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David Gilmour - Tone on a Budget

Issue #47

Gilmour uses a variety of guitars, and lap steel guitars, although he is most famously associated with the Fender Strat, namely his famous 'Black Strat' with white pickups .
Jamie Humphries

Looking to get that classic Gilmour tone from gear you don't need to be a multi-millionaire to afford? Jamie Humphries shows you how!

Alongside the likes of Brian May and Edward Van Halen, David Gilmour has one of the best loved and most sought after guitar tones in Rock. His multi-faceted use of sound ranges from an aggressive fuzz tone, to rich smooth overdriven tones laced with ethereal delays, to driving rhythmic clean chorus delay tones. His unique approach to tone shaping helped to craft some of the best loved songs in Rock music including “Shine on You Crazy Diamond”, “Another Brick in the Wall”, “Time” and “Comfortably Numb”.

For many years Gilmour has mixed both stomp boxes and rack effects, often with multiple amps, with elaborate custom built switching systems, giving him ultimate flexibility whilst retaining a pure and clean signal path. Gilmour mainly uses clean amps, adding drive pedals on top, although he has used Boogie amps in his rig specifically for drive. His main amps are Hiwatt heads, powering WEM 4x12 cabinets. He also uses modified Alembic guitar/bass pre-amps to add low end to the system. Effects include Big Muff fuzzes, Tube Drivers, an Electric Mistress flanger, an MXR phaser and compressors, plus a variety of Boss EQ pedals, and Providence effects.

His rack has included a variety of rack effects units for delays and reverbs including MXR, TC Electronics and Lexicon. Gilmour also uses rotary effects including a rack Univibe, Leslie cabinets and a Yamaha RA 200 rotary cabinet. His rig has included a variety of customer routers and switching systems, built by Pete Cornish, but more recently he has been using Skrydstrup loop systems and MIDI board. With his set-up he can select any amp or stomp box or rack effect combination, as well as switching midi patches with one press on his board. When the effects are not selected they're out of his signal chain, resulting in a clean pure signal.

Gilmour uses a variety of guitars, and lap steel guitars, although he is most famously associated with the Fender Strat, namely his famous 'Black Strat' with white pickups (see our review of the official Fender clone and Jamie's history of this unique guitar elsewhere in this issue -  Ed). This guitar has been heavily modified, and was even donated to the Hard Rock Café for a period of time, but thankfully was returned to David. He also uses Fender Telecasters and Esquires and occasionally Gibson Les Pauls.

Gilmour’s tone has to be one of the most requested tones that I get asked to analyse. When we decided to look at it in this feature, there were a few ways we could have gone; a multi effects unit with amp modelling, a computer or iPad based app, but instead I choose to go the traditional route, with an amp and a series of stomp boxes. As this feature is about getting his Tone on a Budget, I had to make sure that the equipment used was friendly on the wallet, so to start with I choose the Marshall Code range amp. This amp includes plenty of effects and amp models to choose from, is very well priced and widely available. I opted to produce a good rich clean tone to enable me to build my tones on. For the choice of stomp boxes I opted for the very budget friendly, but great sounding, Mooer pedals. We shall discuss effects in a little more detail later.

We thought hard about the choice of guitar. Obviously, a cheap Strat, or even a copy, would have been the easy route, but in the end I went for something a little different that wouldn’t just be budget friendly, but also great sounding, versatile, well set-up, and look right, so I decided to go for the Sterling by Music Man SUB Silo.

As I mention in the video, I was also partly influenced by wanting to use an HSS guitar, as many readers will have humbucker guitars and will want to recreate the Gilmour tone and this guitar lets me do both.

Now let's move on to effects! When tackling the Gilmour tone there are going to be a few 'must have' effects which are vital when trying to recreate his sound. Gilmour obviously has many variations on hand, as well as other pieces of equipment that help shape his sound, but the list below forms the basis of how we shall achieve a close approximation of his tone and it was also how I went about building my rig when I toured with the Australian Pink Floyd Show: 

  1. Compression
  2. Fuzz
  3. Drive
  4. Modulation
  5. Delay/echo
  6. Reverb

Compression.  Compression will help even-out performance, especially when playing with a clean tone. It can also be used to alter the attack of a note, producing a smoother sound, almost squashed. This effect is very important when performing the “Shine on You Crazy Diamond” intro solo, creating a “pop” sound to the picked note. The compressor also adds sustain, which will help with the clean solo, as well as the intro rotary effect chord. Another great use for the compressor is to push your drive pedals harder. David Gilmour uses several Tube Drivers with differing levels of gain. With the compressor you can push a lower setting on your drive pedal into a more saturated sound. For our lesson I used the very inexpensive Mooer Yellow compressor, for a classic smooth optical compressor sound. Gilmour uses several compressors, including models by Boss and MXR. You could use any of these.

