Get one step closer to achieving iconic rock tone…
Coming to prominence as the lead guitarist of seminal grunge rockers Pearl Jam, Mike McCready has been laying down lightning fast licks for nearly four decades. As a youngster his parents played Hendrix and Santana, heavily influencing his musical tastes and eventually his playing style (“Yellow Ledbetter” anyone?). However, along with his exceptional phrasing, breath-taking agility across the fingerboard and the ferocious passion with which he plays, McCready has utilised a lot of gear across his studio and touring days.
You only need to take a look at the many backstage videos knocking about on YouTube, live videos, interviews with many a guitar publication etc., to see that he is an absolute gear nut. From guitars to amps to pedals he has amassed an impressive haul that would impress the most discerning of collectors.
So, as with our other “Get Their Sound” articles, we’re going to narrow things down to a select few that’ll give you McCready’s tone from the early days, think “Ten”& “Vs”. Hopefully, we can keep things relatively simple and prevent ourselves from falling down that rabbit hole of gear, gear, and oh, more gear.
It begins with the guitar
One of McCready’s foremost musical influences was the legend that was Stevie Ray Vaughan. Having read that SRV had a predilection for ’59 Strats, he eventually sought out his own as Pearl Jam became more popular. Now, after doing a bit of digging around it turns out that the Strat’ Vaughan favoured the most – aka “The First Wife” -, had a bit of everything going on. For a start it featured “a ’63 body with pickups taken from a ’59, and a 1962 neck with a thicker D profile more suited to SRV’s playing style“. So, McCready might have been slightly off the mark but there is a model that comes surprisingly close.
Fender FSR ’59 Stratocaster
The Fender FSR Limited Edition American Vintage ’59 Pine Stratocaster offers the same curvy yet sleek Strat’ body shape, a generous “D”-shape figured maple neck with hand-rubbed oil finish that you can get to grips with, and an elegant 9.5-inch radius maple fingerboard that responds sweetly to the most ambitious of string bends. Laying down the solo to “Even Flow” is a breeze thanks to this beauty! In the way of pickups, you’ll find a trio of American Vintage ’59 single-coil Strat’ pickups that recreate the gritty yet sophisticated sound of the rough and ready ’59. Not only that but Fender include a hard case too.
Fender Player Series Stratocaster
For those who can’t quite stretch to that with their budget, then the Fender Player Series Strat offers a more affordable option. Featuring the same slimline and ergonomic body shape, it is just as joyous to hit the stage with. However, it is worth noting that rather than a D-profile neck, the Modern Player has a modern “C” profile that some will find easier to wrap their fingers around – especially those with shorter fingers.
Anyone embarking on their guitar playing journey should also check out the awesome range of Stratocasters from Squier, especially the Squier Classic Vibe 70s Strat, which embodies the vintage aesthetic of a classic model whilst providing a worthy performance partner for today’s players.
Gibson 2019 Les Paul Traditional
Another model from 1959 that McCready is enamoured of is the Gibson Les Paul (who isn’t though, right? But seriously, the man has great taste). Short of finding an original or heading to the Gibson Custom Shop to kit you out with one (or waiting patiently to see what Gibson plan on doing in the future…) the Gibson 2019 Les Paul Traditional offers the same beefy tones and enduring sustain that we’ve all come to know and love. If you’re slugging it out through the solo to “Alive” or ramping through “Rearviewmirror” then there’s no better feeling than doing it with a Les Paul.
Epiphone Les Paul Standard Plustop Pro
Alternatively, for those who are on a more modest budget or again just getting started, the Epiphone Les Paul Standard Plustop Pro is an outstanding model that features a pair of coil-tapped ProBuckers for sublime tones and advantageous versatility. Not only that but it doesn’t look too shabby either!
Then onto the amp(s)
When it comes to amps, you’ll be pleased to read that McCready favours those of the boutique to high-end variety…
If you have the money to drop on some tasty looking Satellite amps or an original Fender Bassman AB165 complete with vertical cabinet, then go for it.
For the rest of us there are similar options available that skirt from short to tall when it comes to budget.
Marshall Studio Classic
At the higher end we have the Marshall Studio Classic Amp or Head, which resurrects the imperious tones of the legendary JCM800 in compact, stage- and studio-friendly forms. When it comes to delivering red-hot heat and biting attack, it doesn’t get much better than when you crank up one of these beauties. You don’t necessarily need to go all out with a 100-Watt monster when you’ve got one a Studio Classic backing you all the way.
Fender Mustang LT25
Leaning more toward the budget-conscious end of the spectrum for newbies, there’s the Fender Mustang LT25. Bursting at the seams with features such as 20 onboard amps and 25 effects, chromatic tuner, USB output for connecting to your computer with ease, headphone output for silent practise, and even footswitch connectivity, the LT25 is fantastic for anyone getting to grips with their first amp.
Across the factory presets there’s a host presets built-in to the LT25 to get you up and running. However, it’s the preset amps that I want to direct your attention to, in particular the emulation of the legendary ’59 Bassman. Sure, it’s not a carbon copy of the real thing but it comes damn close, and at about a tenth of the price of the original what are you complaining about? Add to that emulations of Fender Twins, Vox AC30, Marshall’s Super Lead and JCM800, Mesa’s Dual Rec amongst many others and you’re sitting pretty.
Furthering your tone shaping potential are a tonne of FX again based on many a classic stompbox from Klon Centaurs to the TS808 (which we’ll come onto shortly), MXR Dyna Comp, Big Muff, etc. There’re Modulation effects, Delays, Reverbs and more user control than you could think imaginable in something so wee.
FX for days
Tube Screamer – getting it right, alright?
Right, let’s get the old Tube Screamer bit out of the way first of all. Throughout the years McCready has ventured into the realms of including the little green box to get that cranked up sound we all know and love. Bank in the day he did elect to tout a TS9 to push his Marshall JCM800. However, if you want to get your hands on the right one though, you’ll need to opt for a Keeley Modded Ibanez TS9 or coming closer to it without the mod would be a TS808. What’s the difference? More power upfront to really push the tubes in your amp and give it some welly!
With regard to delay pedals, McCready rocks the Line 6 DL4 (awesome), has featured a BOSS DM-2 (legend), as well as an MXR Carbon Copy (tasty). But I’m sweeping all of them aside and electing to highlight the Dr. Tone DLY101 Analogue Delay, as it is a little gem. From the most subtle slapback to dizzying, swirling soundscapes, the DLY101 punches well above its weight in terms of its price point. You can elect to go for costlier options, but I would urge you to see what this can do first.
You only have to listen to the outro noodling on “Alive” to know that there’s a wah on the go. As with another stalwart from the Seattle scene we covered recently, “Jerry Cantrell“, the Jim Dunlop GCB95 Original Cry Baby Wah gets the job done in ample fashion.
As you can see his early setup was delightfully simple: Guitar > Amp > Delay > Wah > Overdrive. In later years Mike McCready has expanded upon his live rig playing host to a myriad of units. However, to get stuck into the early stuff all you need is a basic setup and to set aside plenty of time to practise!
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Confused about the difference between modelling amps and other types? Then check out our handy guide to find out everything that you need to know.
For ideas on what guitars are best suited to rock, we’ve got your covered in our guide, Best Guitars for Rock.
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, Tony Iommi, with more to come!
Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.