Guitar Gear of Billy Duffy
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.
As 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.
Duffy’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.
We’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...