Tag Archives: Guitarists

40 years ago today…

40 years ago today, the man who started it all died a rock star death in London:

Jimi Hendrix - Picture courtesy of Wired

The tone of Hendrix is still a mystery today even if everybody is now convinced that his fingers were mainly responsible for it.

Anyway, in order to approach his godly sound a good place to start is Roger Mayer, Hendrix’s own guitar electronics guru. He still makes pedals today, make sure to visit his website. In particular, his series of fuzz is similar in spec to what Hendrix was using in the 60s.

A more mainstream manufacturer, Dunlop, has a series of three pedals in its Hendrix line. Here is a Guitar World video demonstrating them. It comes close enough…

To conclude, here is a link to a funny video of the Jimi Hendrix Experience visiting a street of Paris and positively scaring off the passers-by. This video was apparently buried in some archive vault until now…

So long Jimi!

Guitarists: The Tone of John Butler

It is time for some electric/acoustic action with John Butler. I will attempt to approach his tone using some common and relatively inexpensive pedals.

Australian guitarist John Butler was revealed to the mainstream in 2004 when his third album, “Sunrise Over Sea”, was released. This album included a huge hit single: “Zebra“. John Butler always plays in a trio configuration, hence the name of his band “The John Butler Trio”.

John Butler in Auxerre, France, 2007 - Photo by Benoît Derrier
Guitars and Guitar Style

His guitar style and and use of gear are quite original, although not entirely unique. His main instrument is a 12 string acoustic guitar made in Australia by Maton. I should actually say 11 strings since the higher ‘G’ is removed as, according to John Butler, it makes the guitar sound too trebly. This guitar is used “normally” as well as plugged into effect pedals and a Marshall amp to give it a more “electric” vibe.

From a style point of view, John Butler’s mastery of finger picking and slide as well as guitar percussion make him an interesting guitarist to study, quite fresh compared to the heavy rock super fast arpeggios type. Don’t get me wrong, I like super fast heavy metal players but it is sometimes nice to study a different style, which happens to be quite technical too!

John Butler also plays a Dobro, a banjo, a Telecaster or a 6 string acoustic guitar but I will concentrate in this post on his 12 string tone. In this interview, John Butler explains in details what guitar he uses and his signal path, which is fairly complex but I will try to summarise it here.

Signal Path

John Butler’s 12 string Maton is fitted with two pickup systems, one for the “electric” tone and one for the “acoustic” tone.

For the electric tone, the magnetic part of a Seymour Duncan Mag-Mic soundhole pickup  is used. This is what goes into the pedal chain. This pedal chain is composed of a Boss ODB-3 Bass Overdrive, a Voodoo Lab Micro Vibe, a Boss RV-2 Digital Reverb, a Dunlop CryBaby 535Q wah and finally an Akai Head Rush E2 delay. The pedal chain then goes into an Avalon U5 instrument DI/preamp. The signal from the Avalon U5 then goes into a volume pedal and an Ibanez TS9DX overdrive before going into a 1975 Marshall JMP Super Lead amp. phew… The volume pedal allows to blend in more or less electric tone, very clever…

Here is a photo of the pedal chain (source here):

John Butler's Pedal Chain

For his acoustic tone, John Butler relies on the integrated APMic pickup system devised by Maton for their guitars. The signal from this pickup system goes into an Avalon M5 Microphone Preamp. Both Avalons preamps (the U5 mentioned earlier and the M5) go into a mixer and then into a switcher box and then into the main mixing desk. This is the “acoustic” tone. But from my understanding, since the output of the two avalon preamps are mixed together, some of the pedal effects are part of this acoustic tone, not so purely acoustic then…

John Butler uses the same system live or in the studio. In the latter case, his guitar is also recorded by microphones which gives him another signal to play with. This whole system is very flexible as it can provide a pure acoustic tone, an acoustic tone with effects or a more electric tone. The amount of electric tone can be controlled via a volume pedal.

