Guitar Gear of Billy Duffy

June 12, 2013

By PGS Fitz

As an army brat growing up in the 80s, my exposure to music was limited to whatever my older brothers were listening to. This meant earfuls of Journey, Rush, Iron Maiden, Judas Priest, Triumph, Def Leppard—my musical education started someplace between stadium rock and NWOBHM. It wasn’t radio that liberated me from my brothers’ taste in music—it was MTV. I spent nearly every Saturday night staying up late to watch Headbanger’s Ball—which is where I was first saw the Cult’s video for “Fire Woman” and was introduced, fatefully, to Billy Duffy (another of my favorite unassuming-guitar-heroes).

Based on the sizzling tunes off of Sonic Temple, I assumed the Cult was your garden-variety killer hard rock band (there were a bunch in those days, after all- or so it appeared to me as I was reading Metal Edge and Kerrang!)—but once I began to dig deep into their catalogue, I was amazed at the diversity and versatility the band showed throughout their career (and continue to show). From post-punk to goth to 80s alternative to bluesy hard rock to metal, Billy and the boys have done it all and done it well—with Duffy in particular making some inspired gear-choices along the way. This week in Andy’s Corner, we’re looking at the tools that have allowed Billy Duffy to blaze his own sonic trail…

In the post-punk landscape of the early 80s, Duffy stood out from the guitar playing crowd not just for his tasteful playing but also because of what he was playing: Gretsch White Falcons. Though Duffy started out with Les Pauls, the legend goes that Duffy saw Ted Nugent playing a Gibson Byrdland live and so loved the huge sound that he started a search for a semi-hollow all his own, winding up with a double cutaway White Falcon. That Great Gretsch Sound™ was an intrinsic part of developing the Cult’s gigantic, lush-but-driving sound and Duffy has been using them ever since—working with Seymour Duncan to develop pickups that retained the Gretsch chime but that could also provide the heft and punch of a Les Paul. Check out “She Sells Sanctuary” from the 1985 album Love to get a great example of how Duffy uses a semi-hollow guitar as a full-bore rock machine—a great lesson in not letting any piece of gear define you but rather for you to define your gear.

Sonic Temple AlbumAs the Cult evolved over time, especially as they veered into more of a hard rock territory, Duffy began bringing his Les Pauls back to the forefront, notably for the Sonic Temple album. As their music evolved further away from the pseudo-psychedelic post-punk that launched them, Duffy found the need more low-end chunk—and the Les Paul provided it. In 2008, Duffy nearly found himself with a signature model Les Paul, based on the LP from the cover of Sonic Temple (an instrument that actually belonged to Mick Jones!)—but the deal never quite happened. Never fear, though, Duffy fans—Gretsch has finally come out with the (long-awaited!)  G7593T Billy Duffy Falcon, an instrument that in my biased eyes may be the most gorgeous Gretsch ever.


Image from BillyDuffy.comDuffy’s sound wouldn’t be complete without chorus—the first two Cult albums are filled with lush, Roland JC-120 stereo chorus, layered against more traditional tube amp distortion. The juxtaposition of clean, chorusy guitar against growling British valve amp tone is certainly one of the keys to Duffy’s tone. Though Duffy ditched the JC-120 during Electric in favor of a more straight-ahead blues rock sound (translation: wall of Marshall JCM800s), they’re back in his rig alongside a few Matchless DC-30s, manipulated by Duffy via a switcher to obtain whatever tone combination he needs for any particular song.


image via Racksystems via Rig-Talk.comWe’re all used to boutique effects these days (this is Pro Guitar Shop, after all!)—but in the 80s, effects pedals were just hitting their mass-produced stride. A look into Duffy’s effects rig reveals a host of classic Boss pedals that are instantly recognizable in some of the Cult’s biggest hits. A Boss DM-2 Analog Delay and Boss BF-2 Flanger are critical components to Duffy’s early psychedelic-hard-rock sound—as are a vintage MXR Phase 100 and vintage Ibanez TS808. In recent years, Duffy has added a Lovepedal Kalamazoo to the mix, as well as a Whirlwind “The Bomb” boost. Duffy's motto certainly seems to be if it ain't broke, don't fix it (but feel free to add to it). The Duffy board has remained relatively stable for much of his career.  

