Call me biased because I am a massive Jimi Hendrix fan. I think Jimi Hendrix is still the greatest guitarist who’s ever picked up the instrument. Not just because his incredible catalog of songs still resonates today with modern listeners, but because he was creating what a rock n roll guitarist could be as he was doing it. He turned listeners on their heads using creative feedback and whammy bar dives, effects that hadn’t been heard until Jimi creatively applied them in recording studios with Eddie Kramer. Jimi’s inspired creativity made him such a success, and I think a lot of that had to do with using the limitations of his guitar to try and coax non-guitar sounds of other instruments out of his guitar. So, for this Tone Talk blog, I wanted to go over some of my creative applications for getting non-guitar sounds out of your electric guitar. Feel free to use these as starting points for your creative journeys.
When starting to wonder about getting different sounds with your instrument, it’s essential to look at other gear choices to understand how to get somewhere. I would argue your creativity is even more critical because you can always get something cool sounding for less. I usually listen to how long notes of the sound I’m attempting to fake sustain and what kind of attack will get me there.
What Are We Copying?: Short sustained notes with a funky attack and reduced bass with boosted mids and high frequencies.
Mise en Place Tone Ingredients Needed: wah-wah and creative use of picking and hand stop.
I find this works best on a Stratocaster on the position with both the bridge and middle pickup engaged. Slapping the strings with your right-hand fingers can help simulate the hammers on a real clavinet. Sometimes I like to pick right next to where the string and the saddle meet on the bridge to help ensure the note doesn’t bloom with too long of a sustain. Either picking pattern you prefer will pair well with the wah pedal to help define the clavinet sound. Trying different thickness picks will also change the point of attack at the saddle and bridge.
What Are We Copying?: Rotating or spinning pulse, with boosted bass frequencies and subtly overdriven.
Mise en Place Tone Ingredients Needed: Chorus or Rotary Pedal, Overdrive for pushing the amplifier, and either an EQ pedal in line with your effects or EQ in post-production.
Don’t have the cash or space for a Leslie cabinet in your home studio? No problem! You can cop the feel with a little ingenuity. Grab a chorus pedal and set the rate to a reasonably high setting to give you some rotation like a Leslie. Stereo choruses will work best to provide Leslie with a 3-D effect, but any chorus will perform adequately here. I like to boost the low end when I’m faking a Leslie to get it a little more authentic sounding. I prefer to do this with some outboard EQ by raising some of the low-end and carving out a little bit of the upper-mids and high-end frequencies. Adding a bit of gain from an overdrive pedal can help darken the tone and add some grit like a real gritty Leslie. I will also fake a Leslie by using the Electro Harmonix POG to shape frequency between octaves and then add the chorus, EQ, and overdrive, as previously mentioned.
What Are We Copying?: Slightly detuned sounding shimmer with medium length sustain.
Mise en Place Tone Ingredients Needed: Electro Harmonix POG, a chorus pedal, reverb on your amplifier.
So, there isn’t the best way to do this. Ideally, we’d be recording with a tremendous twelve-string guitar to get bold sounding chords and shimmering arpeggios, but here I’m going to show you how I would fake this in the demo studio setting. I use a combination of my electric guitar and double-tracking effects to get the right amount of thickness on a recording. I like to make one recording of a guitar running an original Electro Harmonix POG with the input slider at 40%, the dry and lp filter to maximum, and raise the detuned octave to about 70%. I use this as my core of the twelve-string tone. I then will double-track whatever I played with a direct guitar and a chorus pedal. I like to add a little reverb to the POG’d guitar. I then pan either of this hard either way to help get some space in the twelve-string sound.
What Are We Copying?: Limitless sustain, subtle chirping, and no difference between attack and note bloom.
Mise en Place Tone Ingredients Needed: E-Bow, slide, Pitch Vibrato Pedal (I will use a Digitech Whammy V1), and guitar volume knob.
If you’ve ever watched the original Star Trek and wondered how they got the, oh so perfect yet quirky space sounds for the theme? Well, ladies and gentlemen, that would be the theremin. In essence, the theremin is an electronic instrument played without physical contact. The distance of the “thereminist” hands from the two antennas adjust pitch and volume; if you’ve ever heard The Beach Boys “Good Vibrations,” you’ve listened to The Theremin.
To get a proper fake-sounding theremin on a recording, we will need a few things to help our guitars get the kind of sustain a theremin is known for. I like to use the E-Bow to bow my strings and create endless sustain electronically. Since the theremin doesn’t have the sound of fingers going across the fingerboard, I suggest you ditch the fingers here and go with a trusty slide. Glass slides will produce cleaner, articulate tones, and brass will create edgier styles. Using the detune setting on the Digitech Whammy will allow you to use your foot to control the warble’s speed in real-time while you play. Using your volume knob to swell into notes can also help your fake theremin tone sound more realistic. Adding delay can make for a trippier sounding, more forgiving fake theremin experience.
Faking Like You’re Scratching Turntables with Guitar:
What Are We Copying?: Rhythmic scratches commonly used by DJ’s in their DJ set.
Mise en Place Tone Ingredients Needed: Guitar Pick, Wahwah.
So this isn’t much of a trick, but it is kind of cool once you realize you can do it. Take your guitar pick and tilt it on its side with the thin border facing the string. IF you rake this part of the pick along with one of the low wound strings on your electric guitar, it makes a scratchy sounding noise. Depending on how far you rake the string and at what location of the string you rake, you can get different pitched scratches. I like to add a wah-wah to the scratches to vary my pitch change as I sweep through different way frequencies.
What Are We Copying?: Low droning bass notes, slack strings slapping against the fingerboard, mellower tone.
Mise en Place Tone Ingredients Needed: Maple Neck Guitar, thicker strings detuned low enough while still intonating, thumb to pick.
Again, this is one of those oh, so helpful tricks that isn’t much of a trick at all. Playing fake bass is excellent for when you’re in the creative mood. I like to take a maple neck guitar to use as a bass. I find this helps cop that early Fender Bass tone easier. I detune the strings. Hopefully, if you have multiple guitars you have this one strung with a little thicker strings for better intonation. Stick to basslines on only the low E and A string and play around to find the notes you want to create a bassline with. Playing with your thumb can help mellow the sound out a bit like a real bassist. I also like to record with as many amplifiers, direct signals, and microphones as possible to treat each track with EQ and compression to create a convincing bass tone.