In 2006 David Gilmour's third solo album, On an Island, added some new guitar tones to the Gilmour repertoire and gave us several incredible guitar solos. David's live performances during the OAI tour, featured in the Remember That Night DVD and the Live In Gdansk CD and DVD, were full of stellar performances and showcase his playing in top form. I like the tones from the tour better than what I hear on the studio recordings for On and Island, although the studio recordings feature some great work as well. The most noticable change from David's last album of new work, 1994's the Division Bell, was that David has almost completely stopped using modulation to color his guitar tones. This was a stark contrast to much of his previous work which featured chorus, flanger, vibe, and other modulations. David's trademark wet delayed sound however, was still present. The album had a softer acoustic feel than most of his previous work, but there were still plenty of overdriven and distorted guitar solo tones, especially on the subsequent tour. Those of us who followed his work knew that his trademark tones were not created by massive amounts of effects and processing, and this album and tour prove that more than any other Gilmour work.
David's basic setup was rather simple, with the core distortion and dirt tones coming from only three pedals. The Pete Cornish G-2 and Cornish P-1 were the feature pedals for most of David's distortion solos, and his trusty B.K. Butler Tube Drivers were the primary drive pedals. The P-1 is a high quality Ram's Head era Big Muff Pi clone, and the G-2 is Big Muff based overdrive circuit. David used two identical Tube Drivers, one set for heavy overdrive and one for a light drive tones and boosting his Big Muffs. Below are comparison sound clips of each of these primary On and Island pedals. Clips play in this order: BK Bulter Tube Driver, Ram's Head Big Muff, Pete Cornish G-2.
TUBE DRIVER, RAM'S HEAD BIG MUFF, G-2 COMPARISONS
ON AN ISLAND STUDIO EFFECTS - OAI was recoded on David's floating recording studio, the Astoria. Among the gear David used was his custom MK1 pedal board, built by effects gear guru Pete Cornish. The MK1 included a Demeter Compulator (compressor), Pete Cornish G-2, Electro-Harmonix Ram's Head Big Muff, Pete Cornish SS-2, BK Butler/Chandler Tube Driver, Pete Cornish T.E.S. (Tape Echo Simulator), and a Cornish Custom Stereo Chorus (modded Boss CE-2). David aslo used a Digitech Whammy WH-1 for pitch bending on The Blue, and the MXR Digital Delay Ststem II.
GUITARS AND AMPS - David's primary guitar for the lead solos for the live shows was his Black Stratocaster, though he also used a gold top Les Paul with P90 pickups. His main amp for the OAI tour was his Hiwatt DR-103 head with WEM and Marshal speaker cabinets. In the studio he used the Black Strat and gold top Les Paul, a wide variety of amps, including an old Fender Tweed Twin 40w amp, and the Hiwatt DR-103 for some parts. Other amps can be seen in the Astoria recording studio Pocket Full of Stones security video snapshots shown below, including a Marshal head, Alessandro, and others.
David recording On and Island at his Astoria floating recording studio. Note the wide variety of small amps and cabinets. Gilmourish.com has some great info about all the OAI guitars, amps, effects, and which songs they were used on.
ON AN ISLAND LIVE SOUND - The mixes of the On an Island official live recordings at various venues differ in tone from each other quite a bit, but you will notice all have a more direct, in your face, tone that the studio recording, with none of the modulation from previous tours. Below are solos clips from the studio recording and various live performances.
ON AN ISLAND TOUR EFFECTS - For the On an Isand tour David had a new pedal board made by Pete Cornish, the Mark II. This was a revised and simplified version of his previous MK1 effects boards, and included the primary effects used for the studio recording. It featured unity gain all-tube buffering, to reduce the load long cable runs and pedals add to the signal and mimic the sound benefits of plugging directly into an amp. See the Tone From Heaven website for a comprehensive guide to David's Pete Cornish pedal boards.
