It’s underappreciated and not as sexy as an overdrive or fuzz, but an EQ on your pedalboard can open myriad tonal doors.
Greetings, tone hounds! This column is, of course, called “Tone Tips," and I've been writing it every month for a number of years now. Still, there's an incredibly powerful tone tool I haven't yet covered: the often underappreciated EQ pedal. Most guitarists get excited about drives and delays, but relatively few have an EQ on their boards. I've just recently gotten acquainted with the relatively new Boss EQ-200 Graphic Equalizer, and it's allowed me to rediscover the magic and power of integrating an EQ pedal.
Different ways to use EQ.
Let's talk about a few famous EQ-pedal users and how they've utilized them. Sometime in the early '80s, David Gilmour started using Boss EQ pedals to fine-tune the tone from his drive and fuzz pedals, as in his Tube Driver overdrive and Big Muff fuzz pedals would each have a dedicated EQ pedal. In recent years, Gilmour has been known to use a programmable Source Audio EQ pedal as well, which allows a player to store four EQ presets.
By running an EQ after the drives, Gilmour can easily tailor the tone of each pedal with surgical precision. If you've never tried shaping the tone of a drive or fuzz pedal using a graphic EQ, you're in for a treat. It's super-easy to tame harsh or tubby frequencies, and boost the frequencies you want to stand out. Boosting mids can really make solos and leads sing.
I'd be remiss if I didn't mention Eddie Van Halen. In the late '70s, he was known to sometimes use a Boss GE-10 or MXR 6-band graphic EQ, mainly to buffer and boost the signal for long cable runs from his pedalboard to his amps. Whether he actually used the EQ sliders to alter his tone significantly is one of those ongoing rock 'n' roll mysteries. It's certainly possible.
Back in the '80s and '90s, hard-rock guitarists such as Warren DeMartini, Doug Aldrich, and Dimebag Darrell used the rackmount Furman PEQ3 for boosting. The PEQ3 was a parametric-style EQ, and the magic mid frequency for boosting was usually somewhere from 800 Hz to 1 kHz. The preamp gain control on the Furman EQ could be run hot as well, which would nail the front end of the amp with level and send it into screaming overdrive! And by mainly targeting and boosting just the mid frequencies—and possibly even cutting some lows—the tone could be kept tight.
By running an EQ after the drives, Gilmour can easily tailor the tone of each pedal to his liking with surgical precision.
Slash was known to sometimes use a Boss GE-7 equalizer in a similar way, but with one key difference. He'd run the EQ in the effects loop of his amp with the mids and level sliders boosted—just for solos. Because the pedal was placed in the loop of his amp, the level slider could provide a powerful volume boost. This is perfect for players with single-channel amps needing a volume bump for solos. Remember: If you run your amp dirty and primarily want a level or volume boost, try an EQ in the effects loop of your amp, because running in front of the amp will just saturate and overload the amplifier's front end more. Experiment! Both approaches are cool.
Radical tone shaping.
I've used EQ pedals in front of amps to shape pickup tones. You can make boom-y, wooly neck pickups "speak" with the clarity and cut of bridge pickups, and you can easily warm and fatten up harsh bridge pickups. I've also run an MXR 10-band graphic EQ in a slaved-style rig—post amp, after a load box, and before a power amp. Running the EQ after the load lets you fine-tune the tone before you hit the power amp, which mitigates the effect the load box may have on your core tone.
Running the Boss EQ-200 in the effects loop of my Suhr PT15 I.R. amp was a real eye-opener. The amp has a classic Marshall-esque drive tone. And by subtly boosting 120 Hz and moderately cutting low and high mids from 200 Hz to 3.2 kHz, I could dial in the distortion for a dry, raw, and brutal modern tone—more akin to a Diezel amp! The entire character of an amp can be shifted, and once you try it, you'll find it's addictive. In the studio—when dialing in individual parts or doubling and hard panning—little EQ tweaks can really make the tones shine and speak with a dimension and clarity that just wouldn't be possible otherwise.
