Clean or dirty for practicing?

How many of you are using a clean tone for practice and how many a dirty one?

Many of you probably knows this, but maybe not all of you. When you are using dirt (fuzz, od, distortion…) it can mask your errors. Which are usually more noticeable when using a clean guitar tone.

I’ve found that, for many of my practice exercises, it is better if I do it through a clean signal. The other day I tried playing stuff which I thought was sounding clean and precise when using distortion, but afterwards I tried with a clean tone, for my surprise it was not even close.

For sweep arpeggios I do find some gain is good since it helps you to develop a proper muting technique. It also works better to do legato with some gain as well.

But for checking good cordination between hands in alternate, economy and hybrid picking, for example, I do find extremely helpful to use a clean tone so you can really confirm it is being done cleanly and precisely.

For the record, I do know Kiko is not a fan of economy picking, but it does work for me. The things he can do with alternate picking are extremely impressive!

What are your findings? What do you use? Why?

I use clean tone generally but sometimes i use dirty sound for somes exercices like sweeping.
Before the courses of Kiko i used economy picking since many years (10 years in fact) but now i use always alternate picking because i find a better sound and better control !!! It was a a radical change for me but in the end I prefer the strict alternate :sunglasses:

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I think there’s pro and cons for both. The pros of clean are well said in your previous posts, but there are things that can go unnoticed with a clean signal and scream when using dirt, for example when you take away your fingers from a string: it may sound fine with clean but be a buzzing mess with dirt. I’ve learnt the latter on my own example: when I had my first electric some 20 years ago, I did no have money for amp, pedals etc. But I wanted and electric, so that’s what I got and basically practiced on it like it was an acoustic. I had this friend who was in a band, I looked up to him because he was playing circles around me. We would always talk about playing and as I progressed (or so I thought) I said that yeah I got this and that technique, song, whatever down. So we decided that I go over to his place to jam. I plugged in and everything I though was under my belt was in reality white noise! :smiley:

These days I use an extra dry distorted sound which doesn’t sound “beautiful” at all even when I’m playing good and sounds horrendous when playing bad, thus it motivates me to play better. :slight_smile:

Also, I think that if something is meant to be played distorted, than practice it distorted because one might develop a pattern of playing something in a certain way when on a clean channel which might not translate well when you kick in the dirt. And of course this is true the other way around too!


Yes, it is important to be wary about when to use clean and when dirty.

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I use dirty so I don’t hear my mistakes lol. I sometimes use cleans if i’m learning clean parts that are in a particular song. I am following Kiko’s course and now use cleans to clean up my playing when practice time is on. Then break out the gain for fun time!



I’m a sucker for distortion, unless I’m doing something which requires clean tone. I also try not to play beyond my skill too much. If I’m pushing the envelope like tremolo picking which I need practice it can get sloppy. But even in that respect I’m making progress. If I had to present I would make sure I was in my comfort zone. I just like the way distortion sounds.

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I’m the same, man. I’m a high gain player at the core. Rock, Hard Rock and Metal have been my bread and butter since I picked up the guitar.

Then, eventually, I had the chance of playing in bands with different genres, like Ska, Reggae, Funk and a little bit of Jazz. Note that in the Ska/Reggae band I was playing with a Marshall with the gain always on ten hahaha.

But yeah, I did discover gain many times masks errors and sloppy playing. And I want to be able to play good clean as well.

Also, when I play metal variants I’ve discovered I don’t need as much gain as I thought. I get more clarity and a more pleasant sound (to my ears, of course).

But we all like what we like.

I’ll second that! When I got into Revocation (I know, I mention them a bit too much… Sorry bout that, it’ll wear off eventually…) I was surprised to learn that Davidson’s sig pickups are of medium output and the sound still crushes. And I must say that I enjoy playing those pups very much, they are not missing anything, even when playing the heaviest stuff. Also, I find myself rolling back the gain knob on my dirt pedal quite often, no matter what I try to play. In my teens I looked upon active EMGs as the Holy Grail. As it turned out, I was past 30 when I first got a guitar with a set of 81/85 and came to the conclusion that I did not miss anything by not having them earlier. At times they are just way too much for my current taste.

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I have medium output PAF style (or based on) pickups in all my guitars. Except my PRS which are low output (but I love it for high gain as well).

