How Did They Get That Tone? Part 4: Speed Demons

Glenn Sutton teaches guitar, electric bass, keyboard, theory and improvisation for over 30 years, he specializes in rock, blues, jazz, Latin, Brazilian, classical, country, and folk.

Guitar Tone Series Part 4: The Speed Kings

If you haven’t had a chance to read the first three articles in the series: The Clear Blues, Experimentalists, and Grunge and Edgy, you might want to revisit these styles before you enter the realm of the blazingly fast fingers. In this, the fourth article of the Guitar Tone Series, we will look at several guitarists who, because of their technical prowess, could play faster than most but still maintain a signature sound.

Eddie Van Halen

Edward is another guitarist who many have tried and failed to copy. His secret has always been to use his pyrotechnics for the betterment of the song, rather than as a means to itself. He started out with a homemade guitar plugged into a Marshall, and he still keeps things relatively simple. His tapping technique has inspired countless imitators and fans.

Recommended Recordings: VAN HALEN, DIVER DOWN, A DIFFERENT KIND OF TRUTH

Joe Satriani

One of the most acclaimed guitarists of the modern age, Joe Satriani has recorded and released numerous great solo albums. He toured with Deep Purple as a last-minute replacement for Ritchie Blackmore in 1994 and currently plays in Chickenfoot with Van Halen refugees Sammy Hagar and Michael Anthony. He uses his Ibanez guitars through a Boss D-1 distortion pedal.

Recommended Recordings: SURFING WITH THE ALIEN, FLYING IN A BLUE DREAM

Mark Knopfler

The former Dire Straits front man and guitarist is acclaimed for his clean, Claptonesque guitar work and understated song crafting. His speedy soloing at the end of their breakthrough single “Sultans of Swing” remains a favorite. Although he would change his guitar sound around the time of “Money for Nothing,” his tone typically sounded like an “out of phase” Stratocaster. His secret weapon was his finger work.

Recommended Recordings: DIRE STRAITS, BROTHERS IN ARMS, MAKING MOVIES

Billy Gibbons

The longtime ZZ Top guitarist’s unique tone is largely achieved through putting one track through a preamp and the other through a pair of microphoned amps. His harmonics are achieved by hitting the string with the nail of his first finger just before hitting the string with a pick.
Recommended Recordings: DEGUELLO, ELMINATOR-ZZ Top

Carlos Santana

Ever since making a splash at Woodstock, Santana and his band have been the leading proponents of Latin-tinged rock. Although he has played numerous guitars over his career, he currently plays a PRS guitar designed exclusively for him. He runs this through three different amps. A pedal switch allows him to alternate between amps to get the desired sound.

Recommended Recordings: THE ULTIMATE COLLECTION, SUPERNATURAL, ABRAXAS

Jimmy Page

No series on guitar tone would be complete without mentioning the talents of the legendary Led Zeppelin guitarist. His versatility was based on the multitude of guitars and amps he used. Still, his sound is unique and unmistakable; he is another example of the adage “it’s all in the fingers.”
Recommended Recordings: LED ZEPPELIN, HOUSES OF THE HOLY, PHYSICAL GRAFFITI

Brian May

It may be hard to believe, but Brian May of Queen has been making his own guitars since the age of 16. He still prefers his homemade axes, and uses a coin as a pick. He uses a rack of effects pedals, and uses Vox amps almost exclusively.

Recommended Recordings: QUEEN CLASSICS, A NIGHT AT THE OPERA-Queen

Conclusion

Every renowned player has a tone that you can achieve. With a bit of research, you can find out what he or she uses to get their signature sound, and work towards achieving it. Read on to the fifth and final installment of this series that explains why studying these different genres will improve your own playing.

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