It's incredible how one simple pedal can increase your tonal palette so exponentially. Think about it: What else can you use to boost and overdrive, tailor pickup tones, and morph amp tones in such a dramatic way? And let's not forget that an EQ pedal costs far less than buying more guitars or amps. If you've been less than happy with your sounds, an EQ pedal could be just what the tone doctor ordered. Until next time, keep on rocking, and I wish you great tone!
The silky smooth slide man may raise a few eyebrows with his gear—a hollow, steel-bodied baritone and .017s on a Jazzmaster—but every note and tone he plays sounds just right.
KingTone’s The Duellist is currently Ariel Posen’s most-used pedal. One side of the dual drive (the Bluesbreaker voicing) is always on. But there’s another duality at play when Posen plugs in—the balance between songwriter and guitarist.
“These days, I like listening to songs and the story and the total package,” Posen told PG back in 2019, when talking about his solo debut, How Long, after departing from his sideman slot for the Bros. Landreth. “Obviously, I’m known as a guitar player, but my music and the music I write is not guitar music. It’s songs, and it goes back to the Beatles. I love songs, and I love story and melody and singing, and there was a lot of detail and attention put into the guitar sound and the playing and the parts—almost more than I’ve ever done.”
And in 2021, he found himself equally expressing his yin-and-yang artistry by releasing two albums that represented both sides of his musicality. First, Headway continued the sultry sizzle of songwriting featured on How Long. Then he surprised everyone, especially guitarists, by dropping Mile End, which is a 6-string buffet of solo dishes with nothing but Ariel and his instrument of choice.
But what should fans expect when they see him perform live? “I just trust my gut. I can reach more people by playing songs, and I get moved more by a story and lyrics and harmony, so that’s where I naturally go. The live show is a lot more guitar centric. If you want to hear me stretch out on some solos, come see a show. I want the record and the live show to be two separate things.”
The afternoon ahead of Posen’s headlining performance at Nashville’s Basement East, the guitar-playing musical force invited PG’s Chris Kies on stage for a robust chat about gear. The 30-minute conversation covers Posen’s potent pair of moody blue bombshells—a hollow, metal-bodied Mule Resophonic and a Fender Custom Shop Jazzmaster—and why any Two-Rock is his go-to amp. He also shares his reasoning behind avoiding effects loops and volume pedals.
Brought to you by D’Addario XPND Pedalboard.
Blue the Mule III
If you’ve spent any time with Ariel Posen’s first solo record, How Long, you know that the ripping, raunchy slide solo packed within “Get You Back” is an aural high mark. As explained in a 2019 PG interview, Posen’s pairing for that song were two cheapos: a $50 Teisco Del Rey into a Kay combo. However, when he took the pawnshop prize onstage, the magic was gone. “It wouldn’t stay in tune and wouldn’t stop feeding back—it was unbearable [laughs].”
Posen was familiar with Matt Eich of Mule Resophonic—who specializes in building metal-body resonators—so he approached the luthier to construct him a steel-bodied, Strat-style baritone. Eich was reluctant at first (he typically builds roundneck resos and T-style baritones), but after seeing a clip of Posen playing live, the partnership was started.
The above steel-bodied Strat-style guitar is Posen’s third custom 25"-scale baritone. (On Mule Resophonic’s website, it’s affectionately named the “Posencaster.”) The gold-foil-looking pickups are handwound by Eich, and are actually mini humbuckers. He employs a custom Stringjoy set (.017–.064 with a wound G) and typically tunes to B standard. The massive strings allow the shorter-scale baritone to maintain a regular-tension feel. And when he gigs, he tours light (usually with two guitars), so he’ll use a capo to morph into D or E standard.
Another one that saw recording time for Headway and Mile End was the above Fender Custom Shop Masterbuilt ’60s Jazzmaster, made by Carlos Lopez. To make it work better for him, he had the treble-bleed circuit removed, so that when the guitar’s volume is lowered it actually gets warmer.
"Clean and Loud"
Last time we spoke with Posen, he plugged into a Two-Rock Classic Reverb Signature. It’s typically his live amp. However, since this winter’s U.S. run was a batch of fly dates, he packed light and rented backlines. Being in Music City, he didn’t need to go too deep into his phone’s contacts to find a guitar-playing friend that owned a Two-Rock. This Bloomfield Drive was loaned to Ariel by occasional PG contributor Corey Congilio. On the brand’s consistent tone monsters, Posen said, “To be honest, put a blindfold on me and make one of Two-Rock’s amps clean and loud—I don’t care what one it is.”
