How To Sound Like Gary Clark Jr. For $1000
By Mason Hoberg
Photo by Alize Tran
Gary Clark Jr.
You know that kid you see on YouTube whose guitar playing easily puts yours to shame, even if he/she isn’t even a teenager yet? Yeah, Gary Clark Jr. was that kid. From a young age, Clark was constantly gigging around his home town of Austin Texas. Eventually, his virtuosity on the instrument drew the attention of Clifford Antone. The proprietor of the Austin based club Antone’s, Clifford Antone is largely responsible for launching the career of one of the world’s greatest blues guitarists, Stevie Ray Vaughn.
His first album, Black and Blu, dropped in 2011 to almost universal acclaim. Featuring some of the best modern blues guitar work this side of Joe Bonamassa, the album proved that Gary Clark Jr. is going to be one of the genre’s defining voices for years to come.
Gary Clark Jr.'s Guitar
Though Clark has used everything from Les Pauls to Telecasters, the guitar that defines his tone is the Epiphone Casino. Sporting the bluesy growl that only P90s can provide, as well easy access to a wide variety of different types of feedback, Clark has proven that the Casino works as well for modern music as it did in the hands of the Beatles.
Get Gary Clark Jr.’s Sound
If you’re looking for a P90 equipped archtop guitar that can bite and chime with the best of them, look no further than the Epiphone Wildkat. Though the guitar may not share a lot of common ground with the Casino aesthetically, feature-wise the guitars are actually remarkably similar.
Though the Casino is a hollow body archtop and the Wildkat is semi-hollow, both guitars carry P90 pickups (which are something of a middle ground between single coils and humbuckers), and they both sport a Bigsby Tremolo system. And as far as the pickups go, by all accounts they’re easily capable of conjuring up a mojo filled garage rock tone similar to what Gary Clark Jr. uses.
Total so far: $419.90
Gary Clark Jr.’s Amp
As far as I can tell, Gary Clark Jr. treats his amp selection a lot like his guitar selection. Sure, he might use different amps as the mood strikes him, but he always comes back to his old stand-by. In this case, that amp would either be a Fender Vibro-King Custom, or a Fender 70s Princeton Reverb.
Sonically, I wouldn’t say that Gary Clark Jr. really has a Fender tone, if you know what I mean. And don’t get me wrong , I love Gary Clark Jr.’s work on the guitar as well as his tone.
You see, he doesn’t use the amp to get a Fender tone (clean or subtlety overdriven), he uses it to get Fender clarity and response. So if you want an amp that’s capable of reproducing his catalog, you’re going to want something that can handle a fair amount of distortion while maintaining a clear and dynamic voice.
Get Gary Clark Jr.’s Sound
If you want an amp that will still give you great dynamic range and clarity under distortion, you need a tube amp. Unfortunately, tube amps are very expensive. So what’s a musician to do?
Well, hybrid amps are a great option. They combine the low price and reliability of a solid-state amp with a lot of the sonic elements that make full tube amps so great. Generally, these amps work by using a vacuum tube in the pre-amp section of the amp, giving it a similar sound to what you’d find in a full tube amplifier.
Speaking from personal experience, the Vox Valvetronix is one of the best hybrid amps on the market. It doesn’t quite nail a lot of the more distorted tones you’d get from a great tube amp, but its cleans are easily some of the best that you’d find in this price range. And when paired with the right pedals, the amp is easily capable of producing a great Gary Clark Jr. tone.
Total so far: $669.89
Gary Clark Jr.’s Effects
So every time I see a picture of Gary Clark Jr.’s pedal board, it seems like he has something new. However, his main effects are a fuzz, an overdrive pedal, a wah, and a tremolo pedal. The brands tend to vary from show to show however.
Get Gary Clark Jr.’s Tone:
The hard thing about recreating someone else’s tone when it comes to pedals is that there are too many variable involved. Pedals work with your amp, guitar, and playing technique, and all of those things intertwine to create a tone that’s uniquely your own.
However, as long as you have a decent selection of pedals you can get pretty close to whatever sound you have in mind. Just remember, in order to really nail someone else’s tone it’s going to take a lot of trial and error.
Like the rest of his gear, Gary Clark Jr. bounces from wah pedal to wah pedal. However, the Dunlop Cry Baby Wah is a classic for a reason. The pedal is rugged, has a great sound, and it’s usable for everything from funk to metal.
Total so far: $748.28
When looking for a pedal to nail someone else’s tone, the most important thing to look for is flexibility. Each pedal has its own unique tonal characteristics, some of which may not mesh well with what you’re trying to achieve.
This is what makes the Zvex great for the purposes of this list. It has the ability to go between a really warm and understated fuzz, to a full on raucous noise fest. The onboard compressor and noise gate are great as well, as they give you the option to change the pedal’s dynamic range.
Total so far: $927.28
Though Gary Clark Jr. doesn’t use this effect overly much, if you want to really nail his tone you’re going to need a good tremolo pedal on your board. You don’t have to shell out a lot of cash here, as tremolo is a pretty simple effect.
So if you’re looking for a great budget tremolo pedal, the Valeton Wave Shake Vintage truly is a great option. It has everything you could ever need from a tremolo pedal, from a true bypass foot switch, a volume and depth control, as well as a bias know that controls the timing ratio between volume swells.
Total so far: $976.28
Generally, most overdrive pedals are used to drive the amp through adding extra gain as opposed to more distortion. At least as far as tube amps are concerned anyway. Considering that he’s using a Tubescreamer (a pedal generally used in the way described above), I think it would be prudent to recommend something as close as possible.
Thankfully, Joyo has made it their mission to provide great quality pedals inspired by vintage designs at an incredibly reasonable price. This pedal is based off of the classic Tubescreamer design, and shares a similar sonic profile, making the pedal a great fit for a Gary Clark Jr.-esque overdrive tone.
Grand Total: $1007.81
Well, here we are. With the gear on this list, you should find that the vast majority of Gary Clark Jr.’s catalog is well within your reach. A few other great investments might include a round neck resonator guitar, as well as a cool pair of shades!