Getting Your ‘Gilmour’ On
Look, there’s no need to sugarcoat this—I’m just going to say it and then we’re going to move on with our lives like adults:
You are never going to sound like David Gilmour.*
Hope that isn’t a shock to anyone, but you’ll never have his mind or his hands—two critical pieces of gear necessary for the Gilmour sound. The good news is that you still have some of the same tools available to you that Gilmour used to get his legendary tone (or reasonable facsimiles)—and that studying his tone and trying to replicate it can teach you a lot about yourself as a player and even help you hone in on your own sound. Today we’re looking at some ways to cop that smooth, magical Gilmour tone for use in your own musical life.
Everything starts with the instrument. Gilmour is forever tied to the Fender Stratocaster and with good reason—the triple single-coil pickup configuration is ideal for the smooth, soaring leads that Gilmour perfected in Pink Floyd. If your bank account is loaded, I’ve got good news: Fender Custom Shop made you a practically perfect replica of the black Strat that Gilmour used on Dark Side of the Moon and the Wall, among others. If you don’t have $4k or more to spend on such an instrument, don’t fret (ack, sorry!)—Fender still has you covered. You can get a number of American made Strats in the range of a grand—but you don’t need to drop four figures to get the Strat sound. Fender offers a range of Strats—I particularly like the Road Worn series—that you can easily tweak, mod, or upgrade into higher class instruments. Of course, you don’t have to get a Fender, necessarily—there are a host of Strat-style guitars on the market—just make sure to find one that feels great in your hands and has the classic 3-single coil configuration.
If you’ve picked up a high end Fender Custom Shop guitar, chances are you have killer pickups already, but what if you have a more modest instrument? No problem—EMG sells a David Gilmour Signature pre-wired Strat pickguard/harness that is wired with 3 SA single coils plus their EXG guitar expander (for “tonal girth”) and an SPC presence control. This pickup set is the same set found in David’s famous red Strat. If the EMG set is a little steep, there are a myriad of options for upgrading your pickups—from Seymour Duncan SSLs (for a classic Floyd sound, a la the Black Strat) to Lindy Fralin Blues Specials. A nice set of pickups can turn a mediocre instrument into a fantastic instrument. Gilmour had a mod done to the Black Strat which allowed him to use the neck and bridge pickups simultaneously—you can add this mod to your instrument via a push-pull pot or mini—switch and greatly open up the sonic abilities of your guitar.
So once you’ve got your instrument nailed down, you’re gonna need to plug in, baby. If you’re a diehard, you probably want to get yourself a HiWatt stack or two. Or four. Before you ask, yes—HiWatt produced a Gilmour signature head. However, if you’re a mere mortal or if you care about your back, something more modest is in order—and luckily, modesty can still get you Gilmour-esque tone. The Fender Hot Rod Deluxe is a super popular amp that can cover a lot of bases—not only is it extremely portable, but at 40 watts it has plenty of clean headroom and can be used in a practice room or in any venue. A Fender Twin Reverb or Vox AC30 are slightly heftier options that will retain a great clean tone for days; the Vox will have an added “British” voice that will certainly add to your overall tone. When amp shopping for a Gilmour-y tone, prioritize getting 1) tube circuitry 2) an amp that has tons of clean headroom. Modeling amps and plugs-ins can all achieve a sound that sounds like it sounds like Gilmour—but to get that magic sparkle, you’re going to want tubes.
Finally, there are several effects that are practically proprietary to Gilmour. Step one? Get a fuzz pedal. Gilmour used a germanium Fuzzface, then a silicon BC-108 Fuzzface, then a Big Muff… For the germanium Fuzzface tone, you can try an Earthquaker Devices Dream Crusher or a JHS Pollinator; to cop the BC-108 Fuzzface tone, MXR makes the M173 Classic 108 Fuzz and Solid Gold FX makes the Formula 69; for the Big Muff tone, well—you can always get an EHX USA Big Muff Pi! The Earthquaker Devices Hoof Fuzz and Blackout Effectors Musket Fuzz are also great choices for the Big Muff tone— and a recent favorite for that Gilmour fuzz tone is the awesome Wampler Velvet Fuzz.
Step Two? Delay. Delay for days. Gilmour famously used Binson Echorec delay units, which he eventually replaced with digital delays since the Binsons were tricky to keep up and running on the road. Due to the magic of Catalinbread Echorec delay pedal, you can get as close to the Binson sound as possible without actually running one, spinning magnetic drum and all! There are a number of great delay pedals on the market that can fit the bill for Gilmour—personally, I like the delays that have an added modulation such as the MXR Carbon Copy, an all analog delay with switchable modulation that really thickens and darkens your tone. Modern digital delays can still create a fantastic tone while giving you more versatility – the TC Electronic Flashback x 4 has tap tempo and stores 3 presets, making it useful in a variety of applications, not just in ape-ing Gilmour’s tone!
Lastly, even if your delay pedal has some modulation capabilities—you’re going to want to add some extra modulation into your signal chain. Gilmour used rotary speakers, flangers, and chorus to great effect in Pink Floyd. The EHX Electric Mistress Flanger is a great, vintage flange circuit that Gilmour actually used—the entire EHX Mistress line covers the Floyd flange sound at a variety of price points. TC Electronics’ Nova Modulator has flange AND chorus that can be dialed in to approximate a Leslie-effect, saving some space on your pedalboard. For rotary, any chorus pedal can “fake” it but you’re better off adding in a specific effect such as the Boss RT-20 Rotary Ensemble or (again, if you’re loaded) the Neo Instruments Ventilator. You can always grab a multi-effects unit like the Line 6 M13 or M9, which allow you to quickly dial up multiple effects at once and store them in scenes for easy recall. The Line 6 modulations and delays are, in my humble opinion, pretty stellar—you could augment an M9 with a Fuzzface and have a quick, easy set up that gets you Gilmouring in no time.
As always, these are just guidelines to get you started—as you experiment and test out different gear, you’ll start to piece together the puzzle of how to get that great Gilmour tone and then how to incorporate that into your own sound. If you’ve got a great Gilmour-y rig, let us know what you’re running! See you next time in Andy’s Corner!
*unless you ARE David Gilmour, in which case you are always going to sound awesomely like Sir David Gilmour at all times and for that I and millions of others are eternally grateful..!