The loaner vertical 2x12 cab was stocked with a pair of Two-Rock 12-65B speakers made by Warehouse Guitar Speakers.
Ariel Posen’s Pedalboard
There are a handful of carryovers from Ariel’s previous pedalboard that was featured in our 2021 tone talk: a TC Electronic PolyTune 3 Noir, a Morningstar MC3 MIDI Controller, an Eventide H9, a Mythos Pedals Argonaut Mini Octave Up, and a KingTone miniFUZZ Ge. His additions include a custom edition Keeley Hydra Stereo Reverb & Tremolo (featuring Headway artwork), an Old Blood Noise Endeavors Black Fountain oil can delay, Chase Bliss Audio Thermae Analog Delay and Pitch Shifter, and a KingTone The Duellist overdrive.
Another big piece of the tonal pie for Posen is his signature brass Rock Slide. He worked alongside Rock Slide’s Danny Songhurst to develop his namesake slide that features a round-tip end that helps Posen avoid dead spots or unwanted scratching. While he prefers polished brass, you can see above that it’s also available in a nickel-plated finish and an aged brass.
If you’re looking to step up your all-important groove-and-time game, start with some strategic rhythm development.
Greetings, tone hounds! I get a lot of questions via email related to recording sessions. The questions range from how to break into studio work and what gear to bring to a session to dealing with “red-light fever,” stress, or anxiety while recording. This month, I’d like to focus on some pointers that will help you thrive when recording. Specifically, I believe—above all else—that the most important skill to develop before attempting any studio recording is a solid, innate sense of time.
Don’t need nothin’ but a good time. I recently saw a social-media post from John Mayer that really resonated with me. In a nutshell, he noted that there are many guitarists on Instagram and YouTube who have chops for days, yet their time, groove, and feel is often lacking. He emphasized the importance of developing good time and groove, mainly by simply paying attention to the subject and through jamming with others. I wholeheartedly concur!
Teaching others how to groove can be one of the most difficult and elusive subjects for any guitar teacher to address, because it’s kind of an abstract concept. I recommend listening to guitarists known for their great time and feel, and trying and absorb some of their rhythmic and dynamic mojo. When I listen to Billy Gibbons on the ZZ Top classic “Just Got Paid,” I’m always struck by his time and feel with regards to the main riff, the little chord stabs, and the slide parts. It’s not just about where he strikes a note. It’s so much about the duration of the notes before he stops them and the space in between them. Billy’s mastery of time and groove helps him develop a hypnotic groove, and the effect pulls the listener in.
Another example of this hypnotic phenomenon that comes to mind is the Isley Brothers’ 1971 cover of the War classic “Spill the Wine.” It features simple octave and single-note parts, as well as funky chord strums. I said “simple,” but are these parts easy? That’s another story. Developing the ability to play them with the rhythmic precision and consistency of Ernie Isley is certainly a challenge.
Another great example can be heard on the Stevie Nicks classic “Edge of Seventeen.” It features a muted, 16th-note single-note line played by Waddy Wachtel that is relentless and unwavering. Waddy slightly emphasizes the first 16th-note of each beat, and once again, it’s simple. But just try and execute it for five minutes like Waddy does. Seriously, go listen to it, because it is nothing short of impressive. Waddy’s part was supposedly influenced by Andy Summers on the Police classic “Bring on the Night,” another great example of in-the-pocket, single-note playing.
Last but not least, and something completely different: Check out James Hetfield’s vicious rhythm playing on Metallica’s “Creeping Death” from 1984’s Ride the Lightning. Just go easy on your right hand at first. Yes, he’s using all downstrokes for the aggressive main thrash-metal riff.
