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Guitars and distortion tones
Old 18th July 2016
Gear Maniac
🎧 5 years
Guitars and distortion tones

Hi Sylvia!

First, many thanks for doing this! I love your work, your creative approach and your evil sense of humour!

My question is about getting great guitar tones on studio. More specifically distorted rythmic tones... Some doubts:

-Generally, do you prefer use pedals paired with semi driven amps to get your distorted tones or do you prefer use just a fully cranked amp without anything else?

-In case of use pedals, wich ones for what task? (overdrive, fuzz etc...) I've read on the Q&A that you used a TS-9 and JCM 800 with SOAD. What's exactly the role of the overdrive pedal in that kind of rig?

-I've read somewhere sometimes you split the guitar into two amps... it's a fairly standard approach used sucessfully by many producers but i always found tricky adjust all the stuff (two cabinets, etc...) in phase. Any advice?

-And finally i'm curious about what are your all time favourite amps.

Old 29th July 2016
Radiant Being
SylviaMassy's Avatar
🎧 5 years
Oh Great Gainey Guitars!!!!

I love the sound of an old Marshall 100-watt lead amplifier, 1970's era... To really get it's natural color and growl, you have to crank the hell out of it. I mean turn it up so loud you can't stand in the same room with the cabinet for more than a few seconds while a guitar is being played. But oh, how nice it sounds behind a microphone!!!

Sometimes it is easier to use a pedal in front of an old Marshall to get the gainy sound you want without rattling the house down. An Ibanez "Tube Screamer" will do the trick, or a "Hotcake" pedal as I describe in this thread:


Another great old Marshall head is the JCM800. When I worked with Dave Navarro and the Red Hot Chili Peppers, he used a huge stack of these amps running at the same time. Big sound!!! With this amp, you have more of gain control and can get a nice saturated tone directly from the amp's front panel. No pedals required. However, it is also a great amp to run with pedals. If I want a real fuzzy tone, say with a "Rat" pedal, I might run the amp's gain setting lower and cleaner to let the pedal do more of the work.

I have not had a lot of luck with rack mounted or big mongo multi-effect pedal guitar units like Digitech and such. I think the sounds they make are too brittle and somewhat cheesey. I will gravitate towards stringing together a bunch of pedals instead of using a guitar box of pre-sets with a digital display. There are exceptions though. Line-6 makes a collection of green, blue and yellow multi-effect pedals that are pretty damn good. Not even sure what they are called, but they don't have a digital display on them.

Super aggressive "metal" amps I like are the Diezel and Mesa Dual-Rectifier. You can get similar sounds using Boss pedals like the "MetalZone" but if you have a Dual Rec or a Diezel, you don't really need a pedal to get a brutal tone. I also love the Rivera amps and use my "Knucklehead Tre'" quite a bit in split amp set-ups... it is wonderfully aggressive but not full-on metally.

For a growly, sexy, blues tone, there's hardly anything better than a Matchless DC-30 combo. It just has the perfect color for expressive guitar solos. But besides the Matchless, I've had great luck with random little off-brand combos I've collected from back rooms of pawn shops: Valco, Piggy, Fender Champs, Kays, Silvertones, Teiscos, Guyatones and Danelectros. Of these little oddballs, I think the Piggy is my favorite... it is one of those battery operated camping amps that just screams!

A friend and previous client, Scott VanFossen, makes an incredible line of low-wattage guitar amps under the brand "Bullhead". I have one of his early designs with the tag "Fathead" that I love, but in essence it is the signature Bullhead sound. Sweet, ballsey and easily saturating.

Oh, and there is one more secret weapon... this damn Peavy Classic 30 combo, holy cow. It is a big surprise. Sam Goodenough from the Austrian band My Glorious brought it to our sessions several years ago and left it at my studio. I am taking care of it until he returns to collect it, though I am secretly hoping he leaves it here forever...

When I track gainey guitars I usually use a split amp set-up, as described here:


The illustration in that thread is the specific split guitar set-up I used on the System Of A Down debut album. Depending on the project, I will swap out the guitar heads for what is appropriate. I don't usually use compression on guitar recording, but for SOAD I did, using the old Western Electric "Army Man" compressor to get that "ripped speaker" sound. When recording guitar solos with some of the little combos described above, it will usually be just one amp, one mic to one track. Everything else, all the heart, guts and soul - well that will come from the guitar players themselves.
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Old 29th July 2016
Gear Maniac
🎧 5 years
Great!! Many thanks Sylvia!!

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