Get Their Sound: Stephen Carpenter (Deftones)
Getting That Stef Carpenter Sound
Today we’re looking at a band who’ve seemingly been around forever, yet still they still retain a sound almost completely of their own.
Deftones (note the lack of ‘the’ at the start of their name, purists) have been forging their own unique path since their debut album Adrenaline, dropped in 1995. They stood out among other bands lumped in with the ‘nu-metal’ tag at the time by not falling into the trap of being misogynistic, stupid or appealing to people who wore their caps back to front. Adrenaline showed Deftones were young, talented, angry and cool.
Anger gave way to a more controlled and, at times, louche vibe with 1997’s Around The Fur. Still to this day it sounds exceptionally well produced, with tracks like Mascara and Be Quiet And Drive showing the band had depths beyond the angry surface. And, in Chino Moreno, they had a vocalist quite unlike anything else on the scene. Seriously – check out their cover of British soul legend Sade’s No Ordinary Love and try and imagine literally anyone else from the 90s metal scene even attempting that, let alone succeeding.
With each album they further developed this mix of modern sounding electronica, Chino’s incredible vocal talents and songs which rewarded repeat listen. But to me, the secret weapon has always been the approach, tones and composition skills of their guitarist Steph Carpenter. It goes without saying that Steph is the driving ‘metal’ element of the band. While he wants to get heavier and heavier, the rest of band want to go in other directions. Where they met in the middle, magic happens.
Worth Your Time
One songwriting technique Deftones employed to great effect was dynamics. On certain tracks, like Digital Bath off 2000’s White Pony album, they switch between minimalist, reverb-y guitars and heavier distorted tones to great effect. Another great characteristic of Steph’s playing is the way the guitars are there to serve the song; there’s no ego or guitar solos. When you have a vocalist with the talent and range of Chino, you need to give him the platform and the guitars always feel like they’re there to serve the bigger picture.
Another welcome element of Steph’s technique – particularly to anyone learning the guitar – is that the songs are almost always easy to play. Always in drop tuning, almost always using power chords. The skill in this approach comes in finding new and exciting progressions to form the riffs. Once you’ve learned the basic pattern of a track like My Own Summer, you can see how it’s not hard to play but, with the right tone behind it, it can sound immense.
Speaking of tone, this is an area which deserves closer inspection. The standard combination of: guitar>pedals>amp has never really been employed by Steph. On early albums, instead of playing through a regular off-the-shelf amp head, he instead used a slightly more obscure Marshall JMP-1 pre-amp and 9200 Monobloc power amp combination. This later gave way to a system designed around Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig, which he would control using an on-stage MIDI switching system, before later settling for the now-ubiquitous Fractal Axe FX modelling system played through Engl valve power amps. On-stage monitoring is handled by Orange 4×12 cabinets.
Guitar-wise it’s a bit more straightforward. Steph is an ESP man through and through, and has been since the start. In the early days he favoured 6 string Horizon models tuned down to D or C, and progressed through to more tonally versatile 7 and 8 strings further into his career. He has a string of signature models, including baritones and a glorious mash-up of a telecaster shape with a hugely extended range.
Effects feature heavily in Deftones’ sound, notably through the use of an Eventide H9 multi-effects unit and also through the Fractal.
Get That Sound
To achieve the kind of monstrous riffs Steph specialises in you’re going to need to consider a specialist metal guitar. Telecasters and Jazzmasters just aren’t going to cut it in this arena. Even more ideally, you’ll need to open your mind to extended range guitars. It’s hard to look beyond Ibanez here. Yes, we know he’s an ESP player, but some of these new Ibanez models are pretty incredible.
The Ibanez 2017 RGIM8MH (yep, they really know how to name a product) is an 8-stringed behemoth which will enable you to play riffs so heavy your stomach will rumble. There’s also a more affordable 8-string beast, the Ibanez RG8, which is worth your attention. Alternatively, if 8 is too much, the toe-curlingly beautiful Ibanez RGDIX7MPB is a high quality, exceptional sounding 7 string guitar.
Amps are a bit more tricky; as mentioned above, the backbone of Steph’s tone is managed by all kinds of magical digital systems nowadays, the likes of which are largely out of reach of normal folk. If you’re dead set on going down this route, a good place to start would be Native Instruments’ Komplete 11 Select, which has a basic version of Guitar Rig included.
Finally, to achieve the huge variety of effects used by Steph, we can recommend the evergreen Boss GT-100 which, still to this day, is a true multi effects powerhouse.