NOTE: This website is frequently updated. Last update January 2016.
TONE BUILDING - What do each of the pedals David Gilmour used do and how do you set them to get similar Pink Floyd tones? Which pickups and amps work best for those tones? Here is a general guide to the gear and how to get the tones. There are audio clips demonstrating building basic Gilmour tones using some of the same gear David used. These clips are designed to show what each individual piece of gear contributes to the tone. This is not a comprehensive song by song list by any means, just a general guide based on my experience. I highly recommend you look at Gilmourish.com and The Tone from Heaven for much more detailed reference for all the gear David has used throughout the years. Those guys have really done their home work and have created very comprehensive websites on everything to do with David Gilmour's gear and tone, but for my website I wanted to focus on actual sound clips and settings for reference. Enjoy!
Animals - The effects used and sound clips (coming soon)
The Wall - The effects used and sound clips (coming soon)
After David Gilmour's brief work in 1982 on the last Pink Floyd album, The Final Cut (which was more or less Roger Waters' first solo album), and session work on Atomic Rooster's Headline News album, he completely changed his gear and sound for his 1984 solo album, About Face, and his later session work. The 1980s through the early 1990s was a period where David was working constantly as a session guitarist, making guest appearances on dozens of other artist's recordings, including Roy Harper, Pete Townshend, Bryan Ferry, Paul McCartney, Peter Cetera, Kate Bush, Supertamp, Warren Zevon, Arcadia, Rod Stewart, Berlin, and many others. His sound varied throughout this period, but there was a commonality to the tone of many of his guest solos, as well as a unique and aggressive playing style that utilized a lot of harmonics.
The effects used in this period varied, but there was some common gear recurring in David's rig - the Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal pedal, a Mesa/Boogie amp head, Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive, digital delays, and Fender amplifiers. The key to many of David's high gain lead tones was no longer the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff into Hiwatt and rotary speaker amplifiers. It was the blend of a Boss HM-2 with the Mesa/Boogie amp head, then the HM-2 blended with a Gallien Kreuger ML250 amp. Mesa Engineering was a small company owned by Randall Smith, one of the first "boutique" hand-made amp makers, and the Boogie was one of the first cascading gain stage amplifiers. It was a very popular amplifier among top guitarists at the time, like Carlos Santana and Keith Richards of the Rolling Stones. Mesa went on to become a huge company, but back then these amps were made-to-order. David often used an early 1977-78 model Mesa Boogie Mark I amp head. It was first seen in his live rig for The Wall concerts in 1980-81. The Boogie and fuzz pedal blend made for some incredible guitar tones. The way David used the Boogie in his signal chain was unique (as described below). The Boss CE-2 chorus and a digital delay were also essential elements of these tones.
Not much is known about the gear used for the About Face sessions. David began making demos in early 1983 then recorded sessions in Paris beginning in July 1983 and later in England. Most of the tracks were cut live with a full band, with additional multi tracking added later. Based on the tones, David was going for a completely different sound than his last few Pink Floyd albums. The Boss HM-2 was released in October 1983 and I hear it all over About Face. I also hear the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff in a few places. David has stated he used a vibrato pedal for the synthesizer-like rhythm on Until We Sleep, running in time with the drum tempo. He also said he used a Rockman headphone amp for the outro solo on Blue Light, but that was only because they decided in the mixing stage to add a solo. David had no amplifier in the studio, so they plugged the Rockman straight into the mixning board. The Rockman was a miniture solid state amplifier simulator designed by Tom Scholz (of the band Boston) in 1982. It included two clean modes and distortion tones, along with a built in stereo chorus and echo. It could be played using headphones or plugged directly into a mixing board.
For guitars, David has stated he used his Martin D-35 acoustic, his old Black Strat, and his old 1955 Fender Esquire on a few tracks, along with a lot of other guitars. The Black Strat was fitted with a Seymour Duncan SSL-1 bridge pickup, Charvel 22 fret maple neck, and a new Kahler tremolo system installed in early 1983. It was also around this time that David had the tremolo arm shortened to fit into the palm of his hand when playing. This mod, combined with the Kahler's capability to keep all strings in tune when using the whammy bar, created a whole different dynamic to David's use of the tremolo. The Black Strat was used on the Let's Get Metaphysical instrumental, which sounds like the Boss HM-2 + Mesa/Boogie.
