One of the most legendary performances ever delivered on an electric guitar was
Jimi Hendrix’s rendition of the “Star-Spangled
Banner” at Woodstock. What really made it
impressive was his ability to emulate the sounds
of a battlefield—bombs being dropped from a
fleet of planes, ambulances in transit, and the
absolute chaos that surrounds a war scene.
When in the pursuit of specific instrumental tones, I reduce any sound to two
parameters—the bloom (sustain) and the
attack—and then analyze them. Does the
instrument have infinite sustain or does the
note die off quickly? Is the initial attack of
the sound hard and pronounced or does it
blend in with the bloom? Then I’ll assemble
a chain of components that will help me
capture the desired effect. Following are some
tonal recipes to add to your sound cookbook.
A Pedaltrain JR wired with Spectraflex cables that’s literally overflowing with sonic options. Top
row: MXR Stereo Chorus, Way Huge Aqua-Puss, Way Huge Ring Worm, MXR EVH Phase 90, Dunlop DC Brick, MXR KFK- 1 10-band EQ. Bottom row: Line 6 M5, MXR Blue Box, Way Huge Green
Rhino, Way Huge Pork Loin, MXR Custom Badass ’ 78 Distortion, MC404 CAE Wah.
Tonal Characteristics: Infinite sustain,
slight pitch warble, attack and bloom are
Components Needed: Pitch vibrato pedal,
slide, Sustainiac pickup or EBow, volume
knob or volume pedal.
even more authentic, I’ll use an MXR KFK- 1
10-band EQ to boost the low frequencies
and scoop out some highs and mids. A mild
amount of dirt from an overdrive pedal also
helps provide some genuine organ character.
Tonal Characteristics: Short attack with a
bloom that dies off quickly. Lows are cut,
while mids and high mids are pronounced.
Components Needed: Wah pedal and well-developed tapping and hammer techniques.
locations on the strings. Placing metal jewelry
on the strings can also yield similar characteristics. Using a coin as a plectrum helps accentuate the sharp attack, and plucking the strings
as close to the bridge as possible is vital for
obtaining these ethnic sounds. I’ll also use an
EQ pedal to cut low frequencies and boost the
highs and high-mids.
The theremin is often associated with spooky
movies but has also been used in pop music,
including the Beach Boys’ mega-hit “Good
Vibrations.” The Pitch Vibrato setting on the
Line 6 M5 is great for obtaining the slight
pitch warble, and a slide will allow you to
change pitch in that smooth theremin manner. This is important because the flutters
produced when running your fingers over
bumpy frets are a dead giveaway that the
sound is coming from a guitar. Also, you’ll
want to swell into notes using your guitar’s
volume knob or a volume pedal to achieve
the most convincing theremin sound.
It’s best to have two pickups engaged for
this sound. Your fingers are taking the place
of the clavinet hammers, so you’ll want to
be sure they’re landing on the strings with a
good amount of force to get the right sound.
What makes this convincing on a guitar is the
length of the notes while paired with the midrange honk of the wah. (View a video of me
demonstrating this sound at jimdunlop.com.)
Tonal Characteristics: Infinite sustain with
constant volume. Notes often pass through
a step series of frequencies. Highs are usually reduced.
Components: Sustaining device and synth-emulating pedals.
Tonal Characteristics: Rotating or fast pulsing
effect. Boosted bass and slightly overdriven.
Components Needed: Chorus or rotary
pedal, EQ pedal, overdrive pedal.
Sitar, Koto, Shamisen, and Biwa
Tonal Characteristics: Narrow frequency
range and pinched sounds. Reduced bass
frequencies and lots of high-mids and
highs. Attack is sharp and pronounced.
Bloom has a metallic character.
Components: Paper clips, bread ties, coins,
metal jewelry, EQ pedal.
If you don’t have the cash for Leslie cabinets or
your amp doesn’t have vibrato, the MXR Stereo
Chorus or the Rotary setting on the Line 6 M5
are great substitutes. You can use just about any
chorus pedal, but make sure the rate or speed
is turned up enough to simulate the rotating
nature of a Leslie. To get an organ sound that’s
Pink Floyd’s Dark Side Of The Moon con-
tains some of the most iconic synthesizer
sounds ever, and the Way Huge Ring Worm
has a step-sign setting that nails the arpeg-
giating synth sound from the intro of “On
the Run.” There’s a particular bank of
sounds on the Line 6 M5 that also boasts a
number of useful synth settings for guitar.
The koto, shamisen, and biwa are traditional
Japanese instruments with distinctive, metallic-like tones. This metallic element is even more
pronounced on a sitar. The best way I’ve found
to achieve this is to place varying amounts of
paper clips and/or square bread ties at different
PAUL “TFO” ALLEN
is a multi-instrumentalist who has worked
with Big & Rich, Adele, Sebastian Bach,
112, Jake Owen, Larry The Cable Guy, and
many others. He also has his own project
called Ten Finger Orchestra. Reach him at