Amplifiers and Guitar Sounds

Due to numerous requests from guitarists visiting, here are details on some of the amplifiers and guitar sounds I have used since I started recording.Firstly, it has to be said that the majority of your sound comes from your hands. That's the beauty of the guitar - it responds to the touch of the player. That's also why we all sound different, but we can make some choices as to the basis of our sounds…

I have always loved the Les Paul guitar and I have played it on the vast majority of records I made. It is very different to a Strat - many would say less versatile in the choice of sounds available, but it delivers the notes with a spit and kick that no other guitar can match. I dearly love my PRS guitars too. They are built on the basis of a Gibson rather than a Fender and are beautifully made. (Even if they can't quite outgun my Les Paul!)

So, on to the amplifiers. On any record up until 1981 you can be assured that I played my Les Paul Custom through a Marshall 50 head and 4x12 angle front cab. The speakers were not Celestians, I replaced them with Goodman speakers. Any Strat sounds on Project albums pre 1981 were from a 70s white Strat, which was just a part of many instruments we kept as a kind of Project arsenal. It was a truly horrible guitar! In these days we used careful mic placement for the basic sound and used the studio's effects if they were needed. I never owned a stomp box

In 1981 I bought a Mesa Boogie Mk2B and used that for a few years. I even tried a few Strat sounds with a custom Strat built by Roger Giffin. I still regard the mid 80s as a "lost period" for me. I seem to have set aside my Les Paul bluesy style and started experimenting with Strat derived guitars and sounds. Some of it worked well, (check out the Marie Claire clip in the MP3 section) but it's obviously not what I was sent here to do! I somehow re-discovered my own style and identity again and stuck with Gibsons and PRSs. I also discovered the Mesa Triaxis and Mesa's stunning power amps. I have used a 295, 290 and the 20/20. I sold the 295 but still have the other two.

Touring Rig
Here is a list of what went into the touring rack I built for touring with the Project. In order to cover the whole period from Marshall 50 through to Triaxis, I decided to build a rig whereby I could play through two rigs at once. So, there was a Marshall JMP1 with a Yamaha SPX900 & Intellefex for effects as rig one, then a Triaxis with a TC G-Force producing it's effects as rig two. These two rigs shared the Mesa 290 power amp and a stereo 4x12 cabinet. It was ridiculously versatile, (if a little heavy!!) and very robust. There is a certain amount of home built electronics to make it all possible but I still think it was worth it.

Studio Rig

For studio recording I use a slightly higher spec rig consisting of: A Triaxis, Yamaha SPX1000, TC2290, TC1210 and the Mesa 20/20 power amp. Rather than cascade the effect units, I use a Tascam TMD1000 digital mixer to send to each effect individually.

With either of these two rigs, I can create the sounds in their entirety so that they are "ready made" for recording.

It takes a lot of time and tweaking to get your sounds just right. You need to achieve a nice touch response from the guitar in each sound as well as any dynamics, EQ or effects.

The best advice I can give is "if in doubt, use less of it"! When you have a lot of things at your disposal, there is a tendency to try to use all of them. Think in terms of extreme subtlety, and you can produce sounds that are so right, you just hear a great guitar sound - and don't notice the effects.

I still have the original Marshall 50 head and a Fender Super Champ in addition to all the rack gear. You probably noticed that they are all tube amps - but it's worth remembering you can still get a great recorded sound out of the most basic of amplifiers by careful mic placement and a good sounding room. Lastly, remember your guitar has a tone control...