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Guitarists: the tone of Joe Satriani (Updated Feb 2012)

After Robert Smith and Jeff Beck, I thought it was time for some virtuoso action with the almighty Joe Satriani. If you don’t know who Joe Satriani is and you play the electric guitar, you probably have been abducted by Aliens in the 70s only to be returned to earth last week (go get “Surfing with the Alien” right now).

In this post we will look into his gear and learn how to recreate the same kind of lead tone using just a few common pedals that I will demo in a video. Although his studio albums – especially since the late 90s – feature a lot of different pedals and textures, Satch has a simpler approach on stage. 90% of the time, he uses the same recipe for his tone and the rest, as always, is in the fingers.

Photo by CodePoet taken on 2008-10-26 @ Variety Playhouse, Atlanta

Although he played a Kramer Pacer on “Surfing with the Alien”,  Satriani quickly became an Ibanez endorser in the late eighties and remains one today. His Ibanez signature JS family of guitars has not stopped growing. The “classic” workhorse model is the JS1000. There is a more affordable version named JS100 and more esoteric models like the newly released JS2400 with 24 frets or the JS1600 without tremolo. The JS1000 that he uses the most has a bolt on neck, 2 Di Marzio custom humbuckers and a floyd rose type of blocking tremolo system with fine tuners.

As such, it is very representative of 80s “guitar technology” after Eddie Van Halen took a Stratocaster-like guitar and put a humbucker and a floyd rose on it, making it a bit of a cross between a Fender and a Gibson. The pickups were specially designed for this line of guitars and I must say I especially like the neck pickup which has a very “glassy” almost Stratocaster-like quality. On the JS1000, the humbuckers can be split to sound like single coils, pretty versatile. The blocking tremolo system allows for much abuse and Satch is a great abuser, he can get the wildest effects out of it and still stay in tune.

Amps and Effects

In the eighties, unlike many other fellow metal or rock guitarists, Satriani often did not get his big distortion tone from a super cranked Marshall boosted by some overdrive pedal. He used (and still does) distortion pedals in front of a clean amp. The BOSS DS-1 orange distortion was a very important part of his tone from the eighties all the way to about 2009 when his own VOX Satchurator distortion pedal was released. I went to his “Super Colossal” tour show in Paris in 2006 and I distinctly remember  seeing him switching from clean to his signature lead tone by pressing on the little orange pedal in front of him. I am 99% sure it was a DS-1. This surprised me because it was not long after his own line of amplifiers (the Peavey JSX) had been released and there were quite a few behind him on stage. Although these amps are highly capable of providing lots of gain, he was obviously just using them clean and getting his distortion from the DS-1.

Now on the topic of the DS-1, it is loved by some and loathed by others. Some find it synthetic sounding or thin, etc. Let me tell you that it is not the kind of pedal that will sound great through any rig, it works well with some guitars and amps but can sound horrible used with others. Also, it does not have 100 sounds but one so if you love it, you’re in luck, if you don’t, you will be tempted to throw it out of the window. That said, a lot of pros use it and get great tones out of it and it has been in the BOSS catalog for over 30 years now! This controversial aspect of the DS-1 tone explains why it is one of the most modified pedals on the market. There are great mods by Analogman, Robert Keeley, Monte Allum, etc. It seems that in more recent years, Satriani was using a Keeley version (like his pal Steve Vai) although I am not finding any hard evidence of it. Update Feb 2012:  in this awesome interview on Satch answers this question: “Well, I would use clean channel of the JFX. I’d get a slightly altered, vintage Boss DS-1. I can’t tell you the alteration, though, that’s a secret!“. That settles it but as far as what the alteration is, the question remains.

The BOSS DS-1 Distortion: love it or loathe it

It is funny to see that tone purists on forums are quick to qualify Satriani’s tone as bad, you know the “he should use a Les Paul 59 and a bassman from 1756 instead of an Ibanez and a cheap BOSS distortion” kind of remarks. Let me tell you that I have seen lots of great guitarists on stage and Satriani’s tone is one of the best I have heard. It really serves the songs and compliments his playing.

There are two other effects that are an important part of Satriani’s tone: delay and wah. He has used up to 3 delay units in series in the 90s. He has never been a fan of rack mounted gear and all his effects were usually pedals placed in front of him. The exceptions were two rack mounted chandler delay units that he would use on top of an old BOSS DM-2 analog delay or DD-2 digital Delay (see this guitar geek entry). His settings for the three delays were interesting: the first delay was quite short, the second delay longer and the third even longer. The blending of the three gives a very spacious tone. If you don’t have three delays you can try this with your favorite recording software, this sounds a bit like a reverb without using a reverb.

