Getting The Sound From Weezer’s Breakthrough Track
This is the first of a new series, where we’re going to break down a classic track for you from a musician’s point of view. Here though, we won’t be focusing on chord structures or time signatures. Oh no. Instead these articles will look at the gear, tones and off the wall techniques used by a band on a specific track.
First up is a song which pretty much everyone will have heard at some point in their life. It’s a track which provided a surge in popularity for Weezer, giving them a significant leg up at the start of their career. We’re talking, of course, about Buddy Holly. The song which writer and frontman Rivers Cuomo initially didn’t want to include on the album because he felt it was ‘too cheesy’. Yet here we are, over 20 years later still looking back on it as fondly as we ever did.
You’ll know the Happy Days themed video, you’ll know the “oo-we-oo” bit from the chorus and, if you’re good you’ll also know the random synth wobble in the verse. Let’s take a closer look at the making of Buddy Holly.
Buddy Holly is Weezer’s most universally recognised track, but what are its origins? For starters, the original chorus swapped out Buddy Holly and Mary Tyler Moore for Ginger Rodgers and Fred Astaire. If you listen to the original demo of the song it’s played at a far slower tempo too.
Rivers had, as we mentioned, significant doubts about including the song. It was in fact the album’s producer Ric Ocasek who drove home just how good it was. Whilst the now iconic video performed well in the charts, it was the inclusion in a CD-Rom given away by Microsoft when they launched Windows 95 that brought it to a huge audience. From there, it cemented its place as one of the best known tracks of the 90s. But how did they make it?
Gear And Techniques
One of the first things to understand about Buddy Holly, and 99% of all Weezer tunes, is that it’s not actually performed in standard tuning. As with Smashing Pumpkins, Weezer recorded the majority of their tracks with their guitars tuned half a step down. This simple trick can go a long way to thickening out your tone, which explains some of the beefiness evident in the guitar sounds.
Guitar wise, Rivers used a small selection of guitars across the whole Blue album. Most notably he used a 1960 Fender Jaguar and two Gibson Les Paul Juniors. Despite more obviously being associated with Fender Stratocasters later in his career, it’s understood that the P90 pickups on the Gibson enabled Rivers to get a much thicker, warmer sound than could be achieved with single coils.
In terms of amplifiers, the sounds you hear on Buddy Holly were almost exclusively achieved using an early Mesa Boogie Mark 1. In the studio Rivers and Ric found that this amp, while rated at 60 watts, sounded superb at abnormally low volumes. Pumped through a tall Marshall cabinet, it formed the backbone of the tone used in the track.
For the solo, Rivers dialled the tone control on the guitar all the way back, giving it an almost double-tracked thickness which works perfectly in the higher registers of the fretboard.
The only other notable sound worth noting is the aforementioned synth ‘wobble’ in the second verse. And, as much as we’d like it to have been from something super cool and classic like a Polysix or MS20, it was in fact from an old Korg M1 synth. Interestingly, the band tried to recreate that sound yet never felt they got close to that original M1 sound.
Get It Yourself
To achieve that fuzzy goodness, you’ll need something with P90 pickups. P90s offer a bridge between the warmth of humbuckers and the snap and attack of single coils, so something like the Fender Mustang will work a treat in this context. The Mustang also has a cool retro 50s aesthetic which fit in nicely with the track’s overall appeal.
Alternatively, you could look at another vintage flavoured guitar in the Farida CT-32, which would chew through those overdriven chords brilliantly.
We also understand that scoring a late 70s Mesa Boogie is something which doesn’t come easily, so in its place, we’d recommend something with a similar low-volume hairiness in the Orange Rocker 15. This amp will clean up perfectly if you need it to, but for grizzled mid-range girth, there are few things that compare to an Orange.
It’s been said that Buddy Holly is perhaps the perfect guitar pop song. The beauty of it lies not in complex arrangements, or expensive gear, but in good, old fashioned songwriting. So with that in mind this isn’t a track you should have much trouble getting close to.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.