Don’t forget the practice part. I recommend learning a few of these parts and practicing them in a couple of different ways. The first is by jamming along with the original tracks, possibly loaded into a phrase trainer so you can loop them. Or, better yet, use a DAW so you can record yourself and listen to how your time matches up. Second, play them with other musicians! If you can convince a drummer friend who loves playing cool grooves to jam these tunes with you, you will be getting invaluable practice time in. And I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to record the jams.
So, record, take a break, and listen, and then be your own worst critic. Are you rushing? Are you dragging? Or are you locked right into the groove? Developing the innate swing, feel, and groove to play these parts is just one aspect. You must also develop the stamina to play them over and over again for the duration of the song. Just imagine recording these songs in the studio for the first time, and how many takes the original musicians likely did. It quickly becomes clear why stamina and consistency are so important.
Developing great groove and time is like learning to ride a bike. Once you’ve got it, you’ve got it. You won’t forget how to groove, although you obviously need to practice to keep your groove chops up. In my opinion, everything else takes a back seat to developing good time. It’s an absolute prerequisite for a recording guitarist. Next month, we’ll delve into more essential studio concepts and techniques. Until then, I wish you great tone!
...There's a lot more to it than whether Billy Gibbons or SRV was "right."
Greetings, tone hounds! I'd like to discuss two terrific YouTube videos Rick Beato and Rhett Shull recently made regarding string gauges. In Rick's video, a group of players recorded themselves playing the same Les Paul and Marshall JCM2000 setup with the only variable being four different gauged sets: .011, .010, .009, and .008. Both videos reveal the differences in tone between different gauges, and I'd like to expand on this by adding a few observations I've discovered over the years.
Everything affects everything.
In Rick's video, he mentions a discussion he had with Dave Friedman of Friedman Amps. Dave said because lighter strings produce less bass, they help tighten up the tone—and this was one of the catalysts for Rick deciding to make a video demonstrating the phenomenon.
Dave Friedman is an old friend, and we've had countless discussions about tone. He has a great saying: "Everything affects everything." In other words, each link in your signal chain impacts the overall tone: cables, pickups, amps, woods, pedals, and, of course, strings.
Each link in your signal chain impacts the overall tone: cables, pickups, amps, woods, pedals, and, of course, strings.
In Rick's video test, they went for a classic, raunchy rock 'n' roll tone with the Les Paul/Marshall setup. Had they used, say, a Stratocaster with single-coils, or even a P-90-equipped Les Paul, the results would have varied. If you prefer the tone of .009s in the video, it's possible you may have preferred .010s had they used a Strat. It's all a recipe.
Expanding on this thinking a bit, what if they'd used a 4x10 Bassman for a bluesy overdrive? The results would also vary. A hotter alnico-5 pickup would also change the tone, and if you were to use a ceramic magnet humbucker, the bass, mids, and treble would completely change! Remember to consider these things when contemplating a different string gauge.
You’re Probably Using The WRONG Guitar Strings
Let's talk SRV.
In my estimation (and Rick mentions this too), it was Stevie Ray Vaughan who inspired many guitarists to use heavier strings. But Stevie played a single-coil-equipped Strat, mainly through Fender amps. He didn't use much preamp gain because he cranked these relatively low-gain amps until they broke up naturally. His tone formula consisted of a heavy right hand and heavy strings, combined with relatively low-output single-coils into a Tube Screamer that would add mids and cut bass. The amps he used are known for their scooped mids, so you see where I'm going with this? It's all part of the formula.
My takeaway analysis:
If you're after a fat, bluesy, loud, low-gain tone, the SRV formula—heavy strings, single-coils, a Tube Screamer, and a relatively clean, cooking, low-gain amp with scooped mids—works great. On the other hand, for a Marshall-style, midrange-heavy, tight-crunch tone, lighter strings with humbuckers and a gain-y amp—without too much bass in the preamp—will get you there.
Playability, bending, vibrato.
One last thing to consider: String gauge can have a huge effect on your bending and vibrato. Heavy strings can actually make players who have a tendency towards a "nervous" vibrato and over-bending sound more controlled. Rhett Shull commented that .008s made him feel a little more tentative on the guitar. I'm sure he could get used to them over time, but his preference for overall tone and feel were .009s. That's something to consider when switching gauges.