The amplification probably varied as on previous Pink Floyd sessions - likely small Fender combos, the Hiwatt SA212, and David's Mesa/Boogie Mark I.
THE ABOUT FACE TOUR RIG - The About Face tour lasted from March - July 1984. The April concerts at the Hammersmith Odeon in London were filmed and released on VHS as David Gilmour in Concert in 1984. There is also a very good soundboard bootleg of an FM radio broadcast of the July 12th concert in Bethlehem Pennsylvania, and a good bootlet from June 8th in Chicago, Illinois. Many Gilmour fans do not like the guitar tones from this tour as much as other Gilmour eras. The way the sound of this new rig was setup did not allow the expressiveness of David's playing to come through as well as it did on other tours. I found the way David used this setup for his guest solo work on other artist's records from this era much more interesting, as the sound evolved and became more refined after the tour. I still enjoy listening to the 1984 shows, especially David Gilmour In Concert, even though there was a lot of "sameness" to the lead sound, the chorus sound was a bit excessive, and the guitar solos often felt overlong. David was definitely into playing very long solos in this period! However, David's heavenly delay and modulation sound on Short and Sweet and Run Like Hell were stunningly beautiful. Short and Sweet had a fantastic, gritty and liquidy, modulated overdrive tone - like the crashing rumble of thunder made into music. I was obsessed with this Short and Sweet tone, and got something close at the time, but I never really nailed it until I tried eactly what David used - an HM-2 + Mesa/Boogie and Boss CS-3 into my Twin Reverb.
Below are a few medleys of various guitar sections from a few excellent soundboard recordings taken from David Gilmour concerts performed in April and June 1984.
According to David, the gear he used on his About Face album sessions in 1983 - guitars, amps, and effects - was completely different from the gear used for the subsequent tour. That may be, but I think the Boss HM-2+Mesa/Boogie was prominently used on both. The tour gear consisted of Boss effect pedals, a Mesa Boogie amp head, MXR delays, and Fender Twin Reverb II amps.
As stated, the Mesa/Boogie head was key to the tones of this era. David had used the Boogie for light overdrive tones since 1978, in The Wall live rig, and in this rig as an overdrive. For this album David ran the HM-2 into a Boogie head (placed the signal chain using the Slave output), for a blend of the two tones. I believe this combo was used for most of the high gain solos on both the album and the tour. The Boss SD-1 was also used with the Boogie for leads on the tour. I think a Big Muff, or Big Muff + Boogie combo may have also been used for some songs on part of the tour. Gilmour described this exact setup in the November 1984 issue of Guitar Player, after the tour had ended, and just after he had used this rig to record his fantastic guitar work for the Paul McCartney song No More Lonely Nights on October.
The Boss HM-2 Heavy Metal may seem like an odd choice for Gilmour to use. The pedal was first released in 1983 and became a favorite among 1980s hair metal bands and Swedish death metal bands, but it was not strictly limited to playing metal. This was one of the first pedals I ever owned and I played everything but metal with it. It had a unique split-band tone stage. The color L knob added or removed bass bandwidth, and the color H knob added or removed mid range bandwidth. The mids could be completely scooped, even more so than a Big Muff, or completely boosted. Unfortunately the HM-2 lacked any control over the treble range, and by itself the distortion can be a bit harsh. When blended with certain slightly overdriven amps however, like the Mesa/Boogie, the combination made a smooth high gain lead tone.
The Boss SD-1 overdrive was set with the drive at maximum and the tone knob at nearly maximum. When blended with the Boogie head it created a very bright lead tone swith a sweet mid range.
The Mesa/Boogie Mark I head did not power a speaker cabinet in David's rig. It was used strictly as rack effect in the signal chain, no different than an overdrive pedal. A line out after the fuzz and distortion pedals was sent to the Mesa/Boogie Input 1. The Slave line out from the back of the Boogie returned the signal to the signal chain before the delays and modulation effects. In essence, it was just another pedal in the signal chain. After the modulations and delays, the signal was then fed to the primary power amplifiers as usual - typically Fenders. Since a speaker cabinet was not used with the Boogie, the speaker jack was plugged into an 8ohm load resistor to prevent damage to the power tubes and output transformer. Some Boogies were also made with an optional graphic equalizer for tone sculpting, but David did not have that option on this model. A Boss GE-7 EQ pedal was used to fine tune the tone.
