Mercury Prize: Royal Blood’s Gear
A minimal approach to equipment from the 2014 Mercury Music Award finalists
(Photo used under Creative Commons – credit William Nichols)
Royal Blood exploded onto the UK music scene in 2014, driven by a powerful sound which is created using just a solitary bass guitar and drumkit. And a tonne of (unconfirmed) effects pedals. More on this later though…
Despite what hype purveyors would have you believe; the two-piece, guitar-free band isn’t a unique phenomenon – check out a band called Big Business – however it is perhaps the first to make an assault on the mainstream in the way Royal Blood has done. They make creative use of the lower-end frequencies attained through the bass guitar, and then mangle it using effects to create a sound entirely unique to them.
From reading interviews with the band’s Mike Kerr, you get the sense that the tone they settled on wasn’t the result of a happy accident. Mike paints the picture of someone who slaved over his rig, using countless combinations of different amps and pedals, before settling on something so heavy it could sink a continent. But how on earth did he do it?
As we mentioned above, Mike is particularly cagey when it comes to discussing his pedal board. So let’s start with what we do know – his bass. Early shows and recordings were delivered using entry-level short scale Gretsch basses, before graduating onto a Fender Starcaster. The Starcaster, which features a semi-hollow body and humbucking pickups, opens up some truly monstrous tonal possibilities which, when fed into a particularly nasty sounding amp, will create all kinds of musical havoc.
Speaking of amps, Mike feeds his bass into a number of guitar amps, namely a Fender Supersonic and a Bassman. The Supersonic is an interesting amp, with enough gain available on tap to serve up the thick, goopy levels of grit and dirtiness, yet can also deliver Fender’s traditional sparkling cleans if required. The Supersonic may be out of production now, but the Fender Bassbreaker series will more than take care of those growling tones you need.
Effects-wise things are more tricky. Seeing as how Mike is so secretive about how he achieves his signature sound, we can only speculate on what he uses. Sneaked photos on Instagram give away some hints, but it wouldn’t be right of us to start publicising them as fact so we’ll instead offer up approximations based on what we think we know.
First port of call on this sonic adventure would be the Electro Harmonix POG2 pedal, a polyphonic octave generator which can double up your tone or shift it up or down the octave range, which is perfect for filling some of the frequency gaps left bare when your source sound is so bass-focused. It might be the case that Mike uses one or more of these pedals, either in unison or separately depending on the song. We couldn’t possibly confirm this.
With all this low-end vandalism, there will need to be some sculpting of tone, otherwise all we’d get would be a horrendous muddy sound and upset stomachs, and nobody wants that. To help clean things up a bit, and allow room for the bass to breathe, we’re pretty certain an EQ pedal of some kind, like the Boss GE-7, will have been employed.
So there you have it. If bass is your thing, there’s a world of ways you can use four-string to explore new musical horizons, removing the need to employ those pesky six-string egomaniacs…