I Was DEFINITELY Using The Wrong Guitar Strings
Thanks to Rick and Rhett for producing useful YouTube content like this. I encourage all guitarists to follow their example of learning through experimentation. Don't just assume—discover what works for you. Until next month, I wish you great tone!
Sideman to the stars Pete Thorn shares his regimen for avoiding the pitfalls of touring.
Well, that time is upon me again. I'm headed out on the road! I'm actually writing this in a New York hotel room, and tonight I'll be on a plane to the U.K. to start a run of 30-plus theater dates with the Classic Rock Show, an extravaganza of rock classics played by a top-notch band. I've really had to woodshed these songs and it's going to be a blast to perform them.
The upsides of touring are many. Of course, it's awesome to make a living doing what we love, but the pitfalls can be numerous as well. This month, I'd like to give you some pointers on how to avoid those pitfalls so you can stay happy and healthy on tour!
Keep your chops together. You'll certainly be getting plenty of playing time at gigs and soundchecks, but I find it's also beneficial to maintain a practice and/or writing routine outside of the shows. I always bring my laptop and UA Apollo Twin desktop recording interface, which allows me to record, mix, and practice guitar easily and virtually anywhere. The UA plug-in amp models sound great, and I can even route the output to my laptop speakers. Instant practice amp! And if I come up with a cool song idea, I can quickly lay it down in my DAW.
Fun tip: Carry a couple 1/4"-to-RCA cables with you when traveling, and try running the outputs from your interface into your hotel room TV's aux input. It'll probably be louder and fuller sounding than your laptop speakers. Of course, you can also carry a portable speaker on the road, like the little Fender Newport I use for this purpose. I have a Bose SoundLink Mini as well, but the 1/8" input adds some latency to the signal.
Want an even simpler practice setup? My other fave hotel room companions are mini amps such as the Blackstar Fly 3 and NUX Mighty Lite BT. They're both under $100 and make instant jamming so much fun. No laptop required. They're great for warming up backstage as well. I'm also really excited about the new Boss Waza-Air wireless headphone amp—which has amp simulation and effects built in—where your guitar signal gets to the headphones via a wireless transmitter. It's another no-brainer for a portable practice rig!
The most important thing is keeping a guitar readily available—out of the case or gig bag at all times. Just having it sitting out in a hotel or dressing room definitely makes me pick mine up more.
Eating right. I discovered about eight years ago that I'm seriously gluten intolerant. Simply being aware of this and sticking to a pretty strict gluten-free diet has really helped my health. Eating catering, restaurant food, or, even worse, fast food on a daily basis can catch up with you quickly. I wish I'd started eating right much sooner, but better late than never, right?
The Yelp app is quite handy when I'm on tour, because I can easily research and seek out healthy food that works for me. And I suggest avoiding late-night tour-bus snacking binges! When traveling on a moving bus that rocks to and fro, they've never led to anything but acid reflux for me. It goes without saying, but also try and keep the intoxicating substances to a minimum. Alcohol really does us no favors, and I'm always trying to be honest with myself about only drinking in moderation.
Sleep. Getting proper sleep is so important, and it can be a real challenge whether you are flying, traveling by bus, or in a van. Eyeshades and earplugs are two things I always carry with me, without fail. Melatonin can be very helpful when you are trying to reset to a new time zone. There's no easy fix for jet lag, but getting lots of sunshine during the day and eating at regular meal times can help your body clock reset. Short naps are okay, but keep them under 30 minutes or you are not napping—you're sleeping. And it'll just take you longer to adjust fully. If you can make it until 10:30 or 11:00 p.m. before sleeping, that's perfect. If you go past that time and stay up too late, you'll have trouble getting any sleep at all.
Exercise. Last but not least, getting regular exercise can really help both your body and your mind. Many hotels have gyms and/or pools, and I highly suggest making use of them. It's amazing what 30 minutes on a treadmill does for my mood by getting those endorphins going, which helps me stay mentally focused, even, and stable.
By the time you read this, our current tour should be just about wrapping up. If you're headed out to play some gigs sometime soon, stay safe out there and remember what a privilege it is to travel and play music. We are lucky to be doing this. Until next month, I wish you great tone!