Let’s Try to Approach John Butler’s Tone

The idea in this series of posts is to try to capture the spirit of one’s tone with a minimum of gear. I hope to inspire you into using an acoustic guitar in an “unconventional” way, that is augmented by an electric guitar amp and effects. I have not tried to reproduce the acoustic/electric duality of John Butler’s setup and have focused on the electrification of an acoustic guitar. It is something than few guitarists do but which can open a world of possibilities.

I am lucky enough to own an Australian made Maton guitar, an EM225C to be precise. It is equipped with the AP4 pickup system, also designed by Maton. It is a fantastic instrument but has “only” 6 strings. So the first pedal I decided to use was a BOSS CH-1 chorus in order to simulate a 12 string tone. I then decided to use a BOSS RV-3 reverb, close enough to the RV-2 John Butler uses. Both the RV-2 and RV-3 are discontinued so you will either have to get the newer RV-5 or look on the second hand market. I also decided to use a BOSS SD-1 overdrive which is a cheap but good enough overdrive. Of course, you could be using an Ibanez Tube Screamer or any other good overdrive, including your amp’s. Finally, I opted for a Morley wah because we all love some wah action.

The final chain went:

Maton EM225C Guitar -> Morley Wah -> BOSS SD-1 Overdrive -> BOSS CH-1 Chorus -> BOSS RV-3 Reverb -> Fender Champ amplifier set clean.

I show at the beginning of the video how a chorus effect can emulate the tone of a 12 string guitar and then I show the whole chain:

The settings were:

  • Amp: 1974 Fender Champ with VOLUME at 3, BASS at 10 and Treble at 2.
  • BOSS SD-1 Overdrive: Tone 9 o’clock, Level 12 o’clock, Drive 3 o’clock
  • BOSS CH-1 Chorus: E.LEVEL 3 o’clock, EQ 2 o’clock, RATE 12 o’clock, DEPTH 2 o’clock
  • BOSS RV-3 Reverb: BALANCE 9 o’clock, TONE 9 o’clock, R.TIME 1 o’clock, MODE 9

The amp was miked with a RODE NT-4 and recorded with a BOSS Micro-BR. The recording was then transferred into Cubase 5 to add some compression (mainly to optimise the volume).

Micro-BR Multi-Effect: Jeff Beck Tone Settings

It is no secret that I am quite fond of my BOSS Micro-BR. I think it is an awesome tool for quickly recording ideas without having to fire up any (bloated) recording software. The only thing I was not fond of until now is the integrated Multi-Effect unit based on  COSM (Composite Object Sound Modeling). This technology has been used in every BOSS Multi-Effect unit for the past decade including the newly released ME-25 or the top of the range GT-10.

Like everybody else, I jumped on the modeling bandwagon when the first Line 6 POD came out. I got a bit tired of it, probably from overusing it, and a few years later I went back to a real tube amp and some scratchy old analog pedals. Anyway, I was watching a recent Jeff Beck video interview the other day and it inspired me to try to program a similar tone using the Micro-BR Multi-Effect. After quite some tweaking I plugged my Stratocaster directly into the Micro-BR and ended up with this tone:

Audio MP3

Awesome, isn’t it? This is a reminder that presets in Multi-Effects do not suit every player and should only be a guideline upon which you should build your own tones adapted to your playing, your guitar, your amp, etc. It also goes to show that the tool itself does not matter, it is how you use it that is important: I think you can get great tones form both modeling and old school analog gear.

To get this tone, the Micro-BR Guitar Multi-Effect settings are as follows (I suppose they would be easily translatable to any COSM based machine):

  • AMP: PREAMP ON, Type MS(1), Volume 100, Bass 56, Middle 25, Treble 43, Presence 74, Master 80
  • SP: ON, Type “ms stk”, Mic Set 6cm, Mic Level 100, Dir Level 0,
  • NS: ON, Threshold 40, Release 30
  • FX: Type Compressor, Sustain 7, Attack 100, Level 80
  • DELAY: ON, Type SINGLE, Dly Time 573ms, Feedback 16, E.Level 27

I also used quite some HALL reverb, the level was set at 42 on the Track. To access the Reverb settings, press twice on “Effects”. The settings were: Time 2.0s, Tone 0dB and Level at 50.

For reference, here is the Jeff Beck video which inspired me:

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 musicplayers.com. 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)
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