In the second edition of How Do I Get THAT Tone, we’re going to examine the gear setups of several of my favorite guitarists. We’re going to go over the guitars, amps, and pedals of some truly wonderful players and investigate how you can imitate their distinctive sound yourself. If interest continues, we may see more of these coming. I’d again like to thank Steve Barber for coming up with this idea in the first place, and if there is another guitarist’s rig you would like to see discussed in a future piece, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Eddie Van Halen
The recently late Eddie Van Halen was one of the most influential guitarists in rock. His dazzling taping technique, high speed picking and warbling phaser tones expanded the vocabulary of the electric guitar and the sounds we associate with rock guitar. Although Van Halen is most identified with a handmade guitar named “Frankenstrat”, which used the body and scale length of a Fender Stratocaster, but with a Gibson-style PAF bridge humbucker. While the Frankenstrat itself is obviously not commercially available, replicas are produced by Eddie’s own gear company, EVH. Towards the tail end of his career, Eddie primarily used a Wolfgang USA guitar, which was produced by EVH as well. Eddie primarily used Marshall amplifiers during his early work, but switched by the end had switched to his own brand for amps as well as for guitars.
Pedals were an important element to Eddie Van Halen’s iconic tones, and when it came to pedals, he was famously an MXR purist. His usage of MXR pedals was so well established then when surveyed, more than six out of ten guitar players named Eddie the single player they most associated with the brand. Although he used a variety of pedals, the single stompbox most essential to Eddie’s arsenal was the MXR Phase 90, which can be prominently heard on many of Van Halen’s biggest hits. Eddie would later switch to his own signature version of the Phase 90, and the MXR flanger was an important part of his pedalboard as well.
As the frontwoman and guitarist for the soulful southern rock quartet Alabama Shakes, Brittany Howard has established herself as one of the most important figures in rock and roll right now. Her rhythmically tight yet emotionally fluid approach to rhythm guitar has helped set a new standard for bluesy rock players and has become often imitated in only a short amount of time. Her warm, earthy guitar tones are largely created by her use of Gibson SGs, often favoring a white 1963 reissue model that features a third pickup and whammy bar.
Her earthy tones are further emphasized by her use of Orange-brand amplifier cabinets. Her pedal setup is simple, generating her dirtier tones with an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi fuzz pedal, and enhancing her sparkling cleans with a Boss FRV-1 reverb pedal.
My personal all-time favorite guitarist, Frank Zappa merged dense, complicated harmonies, virtuosic musicianship and absurdist lyrics to create some of the most challenging music to ever achieved anywhere near his degree of commercial success. Even though his songs were filled with satirical lyrics about werewolves, pimps, stinky feet and much more, they were always driven by Zappa’s remarkable guitar chops and unique sense of phrasing that borrowed as much from jazz and blues traditions as it did from rock and even avant-garde classical music. Although Zappa used a wide variety of gear throughout his long and prolific career Fender Stratocasters and Gibson SGs were consistent favorites of his, and he could be seen playing various Gibson Les Pauls fairly often as well.
While Zappa experimented as much with his amplifier selection as he did with his guitars, the one for which he is best known was a strange little amp made by a company called Pignose. Zappa would often use a tiny Pignose amp, particularly for his work in the early 70s, to create the jagged, fifthly tones that defined his sound for much of that era. Other than Pignose, Zappa was also known to have had an affinity for Marshall amps, often using them when seeking a more conventional electric guitar tone (). Zappa never experimented with quite as many different pedals as he did guitars and amps, and a Mu-Tron wah, Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi, and MXR flanger were all consistent parts of his board.
As the mastermind of the beloved dream pop band Cigarettes After Sex, Greg Gonzalez’s weightless, chime-like guitar tones have changed the way a whole slew of younger bands consider the role of electric the guitar in an ensemble. His understated, minimalist style leans into the sonic elements he utilizes to create guitar parts that perfectly service whatever it is each song may call for. His distinctive sound is due largely to his near exclusive use of Fly-model guitars, produced by the now-defunct manufacturer Parker. The Fly’s use of carbon fiber in place of traditional hardwood and piezoelectric pickups help create the airy, atypical guitar tones that are at the root of Cigarettes After Sex’s dreamy sound. The Parker Fly’s unusual sound is further exaggerated by Gonzalez’s use of Ampeg SVT amplifiers, Neunaber Stereo Wet Reverb pedal, and a Boss DD-3 Digital Delay pedal.