Luckily for fans, Duffy’s website has a fantastic feature on his gear—from guitars to amps to pedals, as well as some cool stories: check out this feature on Billy and his good friend Johnny Marr or this recollection of filming the “She Sells Sanctuary” video. Beggars Banquet Records also has quite the video archive on the Cult-- I could waste more than one afternoon cruising through the archive. Even if you aren't a Duffy devotee like me, everyone could stand to take a little inspiration from the guy-- grab a guitar or effect that isn't "supposed" to fit your style of music and make it work. You might just make something legendary. 

That's all for this week! Thanks for reading... as always, let loose in the comments (uh, to a point!) and we'll see you next time...


  1. Michael says:

    Billy Duffy’s web-site is full of info that will help any aspiring artist/band.
    For instance, tuning down a half-step to help the singer.
    I know bands/guys that have played together for years who are unfamiliar with this simple but helpful concept.

    posted on June 13, 2013 at 3:28 am
  2. Luke Hannington says:

    Brilliant! I find myself coming back to some old Boss pedals too, good for him to sticking with them. Any SD-2 fans out there? I can’t seem to get rid of mine; no matter how many pedals I try it keeps coming back.

    posted on June 13, 2013 at 4:03 am
  3. Brennan says:

    Billy started with LP’s?  I’m pretty sure his Falcon was his first.  And he’s on Gretsch’s youtube channel stating that he got the idea from Bow Wow Wow.

    posted on June 13, 2013 at 4:55 am
  4. Jimbbo says:

    Just like Steve Howe of Yes fame, I will NOT tune down (and screw up my intonation) a half step.
    If a singer can’t hit notes a half step up, such a small incremental—they’ve got no reason to be on the stage!
    You’d really have to go down 4-5-6-7 half steps to gain any kind of relief…
    So now you’re looking at carrying around baritone guitars…
    Steve Howe and Jon Anderson had a bit of a falling out in part because Jon wanted Steve to detune… and he said “no”. Good for him! Despite how much we love’em, for some people it’s time to call it a day… (memo to Daltrey and Plant).
    Nice article. Thank you!

    posted on June 13, 2013 at 5:05 am
  5. Mat says:

    I’m pretty sure that both Byrdland and White Falcon are FULL hollow body, anyways love your articles

    posted on June 13, 2013 at 6:43 am
  6. Mucho says:

    Yeah Jimbbo, imagine if Jon asked Steve to play the songs exactly, every single time as he played them on their albums. Steve (the Alan Harper of guitarists, if you ask me) could NEVER do that, not even close. Yet, Jon was expected to ALWAYS hit the high notes. I’d say, half step or even a full step down is no biggie if you know how to do it and you’ll still sound OK. Detuning is a helping hand to those coming of age. It’s a valid and a human thing to do. Recently, I went to a concert that changed my life forever: Steve Hackett and Genesis Revisited Live. I never had the opportunity to see Genesis in their prime, so this was the closest I could get to some of the most incredible music ever written and performed live. Easily, the best concert of my life. Maybe they should all retire, right? Wrong, my friend! They should carry on playing as long as they can. God bless them!

    posted on June 13, 2013 at 8:25 am
  7. Ry says:

    Regarding tuning down, I see nothing wrong with it. Alternate tunings, in general, have been used forever to inject some life into the same well worn progressions. I sometimes tune down a half step, just because sometimes the standard tuning is just a bit too optimistic sounding for what i’m looking for in a certain song, when writing. Tuning down a half step gives it a slightly darker tone, and certainly, tuning down a full step makes it darker even yet. You could say to just play chords a fret lower, but some chords you physically can’t play a fret lower.