In the last decade, he went back to using one good delay pedal, often an old BOSS DM-2: see photos of his 2010 experience Hendrix tour pedal board.  Of course, Satch now has his own delay pedal made by VOX, the Time machine. As to wah pedals, he used an old VOX model in the early days and a few years back he was using a Jim Dunlop 535Q, but he now has his own model made by… VOX: the Big Bad Wah. This is no coincidence that the first three pedals he designed with VOX are a distortion, a delay and a wah because these are the basics of his tone. An overdrive called Ice 9 has just been announced by VOX in the same range.

On the subject of amps, as I mentioned before, he rather uses them clean. In the 90s, he was using a Marshall Anniversary head and later on switched to his own line of Peavey JSX. Apparently, he is going back to Marshall after his short stint with Peavey.

To summarize, a good wah, a distortion and a delay plugged into a good clean amp is the basis for Satriani’s tone on stage. I am not saying that it is all you need to reproduce Satriani’s every tone, I am saying that this is the recipe for the lead tone he uses live about 90% of the time, especially on classics like “Surfing with the Alien”, “Satch Boogie”, “Ice 9”, and so on. Amongst the remaining 10% of the songs, some can be heavily reliant on one particular effect like the Digitech whammy used on “Cool #9”; the Electro Harmonix POG used on “Super colossal” for that super fat tone; or the Fulltone Ultimate Octave for several other numbers. I must also mention the use of modulation effects like a BOSS CH-1 chorus, a BOSS BF-2 Flanger or a univibe clone such as the Fulltone Deja Vibe. This is especially obvious on his clean tones although his pedal board has not been consistent in that respect. Pedals come and go with the different tours and albums.

Let’s redo Satriani’s Lead Tone

For this endeavor, I have used a RMC1 Wah pedal, a stock BOSS DS-1 distortion and a BOSS DD-3 delay plugged into my trusty Fender Silverface Champ set fairly clean. I don’t have an Ibanez-style guitar so I have used my Gibson SG 61 Reissue since humbuckers are a must for Satch’s lead tone (I accept donations in the form of JS1000s 😉 ).

A pity I don’t have a floyd rose kind of tremolo, I should not have sold my shredding guitar. If there is one thing that I have discovered, it is that Satriani has an extremely clean technique (emphasis on extremely clean) that my gruff style cannot match in a million years. Also, I am not able to reproduce the super smooth legato runs that Satriani is a specialist of as I am used to picking every note. Nevertheless I sure had lots of fun getting my old DS-1 out of the closet!

The settings were:

  • BOSS DS-1: DIST almost on max but not quite, LEVEL at 12 o’clock and Tone quite low at 8/9 o’clock
  • BOSS DD-3: LEVEL at 10 o’clock, FEEDBACK at 12 o’clock, TIME at 2 o’clock and MODE at 800ms.
  • On the amp: Volume at 3, BASS at 10 and Treble at 2.5 (the amp is fairly bright as a lot of fender amps are)

2010 year of the guitar?

I don’t know what  is happening but obviously the guitar is back. A number of big names are releasing or have just released ambitious albums.

First of all, Joe Bonamassa, who is an absolute guitar freak and has one of the biggest tones in Blues Rock has released just a few weeks ago an album entitled “Black Rock“. It sounds absolutely killer, after listening to it I feel like selling all my guitars on ebay. Here is the trailer for his Royal Albert Hall DVD released last year, the guy is 100% genuine, a real guitar lover:

Another big name, Slash, has just released his new album entitled Slash. It is full of guest singers and musicians such as Ozzy Osbourne, Chris Cornell, Fergie, etc. You can buy it and listen to it on It rocks, it sounds big but is not overproduced, quite remarkable! It sounds a bit like Guns’n Roses recorded with 2010 technology.

Here is the trailer for the album:

And finally, Robben Ford and Michael Landau have teamed up for an album which should be released around now. It is entitled “Renegade Creation”. The myspace page of Michael Landau features some live footage of him playing with Mr Ford. For those of you who don’t know Robben Ford or Mike Landau, let’s say they are at the top of the heap of US session and stage guitarists. Their solo stuff is on the blues jazz fusion side of things and I am sure the album will be well worth a listen.

Renegade Creation

Guitarists: the tone and style of Jeff Beck

I don’t think Jeff Beck needs any introduction, he is one of the inventors of rock guitar, has traded licks with everybody and, more importantly, is one of the most original rock guitarists out there.

We will see in this post how we can emulate his tone using simple effect pedals and talk about his style. If you are unfamiliar with Jeff Beck, I advise you to start with his “Live at Ronnie Scotts” released in 2008, this is Jeff Beck on stage at his best, truly amazing music.