Fuzz. This effect is essential for the Gilmour lead tone, and can be used for a mild drive up to a more aggressive solo tone. Gilmour will often drive this pedal hard, but back off the column on the guitar to clean the sound up, but retain a biting trebly tone. He favours the classic Electro Harmonics Big Muff, the Cornish P1, or the Sovtech Big Muff, but for this session I used the Mooer Triangle Buff pedal, which is a way to get your cost down! As I've mentioned, we can drive this pedal harder with the compressor to achieve a more saturated sound, ideal for the “Time” solo.

Overdrive/boost.  Gilmour has used a variety of drive and boosts, including Chandler Tube Drivers, and an old Colorsound drive. He has also used a Rat pedal, and the Boss HM2. For this session I chose the Mooer Black Secret pedal, which is similar in sound to a Rat. If you can afford a Rat that would be a great choice but as this is about saving money, the Mooer is a great alternative. I was looking for a pedal that would be able to produce a full rich warm tone, reminiscent of the Tube Driver. Once again I can set this pedal to a mild over drive and boost it with the compressor. The Black Secret is ideal for the solo tone of “Another Brick in the Wall”, and “Comfortably Numb” I also used this pedal to add slight break up to the front end of the “Shine On” chord.

Modulation. David Gilmour uses a lot of modulation effects, including rotary effects such as Univibe, Leslie, Phaser, Tremolo, Chorus and Flanger. As we needed so many different modulation effects I have chosen to use the Mooer Mod Factory, which is a fantastic multi modulation pedal, giving us every modulation effect we need. This will produce the Electric Mistress style flanger for “Comfortably Numb”, the Phaser effect for “Us and Them” as well as the Rotary effect on “Shine On You Crazy Diamond”.

Delay/echo. A huge piece in the Gilmour tone puzzle is delay and echo. Gilmour has used a variety of Delay and Echo units including Binson Echorec, TC 2290, and a pair of humble Boss DD2 delays. He uses delay in a variety of ways, either as adding ambiance to solos and soundscape effects, or as a rhythmic effect for tracks such as “Run Like Hell” and “Another Brick in the Wall”.  As Gilmour uses different types of delay I have once again opted for a multi pedal, in the shape of the Mooer Recho delay, that is a small compact pedal featuring three classic echo effects. This pedal was able to produce the “Run Like Hell” delay and the “Time” echo with ease!

Reverb. Although this effect isn't really featured in Gilmour’s rack, other than being in multi effects units such as the Lexicon PCM-70, it's an essential effect for producing large ambient space and an ethereal quality. Much of Gilmour’s studio reverb comes from the traditional route, recording in large spaces, and getting distance from the cabinet with the mic, or miking the room itself!! For the session I used the Mooer Sky Verb to produce a clear clean reverb, adding space to the tones created on the video.

If all this sounds like a Mooer-fest (it does! - Ed) I apologise but my aim was to keep the budget down and also to use a brand of pedal you can probably get your hands on anywhere where you can read GI. Obviously, there are thousands of pedals on the market to choose from, from the dirt cheap to the frighteningly expensive, and if you have the time to shop around you may find alternatives that work as well – but they will probably cost you a bit more! In the end, you could simply buy a lower priced Strat, a cheap combo and a bunch of affordable pedals and still get a decent sound, once you'd auditioned all your local guitar shop's range of FX, but what I have opted for should be easy to find and will do the job at a minimal price. The choice, of course, is yours!

And of course, if money isn't really an object, check out the reviews section of this issue in which we've reviewed some of the more expensive options you can find.

Hopefully from this article and the accompanying video you can see how Gilmour uses effects in a very creative way, sculpting his tone to fit the part in the song. His tone is very difficult to emulate, and is one of my most favourite tones, one I had to emulate on three large tours with The Australian Pink Floyd Show. I went the route of an off the shelf switching system made by Voodoo lab, and a mixture of pedals and rack equipment. This was still pretty expensive, but using these relatively low priced pedals for our feature I have gained some great results. At the end of the day trust your own ears and really listen to these classic David Gilmour recordings.


Issue #76

Black Stone Cherry | Eddie Van Halen Tribute

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