sound much more distorted despite the gain knob on the amp not being moved.

Thus, as you boost higher frequencies they also get more distorted.

The second is the pedal itself, which would contain parts similar to that of an overdrive pedal such as germanium resistors which were fairly cheap to get a hold of. They weren’t perfectly transparent, so they also imparted their own color and character to the tone depending on which parts were used.

Modern Uses

While its creation came from a need to brighten up humbucking pickups on particular amps, Brian May’s use with single coils was enough to show that it was far more versatile than that.

Today, we still have a number of great uses for it that many tend to overlook.

1) Balancing Multiple Guitars/Tunings

If you use multiple guitars when you play live you may have noticed that plugging into the same setup doesn’t always sound the same because of the tonal characteristics changing between the two instruments.

If you’re lacking a bit of treble and bite when switching to a darker instrument you can throw on a treble booster to compensate for that difference.

This same trick works for different tunings, as you can experience a similar loss of treble when changing to a lower tuning.

2) Perfect Solo Boost

You can use it as a solo boost to really help your leads cut through a dense mix more than a simple volume boost would, giving clarity and presence to boot.

A typical boost will just add volume, and if you’re using an overdrive it may also add gain as well, but a treble booster can add high-end cut, carving out a specific area of the frequency spectrum for your licks to shine.

3) Just Another Color

Treble boosters deserve to be held to the same standard as overdrives and clean boosts, neither of these can replace or imitate the sound of a treble booster, it’s simply its own flavor!

Not only that, but depending on the guitar and amp combo you’re using you may find that you prefer the sound of a treble booster to that of an overdrive. While more vintage treble boosters may sound too thick or wooly for modern rock and metal, more updated and transparent designs can maintain the clarity and note definition of the original tone more effectively.

Try taking an amp sound that you love and lowering the treble control and replacing that high end with a treble booster, take note of the differences and see which amps and tones benefit from this approach.

Closing Thoughts

Just because it’s an old effect doesn’t mean it can’t be used for modern tones. A treble booster is a really cheap, simple, and flexible piece of gear to have in your arsenal.

Experimentation is how all the best guitar tones are found, don’t be afraid to try something new!