Jeff Beck
Courtesy of – click on the image to see Jeff Beck’s bio

Jeff Beck to me is the perfect example of the fact that the tone is in “your fingers”. Granted, you need a bit more than your fingers to create a guitar tone but let’s say that in the case of Jeff Beck, the gear is really not more than half of his tone. Some people say he is a walking multi-effect unit and there is some truth in that. However, we will see that his choice of gear allows him to use all his sound tricks and amazing technique.


Although he has used a lot of different guitars over the years including Les Pauls and Telecasters, Jeff Beck has been associated with the Fender Stratocaster for a good 30 years now. He exploits all of the tonal capacities of the Stratocaster: use and abuse of the tremolo arm, brightness of the bridge pickup, mellowness of the neck pickup, swells using the volume knob, slapping, etc.

Jeff Beck strat
The current Jeff Beck stratocaster model

It is also interesting to see that like his fellow brit Eric Clapton, Jeff Beck has had his own Stratocaster signature model since the 80s and this signature model has changed over the years. I remember drooling over first Jeff Beck models equipped with lace sensor pickups, including a curious humbucker in the bridge position. Nowadays, the Jeff Beck Stratocaster model features Fender noiseless pickups and a modern LSR roller nut tremolo system.


Jeff Beck is quite partial to good old Marshall amps. I had the chance to see him live in Paris in 2001 and he was using JCM 2000 DSL 100 stack amps. It is a configuration he used for most of the last decade. The gear heads have noticed that for his “Live at Ronnie Scotts” in 2008 and subsequent live appearances, he seems to have been using a Marshall JTM-45 head and a Vintage Modern one. Jeff Beck’s overdriven tone has definitely a Marshall quality to it. Check out this video of Jeff Beck’s guitar tech for more information about his amp settings. According to him, most of the tone heard on the “Live at Ronnie Scotts” comes from the JTM-45, with the bass totally rolled off and a lot of the EQing is done right from the guitar, using the tone control. On this topic, normal stratocasters do not have a tone control for the bridge pickup but the Jeff Beck model has a general tone control and a TBX control.


Jeff Beck, throughout his career, has been using very few effects between his guitar and his amp. He was famous for using the Proco Rat distortion in the 80s and also a flanger at some stage during that period. When I saw him in Paris in 2001, I only saw a wah pedal between his guitar and his amps. For the live at Ronnie Scotts and subsequent live appearances he has been spotted using a quite rare and expensive Klon Centaur overdrive pedal to get more overdrive (or maybe to make up for the fact that the JTM-45 has less distortion than a more recent Marshall amp).

Now where it gets tricky is that it is not because he does not have many pedals between his guitar and amps that he does not use any effect. Actually if you listen to any of his studio recordings, there is clearly quite some reverb added to the guitar sound and often some delay too, making it very spacious. When I saw him live, I could clearly hear quite some delay and/or reverb added at the mixing console. On a side note, the amount of reverb one would require in a live situation depends on the venue – no need for a reverb if you play in a church for instance.

During the “Live at Ronnie Scotts” show, you can see from the DVD footage that a Lexicon ALEX reverb unit is stacked on one of his amps and people have clearly witnessed Jeff Beck manipulating it during the show. It is speculated that Ronnie Scott’s being a small-ish venue, Jeff Beck brought his own reverb to create the spacious tone he is known for. Now did this reverb unit fit exactly in the chain, it is a mystery to me although we can suppose it was either in the loop of the Vintage Modern head or between the overdrive and the JTM-45, or perhaps it was connected to the console and was affecting the sound of the miked amps.

Let’s recreate Jeff Beck’s tone

To recreate Jeff Beck’s tone, I have deliberately decided to use one of the most common and cheapest overdrives on the market, the BOSS SD-1, plugged into a clean amp. I want to show that you don’t need a monster Marshall amp to create an impression of Jeff Beck’s tone, just a good overdrive or distortion pedal. An SD-1 will be closer to the tone of his earlier works, I have the feeling he uses more gain these days.

I have also decided to add a BOSS RV-3 reverb to give quite some spaciousness to the tone and that’s it. One overdrive, one reverb… and a Fender Stratocaster of course. My Stratocaster is an American Classics Custom Shop model equipped with noiseless pickups from Kinman. It features a “normal” tremolo system and I must say it was difficult to remain in tune while abusing it.

