How to Sound Like David Gilmour of Pink Floyd for $1000
By Nik Farr
Photo by deep_schismic
He's a man who needs no introduction, but here's a brief one anyway.
After several years playing guitar and singing in various bands throughout the UK in the early 1960s, David Gilmour joined Pink Floyd in 1967 and set about transforming the band from purveyors of psychedelic whimsy into globe-trotting, pig-flying prog rock titans. Two decades of activity were followed by a hiatus that, in David's case at least, resulted in solo records, tours, and collaborations. As of this writing, Gilmour has announced a new album (Rattle That Lock) and promotional tour. The title track, released as an advance single, features many of the hallmarks of his best past work--from soulful, bluesy lead work, to funky partial chord comping.
So how would a guitar player go about recreating David Gilmour's distinctive sound? Well, beyond the obvious answer (practice, practice, and more practice... followed by a more practice), one could start by exploring various websites dedicated to cataloguing his equipment from the start of his career until the present. If money is no object, then a Hiwatt half-stack and a signature model Fender might be a great place to start. But for those with a limited pool of financial resources, it's paramount to assemble a rig that will allow you to achieve the right tonality.
Let's start at the first logical place: the right guitar.
David Gilmour's Guitar
While David has played many different instruments throughout the years, he's most closely associated with a 1969 black, maple-necked Fender Stratocaster. Since purchasing the guitar in 1970, Gilmour and his techs have made many modifications to it that fans and guitar afficianados alike have been attempting to replicate for decades. We have neither the time nor space to discuss that here (and someone else has already done that); suffice it to say that the Strat is the obvious starting point when attempting to get that classic Gilmour tone.
Get David Gilmour's Sound:
With that said, a good selection that won't empty your wallet might be a Squier Classic Vibe 60s Strat. While the Classic Vibe bears fairly little cosmetic resemblance to Gilmour's main axe, its pickups with staggered, AlNiCo 5 pole pieces will get you closer to that biting lead and mellow rhythm tones than most anything in its price range. Additionally, access to a whammy bar will help achieve that characteristic Gilmour vibrato. (A good setup will likely be required to make the most of this guitar, but they're surprisingly good right out of the box.) One suggestion, though: the pickups are a bit brash--as they often are on budget guitars--so familiarize yourself with the use of your amp's EQ section, especially when using the bridge setting. With some finessing, it's possible to dial in a useful, musical tone with a little patience.
Total so far: $371.30
David Gilmour's Amp
As discussed, David's primary amplifier over the course of his career has been a Hiwatt DR103 100-watt head. Renowned for its incredible clean headroom even at high volumes, it's an excellent tool for obtaining lots of sustain without having to dirty up the signal with excessive amounts of drive. If you only have a tenth of the $3-$4,000 needed to obtain a hand-wired, imported half-stack, one suggestion would be Fender's Mustang III 100-watt combo amplifier.
Get David Gilmour's Sound:
Despite its small size and single 12" speaker, the Mustang III is actually a fairly solid amplifier with enough power to be heard over a reasonably loud drummer. The key is learning to use its EQ section properly. It's a bright-sounding amp--one recommendation is to find a way to aim it upward slightly so you can hear how much high end is actually present in your signal. With that said, the digital models of classic amps are far from exact clones of classic tones, but they are great starting points if you're willing to do some further tweaking. Start with the "British Watts" preset, which is meant to mimic a Hiwatt, and go from there. As an added bonus, the Mustang III features a built-in selection of effects. While it's unreasonable to expect that these will replace a few good external effects units, they're worth exploring as they'll help you save money for the next section. (The reverb and modulation settings are particularly useful.)
Total so far: $701.29
David Gilmour's Effects
Finally, we need to consider the ways in which David Gilmour colored his tone using effects. Although he's known for his occasional use of swirly textures, these aren't exactly staple sounds--as such, we can use the phaser and flanger in the Mustang III amp to approximate his phaser and flanger/chorus tones. We can even dial in a bit of grit via the amp's overdrive effects when necessary. But getting closer to Gilmour's much-vaunted, soaring lead sound requires two particular tools: a good delay and a good fuzz.
Picking up where echo-unit pioneer Syd Barrett left off, David continued his predecessor's experiments with the use of delays. While he switched to MXR analog delays around 1979, many of his signature tones were crafted with the use of a Binson Echorec tape echo unit, which allowed Gilmour to take up more sonic space while playing fewer notes. He was also one of the first guitarists to realize the benefits of playing against a short echo pattern to create bouncing, dotted-eighth note guitar parts with an extra rhythmic bounce. In any case, it's crucial to select a pedal where the echoes get darker with each repeat.
Get David Gilmour's Tone:
To that end, the MXR M169 Carbon Copy Analog Delay is surprisingly versatile, given it's simple interface that uses one footswitch, a button and three knobs. If there's one gripe to be had here, it's the lack of a tap tempo feature. Otherwise, just a few minutes of playing with this little green monster will be enough to convince most "echoheads" that the Carbon Copy is a modern classic that is entirely capable of summoning everything from saucy slapbacks to spacy soundtracks.
Gilmour started out with a Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face, which he used right up until the late 1970s when he switched over to an EHX Big Muff. These are two fairly distinct animals, but they both allow a guitarist to dirty up their signal and achieve more sustain from held notes. Ergo, a good investment for this application would be the Dunlop Mini Fuzz Face. With its silicon transistors, the Mini Fuzz Face is capable of a decent amount of gain and has a fairly bright tone. Again, judicious use of the tone knob and your amp's EQ settings is advised, and it's wise to start out by dialing in just enough grit that your sustain has increased noticeably... and then stop there! Gilmour's lead tones are very smooth with an almost vocal quality to them. Practice restraint when adding distortion to your signal, and the Mini Fuzz Face will reward you amply.
Grand Total: $951.27
Wow, we got to the end and still have money left over! Well, if you budgeted a full $1000 and the remainder is burning a hole in your pocket, you could look at some accessories similar to those used by David over the years. A few good investments might include a Dunlop Brass Slide, or perhaps most crucially to the development of the appropriate tone and technique, a Guinness Extra Stout t-shirt.