And damn, same as you, I considered EMG’s as the metal holy grail pups as well! But once I played the PAFs and tried EMGs back I didn’t love them no more.

I took them out of my LTD and installed JB (I know JB is considered high output but, IMO, not so much for todays standards) and '59.

Now, I’m not gonna say EMGs suck, they do nail some stuff pretty great. You sacrifice dynamics for super low noise and some extra clarity.

I have this philosphy that a guitar has to be different in some aspect than the ones I already have to buy it. So as a result, I do have two guitars with EMGs: one is neckthru with 7 strings and EverTune, the other is bolt-on, 6 string Floyd. But my absolute No1 has a Nazgul/Sentient set, which - despite the name and marketing - are not even as hot as a JB. Actually that guitar had a JB/59 in it, but found the 59 a bit too bright, so swapped it for a Sentient which paired really well with the JB. But then I got a deal on a mint condition Nazgul, tried it out and left it like that. Miss the JB though, it’s sound is more “classic” metal. Also have a set of Black Winters, which are again a bit deceiving: not as hot as a JB and waaaay more versatile than the name suggests. Actually the BW neck gives the best clean tone out of everything I have. But even the JB… There’s something about it that makes it sound less over-the-top than the active stuff. I guess I’m getting old for all that sizzle… :rofl:

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Haha waiting on my 7 strings to get back from shop. Putting in EMG 81/85’s. :metal:

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I still have to get experience with many different kind of pickups.

It’s important to practice clean and distorted. There are different muting methods that have to be used for them. If you only practice with clean, then when you play what you think you have nailed perfectly clean, with distortion, you’ll be shocked at how terrible it sounds because your muting is not good enough for the pickup/amp sensitivity.

I try to practice with a wide range of tone in each session. I may start scales clean, but then progressively add more distortion/gain to get an understanding of when my muting breaks down and how to fix it. When I am practicing heavier riffs, I always practice them with the level of distortion they are meant to be played with. It just works better and there are no surprises!

Since I’m still learning basic technique, I really focus on making muting an important part of the learning process. It makes me play a lot slower than I want to, but I’m gradually getting more natural at keeping all the strings quiet except the one I want ringing.


You make a great point. I play in a Zeppelin tribute band and I realized many moons ago that Page had this glassy, clean, bright tone with just enough overdrive to sort of smooth things out. My other guitar player has this idea in his mind that Page was some super monster rock god so he always boosts his gain way up as far as he can because that’s how he hears Zeppelin. One day we were playing The Ocean and I turned my gain down to almost nothing and just let the power tubes do their thing and added a little slap back echo. Our drummer noticed immediately and stopped playing. He told our other guitar player to turn off all that distortion because the song was getting lost in all the noise. It just really illustrates the point that there is a psychological aspect to what we think we hear and what others actually hear. One of the most challenging things for me as a guitarist is to find the RIGHT sound for a song and be loud enough to be heard but not be overpowering, and that distortion doesn’t necessarily equal power or volume.


So true , the musical style has everything to do with that choice.

For me it depends, on what im practicing.
If I practice a passage from a song, that has distortion, I use distortion, because I found, that when I use a clean tone, I can develop some habits in my playing, that you instantly notice, when you turn on the distortion, eg. touching the wrong strings by mistake.

When I pay really close attention to my picking, I can find my mistakes, when I use distortion, and get my picking aligned and I hear my mistakes.

But for some more fundamental problems, or for theory practicing I use a clean tone.

For example for the string skipping part from Greystone Gateway, or for most of the fast hybridpicking stuff, I rather use a clean tone, because I dont have quite reached the fundamental plateau, from which I can build up and improve.
By that I mean, that I can’t really do the basic motion in a consistent way, so that I could really work on building speed or complexity.
If I would use distortion on that level, it’s just a mess, cause i can’t mute quite properly, or the alignment is real of.
And a clean tone is, at least for me, more plesant to my ears, when I practice for 2 Hours and more

I guess its a good training, to compare how your distortion playing sounds, when its not aligned and when your hands are really in tune.


Dirty! I can hear better my mistakes using distortion.

Some mistakes can be noticed more easily with distortion, yes. But some others get obfuscated by it, specially if you are not fretting cleanly on fast runs.

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I understand that distorted tone or tone with certain effects can mask errors.

I think it is good to be comfortable practicing both and both should be practiced.


Absolutely, it is great practice to use both.