To sound more like Jeff Beck, it is not really the gear that does it, the hardest is to emulate his numerous techniques right on the guitar (check out my video):

  • first and foremost use of the fingers instead of a plectrum
  • slapping: Jeff Beck often pulls the string the same way a bass player does when slapping, it is very effective on a strat to create a percussive kind of tone
  • volume swells: use of the volume control on the guitar to suppress the attack of the notes and thus create a “violin” like sound
  • use of the volume knob to control the amount of dirt in the tone
  • tremolo arm: either for gentle vibrato or more drastic effects, Jeff Beck is one of the top masters at using the tremolo arm
  • use of different pickups: the bridge pickup for brightness, the neck pickup for mellowness

This is just to name a few. I have created a video to show some of the different techniques (this is a rather bad piece of music in itself I realize it, but this is not the point 😉 ):

The settings were as follows:

  • On the Champ: Volume 2.5, Bass 10 Treble 2
  • On the SD-1 : Gain on full, tone at 9 o’clock and level at 1 o’clock
  • On the RV-3: Mode Hall, Balance at 1 o’clock, tone at 10 o’clock, Time at 1 o’clock

It was recorded with a Boss Micro-BR, miked with a shure SM-57 and mixed in Cubase 5, bits of compression were added to the guitar and the overall mix.

Finally, here is a short sample showing the basic clean sound I have used augmented first by the BOSS SD-1 and then the RV-3 Reverb:

[audio:|titles=Jeff Beck FX Before and After]

Guitarists: Robert Smith of The Cure

I could have started this series about guitarists by featuring a fast heavy metal guitar slinger (and believe me, I love them) but instead I have decided to scrutinize the style and tone of The Cure‘s Guitarist: Robert Smith. We will also see how we can reproduce his tone using some common pedals.

image courtesy of

The Cure formed in 1976 as “the Easy Cure” to be renamed “The Cure” two years later. Characterized by a dark sound  and gloomy lyrics, it was at the forefront of a movement labeled as new wave alongside acts such as Joy Division. The Cure is still in activity today and released an album (4:13) in 2008. Although the line up has changed constantly through the years, guitarist/singer Robert Smith has been a constant in the band (alongside bass player Simon Gallup) and the main writer/composer. Look here for a complete biography of the band.

As a guitarist, Robert Smith is very much into creating atmospheres using various modulation effects as well as delay. Starting with the disintegration album released in 1989, the Fender Bass VI, a baritone guitar, became an essential part of his sound and he is one of the rare users of the instrument in the realm of rock.

But I will focus here on an album which, to me, defined The Cure sound: Seventeen Seconds released in 1980. In particular, this album features ‘A Forest’. This song was so influential in the 80s that I remember it being the very first song I ever played in a band (I was playing the keyboards at the time and was shockingly bad at it).

The production of  ‘A Forest’ is explained in details in the December 04 edition of Sound on Sound Magazine. What is particularly interesting in this article is the fact that the base of the guitar sound was a Fender Jazzmaster plugged into a Roland JC-120 whose built-in stereo chorus  and clean tone was captured using two microphones. On top of that, a lot of outboard effects (flanger, delays and reverb) were used to create that very atmospheric sound. At the beginning of the song, the guitar sound is fairly dry, only some modulation is present and towards the end more delay is introduced.

This pattern is reproduced in this quite early live rendition and Robert Smith uses pedals to reproduce the studio tone:

There are plenty of versions of this song on youtube and you’ll notice that in the more recent versions, the guitar tone is even more modulated and that quite some delay is added.

Let’s try to reproduce this particular tone using these simple pedals (the makeup and the hairdo are optional but they help in getting the tone right):

  • A Boss BF-2 Flanger (now replaced by the BF-3 but easy to find on the second hand market). The settings were manual 60%, Depth 75%, Rate 50% and Res 25%.
  • A Boss DD-3 Delay: all knobs more or less at 50%.
  • A Boss RV-3 Reverb (discontinued too and replaced by the RV-5): balance 25%, tone 30%, r.time 40%, mode 10.

Of course, other brands than BOSS are fine to emulate Robert Smith’s tone as long as you have a good chorus or flanger (a flanger is preferable but a strong chorus can do the trick) but the man himself uses a BF-2 (he actually has been using the whole Boss modulation/delay collection over the years).

In these examples, I use a Fender Custom Shop American Classic Fender Stratocaster from 1997. It is equipped with noiseless Kinman pickups (the av-n blues set) and plugged into a Marshall JMP-1 preamp set clean (channel “clean 1”, gain 9) and plugged straight into the recorder, a Boss MICRO-BR. The drums are provided by the drumbox built in the recorder.

Guitar only first (first part is clean, second part has the BF-2 flanger on, third part has the Boss DD-3 delay and the flanger on):

Audio MP3

And now an attempt to capture the atmosphere (I have played the intro followed by a kind of improv) :

Audio MP3
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