Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery
Musicians spend their entire playing careers searching for ‘their’ sound. Some find it through a combination of trial and error, while others know exactly the timbre they’re searching for before they even pick up an instrument in anger. Some however prefer to mimic the tones and backlines of their favourite players, through careful selection of gear and techniques. To help those who fall into the latter camp, we’ve put together the following list which will hopefully help in the decision-making process. We’ve chosen four different musical styles, and created rigs which will help achieve the aims of different types of player. The selected gear isn’t going to magically make you play like the artist in question, but it should get you in the right ballpark, and allow you a solid platform on which to start sculpting your own chosen sound.
1. Classic (Dave Gilmour)
Classic rock is such a broad term. Pick up the magazine under the same moniker and you can reasonably expect to find articles on acts as diverse as Bon Jovi and Jethro Tull. One band which certainly sits in this bracket however is Pink Floyd, and thankfully it’s pretty simple to put together a decent approximation of Dave Gilmour’s tone for (almost) under £500.
To start, we’ve chosen the Squier Vintage Modified 70’s Stratocaster, which could only look more Gilmourish if it had white plastic pickup covers and knobs. The build quality on these guitars ensures they punch well above their weight, and the familiar Strat tones are all correct and present.
For the amp, we’ve taken a slight liberty as there’s no way on earth you’d find a (working) Hiwatt Custom 50 within our strict budget. We’ve opted instead for the Blackstar ID:15 TVP Guitar Combo Amplifier, which boasts perfectly workable “True Valve Power” valve modelling technology as well as 6 amp sounds and 12 effects. You’ll get plenty of clean headroom from this, and it can comfortably find its way over to the world of higher gain tones if necessary.
Finally, as a treat if you want independent foot switching effects, you can indulge all your Shine On You Crazy Diamond fantasies with the Jim Dunlop MXR Phase 95 Guitar Effects Pedal, which will make the iconic melody line sound extra authentic. However this will take you past your budget… but totally worth it!
2. Acoustic/Singer-songwriter (Ed Sheeran)
Ed Sheeran has sold a lot of records. Like, loads of records. Sold out loads of venues too. He’s also got more money in the bank than most people, and he’s doubtless enjoyed the various trappings which come with being a mega-selling, high profile musician. How did he manage this? With little more than an acoustic guitar and a looper pedal (and some songwriting talent, vocal ability, luck, nouse etc etc…) What’s interesting though is that you can buy pretty much the same setup the man himself uses for under £500.
Ed himself has a signature Martin acoustic, which is a variation on the American brand’s LXM model (£349), a tiny ‘backpacker’ guitar which is small enough to travel with but big enough to sound tremendous. You can pick up the non-Sheeran version for a very tidy price, and with the remaining cash get a good quality Boss RC-3 looper pedal.
Looper pedals are superb for honing your songwriting chops, and the Boss RC-3 (£135) boasts enough internal memory to record and store entire passages of songs so you could build a complete backing track set to start gigging with in no time.
3. Metal (Jim Root)
For the metal selection, we’ve modelled our choices on Slipknot’s Jim Root. What’s interesting about Mr Root is that, unlike many of his Ibanez/ESP adorned contemporaries, Jim prefers the distinctly un-metal combination of Fender into Orange. If you’ve ever heard him play, you’d likely agree that his sound isn’t the typical sound you’d expect from such a setup, but there’s no doubt he has managed to find a metallic sweet-spot hidden somewhere in the frequency spectrum. But how can you achieve it for under £500? Quite easily, since you ask…
The Squier Jim Root (£328) is a slimmed down (spec-wise, at least) version of the EMG equipped Mexican Tele Jim launched when he first started working with Fender. The Squier version boasts a mahogany body for a thick, juicy metal tone, while the humbuckers beef up an already high output and make it perfect for those chugged palm-mute riffs.
The Orange Micro Terror head (£99) is a tool of delight too, packing a huge punch from such a tiny box. And if you think it can’t pull off a realistic metal tone, you’d be wrong. Ok, the 8″ speaker in the Orange PPC 108 Micro Terror cab (£59) won’t be suitable for your next date at Wembley, but it does suit being left at home while you plug your Micro Terror head into a 4×12 at your practice room. Sure, the head might look a bit funny perched on a full size cabinet, but the glorious warm tone it produces won’t leave you feeling shortchanged.
4. Electronic/Production (Pharrell Williams)
Stepping away from guitars, we have the mighty Native Instruments Maschine (£469). For the sake of clarity, this one piece of kit will completely wipe out your £500 budget in one fell swoop, but the sonic possibilities you can extract from it are near endless. For DJs, hip-hop producers, electronic artists, creative experimenters and anyone with an open mind, this product really is the daddy. With it, you can programme beats, chop up samples, control MIDI instruments, arrange, mix, record, produce; it’s everything you’d need in one disco-lit box.
What Maschine does really well is make things easy to pick up. Traditional DAWs can have a fierce learning curve, but with Maschine you can start hitting things almost immediately and come up with something useable. The 11gb of contained sounds, not to mention NI’s famous Massive synth, ensure pretty much any sound you’d want is contained within, and the in-built sampler expands wildly on the creative possibilities.