ON AN ISLAND EFFECTS BOARD - For the OAI tour and other live performances from this era David used the Pete Cornish P-1, G-2 and two B.K. Butler Tube Drivers for his lead tones. One Tube Driver driver was set for a clean boost and one for overdrive. Both were newly made reissues, slightly different than the old Pulse era BKB/Chandler Tube Drivers. The G-2 is a sort of a low gain Big Muff circuit mixed with a warm germanium fuzz-distortion tone, almost like an overdrive. The P-1 is a high quality Ram's Head Big Muff clone, and the BK Butler Tube Driver is a tube overdrive pedal. David also used a Demeter Compulator compressor, Boss GE-7 equalizer, Digitech Whammy WH-1, Univibe, Cornish modified boss DD2 digital delay, Pete Cornish T.E.S. (tape echo simulator), and MXR Digital Delay. Sometime during the OAI tour David added a Triangle Big Muff and a T-rex Replica delay to one of the MKII board send/returns, likely for the distortion leads played during the funky part of Echoes, where it was necessary to turn delay and distortion on and off simultaneously.
Note that David's signature modulation effect, the Boss CE-2, has been removed from this board. As far as I can tell, David's only modulation for this tour was the external rack mounted Univox Univibe.
(left to right) David Gilmour's MK2 Pete Cornish custom all-tube, buffered pedal board, and a modified version of it from the 2006 tour. Note that some effect labels were changed for the tour. You can see a Triangle Big Muff and a T-rex Replica delay pedal mounted on top of the board in a few of these photos. This combo was likely used for Echoes. Please visit the Tone From Heaven website for more information about David's Cornish board and effects.
EFFECT SETTINGS - For this tour we were lucky enough to see some actual photos of David's rig with all effect settings shown from the Kodak Theatre performance in 2006. Below is a diagram of the MK2 board with the settings from one of the shows. The effects used for particular songs varied from show to show depending on the venue sound and David's preference at the time, but most of the effect settings likely remained the same for the tour, as indicated by the knob setting tick marks on the board. Also note that the actual board knobs are all upside down (180 degree rotation) from the way they would normally read (according to Pete Cornish from the Tone From Heaven website). This was to make it easier to read the knob indicator lines using the in board LED lights, which illuminate from the bottom. On my diagram below I have also shown the knob settings in the standard orientation. Gilmour said in a 2009 interview regarding this board - "I've got a pedal board that switches to a north track or a south track". As I understand it from Pete Cornish, the effects without the north/south toggle switch affect anything when on, whether the distortions or TDs are on in the north or south track. North/south just refers to the physical position of effects on the board, not two separate signal chains. It's more like an A/B switch. There was a puposeful limitation in the chain that prevented both the G-2 and P-1 distortions from being on at the same time, and both Tube Drivers from being used at the same time, but otherwise David could use any combination of effects.
THE CORNISH MARK II BOARD - The switches on the MK2 board are labeled in this order, left to right:
(shown above) David Gilmour's MK2 Pete Cornish effects board settings from the Kodak Theatre performance. Note that most settings also correspond to the tick marks on the board, but David likely adjusts his settings from venue to venue.
(shown above) David Gilmour's alternate settings seen on the live in Gdansk DVD. The Tube Driver #2 and G-2 are the only effects with slightly different settings.
SIGNAL CHAIN - Here is the signal chain from the MKII board from the Pete Cornish website, with my additonal notes:
OUTPUT BUFFERS - Note that many effects feature a unity gain tube buffer in the output stage. The net effect of the output buffer is that the signal of each effect pedal circuit is balanced and reacts as it it were the only pedal in line from the guitar before it hits the amplifier.