(left) David adjusting a Boss pedal. (middle) Boss CE-3 stereo chorus. (right) David's pedal board included the following effects:
The CE-3 chorus effect was very heavy and prominent in almost all the songs, almost flange-like the way David used it. It was a very different sounding chorus than the Boss CE-2 David used for The Wall concerts, and sounds much better through darker (mid-scooped) amps like the Twin Reverb. To replicate the 1984 tour sound correctly set the Rate knob around 12:00, the Depth knob around 2:30, and set the Mode knob to position I. For the heavier, flange-like sound used on Run Like Hell and Short and Sweet, set the Depth full open. Since the MXR delays were not stereo effects with separate L and R channels, the CE-3 was placed last in the signal chain to utilize its stereo outputs. The left and right channels were each sent to one of the Twin Reverbs. A CE-2 or one of the later Boss chorus pedals will also work for a mono setup, but there is a characteristic of the CE-3 modulation that is very distinct in David's 1984 sound. The CE-2 has a much brighter mid range than the CE-3, and requires completely different settings to create a similar modulation and the CE-3.
A Big Muff can be seen on the pedal board in some photos shot in the rehearsal prior to an April show, but it does not appear to be on the board in the concert video taped on April 30th for MTV's David Gilmour in Concert broadcast and VHS release. Perhaps David was trying it out in this rig and decided to remove it later.
The rack effects were all MXR. At the top of the rack was an MXR Pitch Transposer and Pitch Transposer Display. Based on the official recordings and bootlegs, David only used the MXR Pitch Transposer for the solo at the end of Until We Sleep. There was also an MXR Digital Delay System and MXR Digital Delay System II (along with the Boss digital delay). The reason David used multiple delays was to set each for a different delay time setting for specific songs and to adjust delay time on-the-fly during shows.
Everything was run through a Boss SCC-700 pedal board system, which David would use for the next three years. It was one of the first production made programmable effects switching systems on the market, replacing David's Pete Cornish custom pedal board used for The Wall shows. Any effects connected could be programmed to switch on in any order. Even with that, David found the system lacking for what he needed and added a separate, smaller effects switching pedal board to the rig for delay and volume pedal switching.
The signal was sent to two brand new Fender Twin Reverb II amplifiers for stereo. The Twin Reverb II was a Paul Rivera era design, made from 1983-1986. It was a different circuit than the older Fender Twin Reverbs or Showman amps David had used in the past. The Reverb II's clean tone was voiced like a mid-scooped Twin, but it also had an overdrive stage that sounded a bit like a Mesa/Boogie, something common in the Rivera era designs. The II also had a fairly extreme mid range boost, although photos showing David's settings indicate he only had the mids knob set to arund 3. These particular Twins were probably used primarily because of the Fender clean tone. An extra Twin II was in the rack as a spare, along with the previously mentioned Mesa/Boogie Mark I. The signal went from the Twins to two WEM 4x12 cabinets with Fane Crescendo speakers and two Marshall 4x12 cabinets with Celestion speakers.
For the tour guitars, David used a 1976 Ovation Custom Legend acoustic, a Washburn solid-body acoustic, two new Fender vintage reissue guitars, a Roger Giffin custom headless guitar, and the old, heavily modified, Black Strat. It now included a Seymour Duncan SSL-1 bridge pickup, Charvel 22 fret maple neck, and a Kahler tremolo system installed in early 1983. It was tuned to Dropped D (low E changed to D) to play Short and Sweet, and Run Like Hell.
The floundering Fender company was recently bought from CBS by the employees and re-organized. They had just made a line of high quality vintage reissue Stratocasters, supposedly made to vintage specs. They were not, but the build quality was far better than the previous Fenders under CBS ownership, so in 1983 David went to the Arbiters warehouse in London and picked out two of the new reissues to use on the 1984 tour. A cream colored '57 reissue Strat with a maple neck, which was his main guitar, and a fiesta red '62 reissue Strat with an ebony neck. Both had the tremolo arms shortened so David could hold them in his palm while playing.
Kit’s Secret Guitar, Gear, and Music Page