Get Their Sound: Graham Coxon (Blur)
Looking back over the ’90s and there was a glut of underrated guitarists who have eventually come to gain the recognition they deserve. One such wizard is Graham Coxon.
A common question asked in many a playground during those heady days was “Are you Blur or Oasis?” – even Father Dougal Maguire couldn’t escape it. At the time I remember thinking that the Gallagher’s had the swagger and style, but there was still something about Coxon’s chops that stood out.
It wasn’t until THAT solo on “Coffee & TV” that I fully understood what an enigmatic player Coxon was. Even now that solo blows my mind and hearing the process he went through to craft it is a lesson in just running with an idea and using whatever means necessary to get there. In several interviews conducted with Coxon over the years he described how he simply fiddled on the fingerboard with his fretting hand as his right hand navigated the various devices on his pedalboard to conjure up another worldly onslaught of fuzz-driven loveliness.
Taking things down a notch though, his setup wasn’t altogether radical for a fair chunk of his early career: Telecaster (albeit with a PAF in the neck position instead of a single-coil) > RAT distortion/fuzz > digital delay > Marshall Super Lead > job done. Though this may be a heavily condensed version it still rings true that most of the magic came from Coxon’s unique take on chordal phrasing, aping his State-side contemporaries and heroes like Ira Kaplan (Yo La Tengo), Stephen Malkmus (Pavement) and Thurston Moore (Sonic Youth).
With this in mind let’s look at some gear that you can use to try and achieve the same beefed-up tones.
A Tele’ with a humbucker
Getting back to that Tele’ mentioned above, Coxon favoured a shop bought Tele’ that someone had doctored by adding a PAF-style pickup in the neck position. Fender did go as far as to make the Fender Graham Coxon Telecaster with Seymour Duncan-59 SH-1 in the neck position.
What would be considered blasphemy to some in switching out the Tele’ neck pickup, has actually become a standard feature since adopted by Fender on their American Performer Telecaster Hum model. The combination of thick and creamy neck tones for dense rhythm chops and articulate Tele’ twang from the single-coil in the bridge is a treat.
However, if you’d prefer something more budget-friendly, then believe it or not Squier do an exceptional job with their Classic Vibe ’70s Telecaster Custom with Fender-Designed Wide Range humbucking pickup in the neck position.
Amps that aren’t shy about making noise
In his quest for achieving a full-on, in your face tonal delivery, Coxon tried many an amp before settling on the Marshall Super Lead. Throughout its many decades on this here planet, the Super Lead has been the go-to for rock royalty who want to deliver blistering sonic assaults. It just so happens that Marshall took note of the fact that some want the same tones, but don’t need to 100-Watt delivery at the same time. Earlier this year they released the heavenly Marshall Studio Vintage SV20C, which delivers the legendary Super Lead 1959 Plexi tone in a studio and stage-friendly package.
If you have your sights set on a Marshall that is somewhat less expensive, then check out the Marshall’s CODE 25. Not only will you save a couple of bob compared to the Marshall Studio Vintage, but it is host to a wide range of preset preamp, power amp, and speaker cab models, as well as 24 pro-quality FX with the ability to use up to 5 simultaneously. You get a bit more versatility in your tone shaping efforts. Plus, it boasts Bluetooth and USB connectivity for connecting smart devices and controlling presets wirelessly.
Fuzz you like
Getting it out of the way nice and early, Coxon used a Rat Distortion pedal, which combined with the amp created a cacophonous fuzzy tsunami. If you want one, then by all means go for it.
However, if you want to explore other fuzz pedal options then you could go down the route of Jim Dunlop’s Hendrix-inspired fuzz boxes. Alternatively, the BOSS Fuzz FZ-5 has the name for a reason. Surprisingly flexible, the FZ-5 offers up retro-inspired ’60s and ’70s style fuzz, which responds to the dynamics of your picking beautifully. Dial back you pick strokes and the FZ-5 backs off a bit but dig in and it produces some clout. The built-in Boost control and proprietary COSM technology infuses overdrive into your tone for a gnarlier, more aggressive attitude.
Sticking with BOSS, it has to be the DD-7 digital delay. Not only is it built like a tank, but the versatility of this pedal can’t be overstated. As well as Modulation and Analogue delay settings, you can narrow down Delay times with precision, and there’s even Hold mode with up to 40 seconds of recording to create sound-on-sound loops.
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Uncovering the gear behind the artist is a privilege and a pleasure. Check out our articles on The 1975, Brian May, Mumford & Sons, Squarepusher, Deftones, Jimi Hendrix, and Tony Iommi, with more to come!