    Same thing with capo-ing—done for the right reasons, it gives life to certain progressions.

    posted on June 13, 2013 at 9:06 am
  8. Todd says:

    If you watch the youTube videos, you can see him teaming up
    the JC-120 and a Fender. His classic tone is unmistakably Duffy.
    Thanks for the article of one of may favorite Axe slingers as well
    as great comments everyone!!

    posted on June 13, 2013 at 9:19 am
  9. Jimbbo says:

    More than 90% of the United States population have no idea who Alan Harper is—including me.
    I’d rather watch “Pawn Stars” (!) than nonsense major network TV safe for tweens.
    Yes, Steve Howe is still touring with Yes with Chris Squire, Geoff Downs and Alan White on a world tour playing (in their entirety) “The Yes Album”, “Close to the Edge” and “Going for the One”. See their website for tour dates. They’ve still got it, bless them.
    Yes—Jon Anderson is expected to hit all the “high notes” if he is expected to participate in a tour of Yes. All four gentlemen mentioned above are clearly capable of doing their part. Rock’n Roll is a young man’s game, particularly for vocalists. Just like auto racing, pro sports and making babies—to be a rock’n roll vocalist is a young man’s game. Or should be, because it’s pathetic when it’s attempted by those who aren’t hitting nor can hit the “high notes”. It’s a friggin’ half step, my gawd! Do you really believe that’s going to help?!?!.
    Steve Hackett was known as a lead guitarist, not a singer. Genesis brought in Phil Collins (GAG!) as their lead vocalist after Peter Gabriel left. So, Mucho, I guess you are one of the 35 people who went to that concert for Hackett and stood googly-eyed at the the front. He really appreciated that beer you bought him…  Now go get a ticket at a 5-8000 seat auditorium for what’s left of “the real” Yes…  who won’t screw up their intonation or action by detuning a half or a whole-step. Because gawd knows, that half or whole-step up will break a pro singer—NOT!
    And Ry—capoing isn’t detuning. Nor is Open G Keef tuning, if set up right.
    But sliding down to G flat, then F, then E, then E flat will really F**k up intonation and sounds like s**t.

    posted on June 13, 2013 at 11:37 am
  10. rex says:

    I wonder if Billy is one of Slash’s influences.  I definitely hear him in a lot of GnR.

    posted on June 13, 2013 at 11:59 am
  11. imreoir giotar says:

    I like alternate tunings. Didn’t use them much when i was kid. But I use them now. No biggy really for me—but to each their own though. I have to say I loved the Jazz Chrous when it first came out. Not something many hard rock guitarists played back then so all my friends tried to steer me to Marshalls or other rocker type amps. Marshalls are awesome, but people should play what feels good. If it’s a JC, so be it. When I was kid, I ran out of money to replace a tube for my amp. Still wanted to practice though, so I took an old cassette recorded, clipped the two wires to the playback head, cut one end off of a guitar cable and hooked the cable to the two cassette wires. Man that little cassette was so overdriven into such a smooth overdrive. I kept it around even after I bought my tubes. Nowadays I like to use an amp modeler and guitar effects simulator because honestly one type of amp would not be enough for me. Love Dual Rect but also love Diezel, Krank, Peavey, and Bad Cats. So I’d be playing through quite a gear setup.

    posted on June 13, 2013 at 12:46 pm
  12. Mucho says:

    Jimbbo, man, your level of ignorance amuses me. Mr Steve Hackett and his current 2013 world tour is a mega successful enterprise, him being one of the busiest guys in the prog side of the music industry. Yes and it’s current incarnation can only dream of playing in venues like the Teatro Communale in Vicenza, Italy. - the place where I witnessed one of the best live performances of Genesis music, on April 24, 2013.
    Don’t get me wrong, I love Yes and I’ve been a fan since Fragile, but they have heavily deteriorated. Steve Howe has recently downgraded his stage gear to Line 6 guitars and amps, while Steve Hackett happily shares the magnificent sounds of his ultra rare, mid 70’s Zemaitis 12-string with his adoring fans. See, the respect is mutual and the experience highly rewarding. I didn’t buy Steve Hackett a beer but he graciously autographed my original 1968 Gibson Les Paul Custom, very similar to the first LP he used with Genesis. For the record, Yes without Jon Anderson is not Yes. They should call themselves ‘Almost Yes’ or ‘Maybe’.
    Alan Harper is a character played by Jon Cryer in the sitcom ‘Two-And-A-Half-Men’, one of the most successful in TV history. Don’t tell me 90% Americans don’t know that. You should know that if you have electricity and running water. Google it!


    posted on June 14, 2013 at 4:03 am
  13. telepath says:

    How(e) did this thread about Billy Duffy become a high school / 6th form piddling competition about dull Prog Rock YESter-year dullards?

    Cool article PGS.

    Billy Duffy’s website makes for great reading.

    posted on June 14, 2013 at 7:33 am
  14. Ry says:

    Jimbbo, some of the greatest bands to have ever lived, have tuned down. Sabbath, etc, etc…..think of all the old blues guys that tuned down. These may not be your influences, but to say that tuning down has no use or that every player should worry about perfect pitch is quite the oversight. Besides which, Duffy tunes down quite a bit for the Cult’s old hits, as Asbury has lost some vocal range.

    Tuning down for a singer is a necessity sometimes, because it’s well known that athletes lose muscle definition as they age. Similarly, a singer’s diaphragm and vocal chords are also muscles, and years and years of singing and singing through bad PA’s and the rock n’ roll lifestyle (smoking, drinking, coffee drinking) will tend to speed up the inevitable—losing upper vocal range.

    Tuning down isn’t an admission of defeat, it’s a fact of life in the eye of the hurricane, when you need to deliver something reliable, night after night, when belting it out at the top of your lungs for an hour + each night takes its toll. A guitarist gets hardened blisters on his fingers, but when your singer blows out his voice, the show won’t go on—it’s postponed.

    Intonation is never perfect anyways.

    I know that capo-ing isn’t detuning—my point is that deviating from standard tune will always affect intonation and perfect pitch, and if you look at the history of rock n’ roll, the guys with style typically don’t concern themselves a heckuva lot with perfection or what’s “correct”. As Gene Simmons once said, “all the really talented guys are playing in Holiday Inns”. And he’s pretty much right. I try to fall somewhere between knowing some technicity and then throwing out the rule book for personal style.

    posted on June 14, 2013 at 10:36 am
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  17. Keith says:

    @Rex - Yeah, I had wondered the same… Slash and Billy both share a melodic ‘flow’ to their playing that gives all guitar slingers something to shoot for.  I know I’d give my left nxx to play like either of those guys.  Oh, and for no particular reason I’ll mention that I’d rather play like Billy Gibbons above either of those.  ;-)

    posted on June 26, 2013 at 7:06 am
  18. Keith says:

    @Jimbbo and others debating the merits of tuning down a half step to assist the singer.  I think you’re overlooking something big time.  C3 is around 261 Hz.  Each octave is a DOUBLING of the frequency, so C4 is around 523Hz, and C5 is around 1052Hz.  Who cares, right?  Ok, stick with me for a moment and I’ll show you what all these silly numbers mean.  To go from C3 to the half step above it, C3#, it’s only about 16Hz (C3# is 277Hz).  What about C4#?  C4# is at 557Hz so that’s now 34 Hz difference.  Keep going and a half step from C5 to C5# is 68Hz, etc… so the point being, the half step compromise we guitar players make for singers with a tired or aging voice is way more significant than you might initially think.  Bottom line, if you’re a professional and you’re gigging regularly it would pay to have an instrument with it’s intonation set while tuned a half step down so that your singer doesn’t blow out their voice half way through a tour.  That way everyone wins.  Peace…

    posted on June 27, 2013 at 6:23 am
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