As the Daft Punk collaboration showcases his immense talents once more, we take a look at how to get Nile Rodgers Style Guitar Tone
It would be fair to say that Nile Rodgers is a ‘lesser known’ guitar legend- in most guitar playing circles at least. And yet, there are very few guitarists who have contributed more to the world of music, even if his playing, writing and production were considered individually.
Starting out as a session player in the Sesame Street band, Rodgers went on to form legendary disco act, Chic. Aside from the hugely influential tracks this band produced (‘Le Freak’, ‘I Want Your Love’, ‘Good Times’ and countless others), Rodgers and songwriting partner Bernard Edwards wrote for many other huge acts (Sister Sledge’s ‘We Are Family’, Diana Ross’s ‘I’m Coming Out’ for example).
Inadvertently, Chic’s work played a crucial role in the development of Hip-Hop, too. The bass-line from ‘Good Times’ was used on the Sugarhill Gang’s ‘Rapper’s Delight’. Since then, many other Chic tracks have had breaks sampled for other hip-hop hits.
Somehow, Rodgers managed replicate this magic touch in the field of music production, too. David Bowie (‘Let’s Dance’), Duran Duran (‘The Wild Boys’), Madonna (‘Like A Virgin’), Robert Plant’s The Honeydrippers, Jeff Beck, Sheena Easton, The B-52s, Eric Clapton, The Vaughan Brothers… and still found time to work on film soundtracks, too.
It cannot be forgotten that, despite all of his other incredible musical achievements, he is also still a massively influential guitar player. With a style that is syncopated, and rhythmically intricate, he remains fluid and lyrical. Never showy, his style is one that sounds fairly simple, but is very difficult to imitate (a sign of a true great).
He was a huge influence on Johnny Marr (who named his son after Nile), and his six-string magic can be heard on the forthcoming Daft Punk single ‘Get Lucky’. Instantly familiar, his playing injects that authentic disco funk feel, and adds his unmistakable ‘Chic’ stamp to the record.
If you want to add some disco, funk chops to your music, how can you get a Nile Rodgers style guitar tone then?
Keep it clean, folks
Whilst Nile has played on countless records over the years (he generally ends up playing on the records he produces – that’s him dropping the famous guitar chops on ‘Let’s Dance’), and of course adopts a style suitable to the project, the style for which his best known is the ultra clean, choppy tone employed in Chic’s early singles.
The guitar he most regularly uses to achieve this is his trusty ‘59/ ’60 era Hardtail Fender Stratocaster, nicknamed ‘The Hitmaker’. According to Rodgers ‘The Harry Fox agency once out that something like two billion dollars worth of music has flowed through this one guitar’. Looking at his list of credits, this is no exaggeration.
Though a great deal of funk-style rhythm playing is typified by the out of phase pickup settings, Rodgers tone generally uses the neck position on his Strat. This is rounder, woodier, and ‘bigger’ with more ‘punch’ when compared to the glassier out of phase tones. You’ll need to have the tone control turned up fairly high, too.
As already stated, clean is the order of the day here. When recording, many sources suggest that Nile often uses a DI box and goes straight into the desk. Then, he’ll usually add some compression to the tone. It can be heard, however, that his tone is by no means as heavily compressed as many other proponents of a funk rhythm style.
As his chord-based playing often carries much melodic information, compressing to enhance the percussive ‘chucka-chucka’ choppiness would be too much- you want to hear more of the note than just the attack.
Check out the excellent MXR Dyna Comp, and Boss CS-3 as two great compressor choices. An EQ pedal such as the Boss GE-7 can also be incredibly useful to shape the sound here- adding a boost to the highs and upper mids, and backing off the low frequencies to taste.
When he plays live, Rodgers is fond of Peavey Classic 50s (he was given some by his late friend, Stevie Ray Vaughan). The clean tone on these amps is very highly regarded. However, he has been known to play a number of different amps from Fender. As ‘clean’ is king here, Twins and Princetons are perfect. Transistor based amps can also be a great fit in this regard- the Roland Jazz Chorus JC120 for example.
All-in-one guitar FX processors such as the Boss GT-100, and software such as Guitar Rig are great for experimenting with guitar tones such as this. They provide a wide selection of amp models and effects, such that a whole virtual ‘rig’ can be set up and saved.
Of course, the biggest part of achieving a Nile Rodgers style guitar tone is his technique. He has described the styles used in Chic’s early records as an evolution of the jazz-fusion styles he already played.
He generally employs the use of triad, three note chords, which keeps a clean, uncluttered tone. It also allows him to more easily incorporate the chordal inversions that carry melodic elements, and typify his style.
When he describes his playing style, he talks of his left and right hand being married. In fact, many have compared his right hand technique as being akin to that often used by bluegrass banjo players. This fast strumming, combined with his clever left hand muting results in the intricate syncopated rhythms and ‘chucking’.
It isn’t as easy as it sounds, however… Check out this interview with the great man as he talks viewers through some aspects of his musical approach- inspiring stuff!
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Joe is a contributor for the Dawsons Music blog. Specialising in product reviews and crafting content to help and inspire musicians of all musical backgrounds.