BOOSTING BIG MUFFS WITH A TUBE DRIVER - The G-2 and P-1 pedals are essentailly Big Muff circuits, although the G-2 is heavily modified for more of an overdrive sound. It is known that David has used one of his Tube Drivers as a boost/EQ pedal for his Big Muffs in the past, and this was the case for the On and Island tour as well. When David "boosts", he is not using the drive as a volume boost, but to create a blend of the two pedals, and EQ the sound. Since the Tube Drivers follow the P-1 and G-2 in the signal chain, it is actually one those two pedals that are boosting the Tube Driver. I experimented with the exact pedal settings shown above, using the exact same pedals David used, and a Hiwatt custom 50 amp. I found that when the Tube Driver #2 with the low drive setting is placed after the Cornish P-1, it simply adds a slight gain boost. There is practically no tone coloring of the P-1 sound with the lo and hi EQ settings, and no volume change. The added drive makes the P-1 distortion sound like it is almost to the point of breakup, giving it a slighlty dirtier sound, similar to the way a speaker breaks up with high volume, and some of the buziness of the Muff is sonftened. The difference is minor, but it is a breakup the P-1 will not create on its own through a Hiwatt amp, even when the P-1 sustain is at maximum. You can hear this tone on the second On an Island solo.
The boost effect is slightly different when the G-2 is blended with the Tube Driver. The distortion created by the G2 is not as high gain as a typical Big Muff circuit like the P-1, and the tone is a bit thinner. When blended with the Tube Driver #2, The G-2 drive gets a boost, and the tone color smooths out slightly. One weak point of the G-2, in my opinion, is the low gain, so this combo puts the G-2 on par with the P-1. The G-2/TD blend is actually very hard to tell apart from the P-1 sound in a band setting, but the P-1 has a slightly thicker tone. I don't know how often David used the Tube Driver and G-2 at the same time, but I hear the G-2 on the Time solo and the G-2/TD combo on Take A Breath solos from Live In Gdansk.
PARALLEL MIXED DELAYS IN THE MK II BOARD - The delay system inside and outside the Mk II board is very interesting. People always wonder how David gets his smooth delay sounds. David often uses two delays. Stacking one delay after another in your signal chain can degrade your tone because your original signal travels through, and is altered by, two delay circuits before coming out the other end. Also, two delays in line, while useful for some double tap delay effects, means that one delay creates repeats that are then repeated again by a second delay, which can create a messy, mushy delay sound. David's setup in the Mk II board is very different.
Inside the board is a two mode delay. The first mode is a Boss DD-2 digital delay, with controls located in the Delay 1 section. Controls are identical to the old Boss DD-2/DD-3 delay. L/M/S (shown in the board diagram above) represent long, medium, and short delay time modes. David has tick marks for only long and short positions. DTM is delay time. F/BK is feedback, or the number of echo repeats. Knob settings shown above correspond to a Boss DD-2 set at approximately 440ms delay with feedback/echo repeats set at 80%, or around 10-11 repeats. The red knob marked DLY in the Delay Masters section is a mix knob for the DD-2.
The second mode of the delay circuit is the T.E.S. This is meant to simulate the warm, limited bandwidth sound of an old analog tape echo delay by rolling off the high frequencies (hi-cut) gradually wth each echo repeat. The on/off switch for the TES circuit switch is labeled B/W on the board, for bandwidth, and the B/W knob in the Delay Master section is an EQ to control the amount of roll off the TES applies to the DD-2 echo repeats. It appears David has his set for a 4k hi-cut. The blue MXR knob is a mix knob for the external MXR digital delay.
The Pete Cornish Tape Echo Simulator (TES) delay. This is the stand alone pedal version made by Pete. It is essentially a Boss DD-2 digital delay circuit combined with a five position hi-cut circuit to simulate the limited bandwidth decay of an old tape echo unit.
