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Posted in How-to
April 9, 2018

“What Pedal Was That?” How to identify the gear being used by guitarists and musicians

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If you’ve ever tried to deconstruct the sounds of your favorite guitarists or musicians, you may have found it challenging to separate fact from fiction. Random google searches aren’t guaranteed to produce the truth. Often, I find articles, blog posts, and message boards containing too many assumptions and the faint echo of hearsay in their assertions. Instead, when conducting your research, try to use reliable resources and those for whom evidence is important.
The best resources are those which are verifiable. The goal of this list is to assemble the ones that can cite their sources.
I won’t judge the reasons why you want to know what tools (aka., guitars and gear) the masters are using. I’ll assume you know that writing with the same pencil that Stephen King uses won’t make you a better writer. [1]

 
Despite this, virtually every musician who is comfortable enough to claim their influences, whether they include Hendrix or Hosier, has at some point, sought to understand the sources behind their tone and the reasons behind their gear choices.
It’s easy to take these things for granted, but the truth is, at some point, these great artists will no longer be with us. It’s important to curate and document as much as we can, while we can. The best way to do this is to go to the source.

Rig Rundown

Rig Rundowns are interviews where Premiere Guitar editors give unprecedented access to an artist’s stage setup and a “rundown” of all the equipment used in their live performance. [2]
 
My advice: raise the level of empiricism in your research and squelch misinformation you come across.
In history, we call these “primary source,” or “original source,” because they provide “firsthand testimony or direct evidence
concerning a topic or question under investigation,” in this case, the actual artist. [3]
 
There is very little chance of misinformation when the actual guitarist is telling you he uses an “Ibanez T9,” unless he has misspoken, misremembered, or tricked by his own guitar tech.
 

Equipboard

Equipboard is an extensive, easy-to-read database of all the known gear used by a wide variety of musicians. [4]
 
It also tries to keep the equipment and the source of their information well-documented.
 
For instance, for Jack White, if you see a specific microphone listed as part of his gear, the editor lists why it is included in his Equipboard. If Jack White was seen using it in the documentary, “It Might Get Loud,” it is included.[5] If he’s mentioned it in an interview or was seen using it on stage, studio, or some other application, they mention this, too.
 

Reverb.com Product Guides

Reverb.com may be a marketplace for used gear, but their extensive blog features product profiles for rare instruments. For example, the Gear History section may begin at the instrument, rather than the artist. Then, it tracks the individuals and/or albums associated with it through the years. It’s Equipboard in reverse, so to speak.
 

Other published resources

Books such as The Guitar and Amp Sourcebook often go through a rigorous editing process to verify the validity of their information.
 
These could prove helpful if the artist has taken the time to explain their gear choices and workflow.
 
These are good examples of artists or their guitar tech discussing their workflow. The Edge. [6] Thom Yorke [7] The Edge. [8]
 

Less Reliable:

Kiefer guitar
photo by Ted Newsome

Endorsements

Endorsements are corporate association with a specific artist in exchange for the use of the product. [9] When we hear the word ‘endorsement’, we sometimes picture Michael Jordan or Tiger Woods and their association with Nike. In most circumstances, however, musical instrument endorsement does not mean the artist is getting paid compensation, but rather, either a discount or temporary use of the equipment in exchange for promotion. John Mayer recently “myth-busted” the notion that his endorsement resembled the kind Tiger Woods receives. [13]
 
Keep in mind that despite artist endorsement of a specific piece of gear, this doesn’t mean they actually use it, or worse, that they actually like it.
 
For instance, Andy Timmons once mentioned in an interview that he was developing an amp and was preparing for its release when he stumbled upon another amp which he liked even better. [10]
 
But if you were to interview him then, his new preference would likely not have come up. After all, it isn’t nice to speak disparagingly of the amp that you endorse. (By the way, his eventual choice was the right choice, in my opinion.)
 
Endorsements and even signature gear are less reliable because they don’t guarantee that the artist is satisfied with the instrument. Unfortunately, we don’t often hear about this until they switch products. John Mayer’s explanation for his move to Paul Reed Smith guitars is a perfect example. [11]
 

Music Videos and Concert Footage

Music videos may not be the best reference for documenting the gear used by the artist. This may come as a shock, but most music videos are not performed live! But that’s not all, even live concerts use “staging” to give the illusion that, say, the wall of speakers behind them are in use — or real for that matter.
 
For example, one band on the Warp Tour received much backlash for using empty cabs on stage. Ultimately, to diffuse the ridiculousness of the social media comments which ensued, they chose to downplay situation rather than apologize for it. [12] (A wise choice, in my opinion.)

Conclusion:

My advice: raise the level of empiricism in your research and squelch misinformation you come across. When a topic of discussion as easily verifiable as equipment use is on the table, find out where the information came from. Make no mistake, some guitarists have famously hidden or misdirected the public about what they use or the settings behind their famous tone. Regardless, there are enough tones in the galaxy to develop your own signature sound. Find yours.

 


References
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 
 

Frequentscene is written by Adam Zuñiga, guitarist for Austin-based Hours Quiet, Love Hate Affair and San Antonio-based Adam Zuniga Project. Adam recently graduated from the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he majored in Philosophy and minored in Religious Studies. Despite a number of personal attributes which seem consistent with the disposition of a typical musician, he prefers mornings.

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