Gilmour Tone on a Budget
By Rusty Wiseman
Elusive. That is one word to describe the legendary tone of David Gilmour. The right combination of gear, playing style, and era produced one of the most sought after guitar tones in rock history. So how do we get the Gilmour tone for ourselves? Besides owning the exact gear and channeling the spirit of his amazing fingers (tough to do since he’s still alive) there are plenty of options out there but who’s got an extra house to mortgage these days. Many companies capitalize on the Gilmour name with signature gear, claims of Gilmour-like sound and sustain and charge top-dollar for the products. What about the rest of us that don’t have the money for the Custom Shop David Gilmour Strat or the stadium in which to play the HiWatt 100 watt head and 4x12 cabinets David used. While a lot of us may have multiple axes, there are plenty of rockers out there who are one guitar/one amp people. How do they get the Gilmour tone? Well, we’re going to introduce some budget and size minded alternatives to David’s stage setup that will allow the working-class guitarist to put together a rig that will get close to that magic tone without having to take out a second mortgage.
We’ll start with the first link in the chain, the guitar. Gilmour is very well known for playing a Strat. There is the Fender Standard Stratocaster (Mexico) that is a perfect starting point. If you have a bit more and are looking for a more vintage feel, the Fender Classic Series Strats are more vintage-oriented with higher quality hardware. The Classic 50’s Stratocaster and Classic 60’s Stratocaster are both great starting points. With either of these options, or if you already own a Strat or Strat-copy, the next step is pickups. If you want quiet operation and a more modern Gilmour tone, the EMG DG-20 Pickguard is prewired and loaded with the SA single coils. It’s ready to drop in to any Strat. If you don’t want the entire pickguard, the EMG SA Stratocaster Set gives you just the pickups. These are the pickups David uses in his Red Strat. If you’re after the more classic Floyd sound, ala the Black Strat, try out some Seymour Duncan SSL-1 single coils or if those are too mellow, the SSL-5 is a bit hotter. If you have a bit more available cash, the Lindy Fralin Blues Special Strat Pickups are a great choice. A quick mod to do to any Strat is to have a push/pull pot or mini switch installed that turns on the neck pickup. This was a mod done to the Black Strat that allowed Gilmour to use the neck and bridge pickups together, similar to a Tele tone. This is a great Strat mod even if you aren’t a Gilmour fan.
Some of you may have a guitar with humbuckers that you love and can’t afford having a Strat in the stable too. Well, you won’t be able to completely nail the Strat tone, but you can at least get close. Try putting a coil-tap on your humbuckers. This will allow you to play them in single-coil mode to get close. The humbuckers may not be a detriment when soloing though, when you kick on the fuzz those ‘buckers will help get some glorious sustain!
Next up, the amplifier. If you already own a HiWatt, you’re already there. If you’re like a majority of guitar players out there, you probably can’t afford to get a HiWatt just for a Gilmour tone or owning a 100 watt head not be practical for you. If you can have only one amp and it needs to cover a lot of bases, not just Floyd tone, there are a few options. You’ll want something that has plenty of clean headroom that is a good pedal platform. The Fender Hot Rod Deluxe is a very popular amplifier that is portable, has plenty of clean headroom, and at 40 watts, it will play most venues easily. If you’re looking for something with a bit more volume and power, the Fender 65 Twin Reverb is a great choice as well. There are other amplifiers in this range that will perform just as well, the most important attributes are going to be clean headroom, and it probably needs to be a tube amp. I’m not familiar with any solid-state amplifiers that respond and take pedals as well as a good old fashioned tube circuit. If you know of one, go for it!
Now that you’ve gotten your platform, let’s talk effects. Gilmour is well known for his use of fuzz. Beginning with a germanium Fuzzface then moving to a silicon BC-108 Fuzzface until 1976 for Animals when he switched to the Big Muff and never looked back. To get that germanium Fuzzface sound try out an Earthquaker Devices Dream Crusher or a JHS Pollinator. Unfortunately, a lot of germanium Fuzzface recreations are pretty pricey but these two both fall under the $200 mark and hard boutique quality. The BC-108 Fuzzface tone has a few more options such as the MXR M173 Classic 108 Fuzz is highly recommended due to the switchable buffer that makes it wah friendly. The Solid Gold FX Formula 69 is another great silicon Fuzzface variant. The Big Muff sound can be had from a number of products. Without getting too wrapped up in the “Ram’s Head”, “Triangle”, “Civil War”, and Pete Cornish fuzz differences, let’s just talk Big Muff tone. Granted these all carry different nuances but when you’re on a budget (refer to title) subtle nuances may have to be saved for later. There are plenty of pedals that will cop that singing sustain lead tone Gilmour is famous for such as the Electro-Harmonix USA Big Muff Pi, the Earthquaker Devices Hoof Fuzz, and the Blackout Effectors Musket Fuzz.
Probably the most sought after tone of Gilmour’s is his delay sound. Until the Animals tour, David used Binson Echorec delay units. After this tour, he switched to rack mounted MXR digital delay units due to reliability issues with the Echorecs. There are many options for great sounding delays. Modulated analog delays like the Malekko Ekko 616 and the MXR Carbon Copy will get that darker tone that while not exactly sounding like an Echorec, definitely have that vintage vibe that will fit the tone. For more versatility check out some of the digital delays with multiple options such as the TC Electronic Flashback and Alter Ego or the Nova Repeater that adds tap-tempo. The Boss DD3 also has some great delay sounds that will work just fine.
The next and final step would be some modulation. Gilmour was known to use rotary speakers as well as the EHX Electric Mistress. If you want both in one pedal, a TC Electronic Nova Modulator is a great choice. It has a great flanger and while it doesn’t have a rotary speaker effect, the chorus and tri-chorus can be dialed in to get a pseudo-Leslie effect. There are three versions of the Electric Mistress available now from EHX, the Neo Mistress, Stereo Electric Mistress, and the big box Deluxe Electric Mistress, all priced under $200 and the Neo Mistress is under $100! A rotary speaker emulator is tough to get on a budget but a good chorus effect will certainly come close. The Boss CE-5 Chorus Ensemble and the MXR M234 Analog Chorus will both get you some great swirlies that are reminiscent of a rotary effect. The If you really want a rotary speaker simulator, you’ll have to stretch the budget a bit but the Option 5 Destination Rotation is a great pedal for this effect.
Viola! While this is not the boutique effects geek dream rig, it will certainly get you close enough to jam along with your favorite Gilmour tune as well as cop the occasional cover live. No matter how much money you throw at it, it’s virtually impossible to get the exact sound and with a little economy, you can get darn close and still have money left over to spoil your significant other some too.