There are foot switches to turn the delay on (Delay 1), switch to the T.E.S. circuit (B/W), and switch on the external MXR digital delay (MXR). To maintain the best possible signal quality, these delays are mixed parallel with the original signal. This keeps the original dry signal from being altered when running through the delay circuits by splitting off a separate signal to the delays, while the original dry signal is allowed to run through the other effects on the board. The delay signal is mixed back with the dry signal at the end of the signal chain before it hits the amplifier. The signal splits three ways - a dry signal, a DD-2/TES signal set for 100% echo repeats only (meaning no dry signal, only the repeats), and an MXR signal set to 100% echo repeats only. These are then mixed together inside the board with the red and blue mix control knobs you see in the Delay Masters section. By having the two delays in separate signal chains, one delay does not repeat the other. This allows David to get the benefits of two delays, each with different delay times, creating a huge delay sound without very noticable echo repeats. At times it has the feel of reverb, but without the negative tone altering effect of reverb. The unique characteristics of each delay remain intact, and are nicely blended together with the pristine dry signal before they hit the amplifier.
David's MXR Digital Delay System II rack unit from the On an Island tour showing a note for David's Echoes delay time of 300ms, one for the delay in Time, and 423ms in the display
This is one of David Gilmour's most superbly crafted solos, from the title song of his On and Island album. He supposedly used a Pete Cornish G-2 for the solos on the record, and a Pete Cornish P-1 or G-2 with Tube Driver boost, or in some cases just the Tube Driver #2 when playing live. It is likely David did not use the same pedal every time a dong was performed, but rather chose the one he thought would sound best for the venue, and his mood at the time. Here are clips of both solos from the studio recording, with isloted parts from the 5.1 mix.
Since I was going for the live tone here, below are clips of Gilmour playing the solo live at different times from 2006 for reference
I found that just about any good vintage sounding Big Muff or Muff clone will give you a similar sound when lightly boosted with a BK Butler Tube Driver and colored a bit with a Boss GE-7 EQ. The Ram's Head Big Muff seems to be the best match in my rig. David uses some delay here, so you need a warm sounding digital or analog delay. You need a clean tube amp with lots of headroom like a Hiwatt DR103 or Fender Twin, and the amp should be set fairly bright. I would stay away from using amp reverb, unless it is set very low. Below are clips I made with the various pedals David has used for comparison, and some alternates.
Signal chain: Am Std Fender Strat w/Seymour Duncan SSL5 bridge pup > Muff (or clone) > BK Butler Tube Driver > Boss GE-7 > TC Electonic Nova delay. Played into a clean '65 Fender Twin Reverb RI. Backing track was created by Deck, posted on The Gilmour Gear Forum, with a bit of the studio track mixed in by me. The settings on the Tube Driver, EQ, and delay are basically the same on each clip, EXCEPT the Tube Driver overdrive clip, which is just the TD and some delay. Settings used are shown below.
Pete Cornish G-2 (heavily modified Big Muff with Germanium diodes)
Ram's Head Big Muff - vintage
Pete Cornish P-1 (Modified Ram's Head Big Muff clone)
Pete Cornish P-2 (Modified Ram's Head Big Muff clone)
BK Butler Tube Driver overdrive - with “TUBE 2” overdrive settings from David's Cornish board (No separate EQ)
ALTERNATE PEDALS - Below are some clips of this solo using other Gilmourish sounding pedals. Some sound much better for this tone than others, but each have thier own unique character, so this is a good reference for the tonal differences in each pedal. The settings (pictured above) on the Tube Driver, EQ, and delay are basically the same on each clip, except the Pink Flesh, which does not require the Tube Driver boost.
Sovtek Green Big Muff
USA Big Muff Re-Issue (current V9 Muff)
Skreddy Pink Flesh (Triangle Big Muff clone with some built in boost). The Skreddy Pig Mine is another alternative for this tone.
B.Y.O.C. Large Beaver (Triangle Muff clone - 4 Knob Version)
Absolutely Analog Green Russian (Green Sovtek Big Muff clone)
ProCo Rat 2 (A Muffush sounding distortion)
Skreddy Lunar Module (Not a Muff, but more of a Fuzz Face/Overdrive type pedal)
Article written in 2008. Updated 2009, 2010, 2011
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