Stratocasters Part 2: classic neck pickup tones from Dave Gilmour and Jimi Hendrix

Following on from the last Strat blog where we looked at the Hank Marvin bridge pickup tone, we thought we’d move to the neck pickup this time:

Dave Gilmour

Dave Gilmour has a reputation for a monster tone. He has used loads of different pedals and effects over the years but always has that immediately identifiable “Gilmour” sound. A few key ingredients (apart from his fingers, touch and phrasing) are a loud clean valve amp and stomp box pedals. This way the tone shaping is achieved with the pedals rather than having a high gain distortion setting on the amp.

He often used, and still uses Hiwatt Amps which have a full tight bass and bright top end with a balanced midrange.This gives a relatively neutral canvas for colouring the sound with overdrives, distortions and modulation / delays. He often uses two overdrives / distortion running into each other. In the Seventes this would often be a Big Muff (fairly dirty and fuzzy) into a Colorsound Overdriver (previous versions known as Power Boost).What this cascading does is add slight compression to the Big Muff and then boost the signal adding upper mid-range. The solo in ‘Time‘ is a good example of this tone.

Probably the best example of Gilmour’s strat neck pickup tone is on ‘Shine on You Crazy Diamond’, clean with a bit of overdrive/edge, compression, modulation (possibly a Univibe?) and delay.

The first solo in ‘Comfortably Numb‘ is another example, although sometimes he uses the middle pickup; switching to the bridge pickup for the second solo. One solo that sounds very Stratty but isn’t is the solo in ‘Another Brick in the Wall’, this was played on a Les `Paul with P90’s using the neck pickup and recorded straight into the mixing desk with no amp.

Jimi Hendrix

One of my favourite guitar tones is Jimi Hendrix, using the neck pickup on his Strat on ‘The Wind Cries Mary’. It sounds like guitar straight into the amp with the amp turned up loud and the guitar volume backed off. The tone has an almost acoustic guitar quality with the pick scrapes and finger noise all audible. The treble is very clean and clear and the bass sounds three-dimensional.

Both David Gilmour and Jimi Hendrix used 100Watt non-master volume amps which give a strat a really full powerful sound when they are turned up loud. This combination can turn the Strat bridge pickup into an instrument of torture if the treble is not turned down on the amp, however, the neck pickup just loves it. You get tons of clear bass, midrange so punchy that you can feel it and treble that is not ear-piercing.

If you can find one get an old Marshall Superbass 100 watt head, they are similar to the Superlead, apart from a few wiring differences in the inputs. They have less treble (not a bad thing) and slightly less gain. A strat through a Superbass and 4X12 cab is a gorgeous tone with the channels linked and the volumes at half-way; turn it up full and it’s an unbeatable blues tone, if a little loud!

Next time: Moving on to Gibson, The Les Paul.

If you’re a Dave Gilmour fan, I have built a replica ‘Black Strat’ which is for sale at The Little Guitar Shop. There is also a demo video of it on Youtube.

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