Steve Morse on Transformational Tones

January 1, 2011

GP0111_Riffs_morse1_nr.jpgEveryone knows that Steve Morse gets great guitar tones. But did you ever wonder what influenced his tone quest? He was cool enough to tell us. —Matt Blackett

“THE YARDBIRDS ’ SONG ‘Little Games,’” says Morse, “had an unusual instrumental break in the middle of it, where the guitar was distorted and blended with an acoustic cello in the recording. I absolutely loved the sound and it inspired me to start experimenting with overdrive, preamps, and distortion pedals looking for that legato, fluid sound.

“Jeff Beck recorded a blues tune, ‘Ain’t Superstitious,’ that had these amazing slide guitar fills with wah-wah and stereo slap delay—one side slightly delayed, the other not—and it sounded so unusual that it would grab anybody’s ears. He had such good control and tasteful phrasing, which pretty much defines his playing on every song.

“Watching live concerts with Led Zeppelin, Cactus, and the Allman Brothers gave me respect for the sound of a humbucker through a cranked tube amp stack. Duane played with his righthand fingers while playing slide, which I suspected Beck also did, and had great control and tone as a result. Dickey Betts got a more metallic sound by using JBLs instead of Celestion speakers, and that got me using the JBL 12s for decades with the Dregs, although I used Ampeg V-4 heads.

“Jimi Hendrix sounded fantastic the first time I heard him live, but the backwards solo in ‘Are You Experienced?’ drove me crazy trying to recreate it on my own. My first decent guitar was a Strat, and I ended up using preamplification to fatten it up and get feedback, which helped imitate the backwards sound of the Hendrix solo. I went on to modify my guitar to a true Frankenstein in order to get more variety out of it. Some of the meaty, legato, fluid sounds that I loved so much from that solo I later heard live from Eric Johnson while we were doing gigs together. Jimi, Eric, Ritchie Blackmore, and Yngwie all use tremendous finger technique, high gain and/or distortion pedals, or preamps to get that slippery sound out of a Strat, so it can definitely be done live.

“Eric Clapton’s neck humbucking pickup while soloing with Cream is a great tone. I thought that he made an important discovery that the higher range of the distorted electric guitar benefits from a well placed neck pickup. I continue to use the neck humbucker on my guitar for certain ranges of my playing, then switch to the bridge pickup, or both, for other ranges, to stay in the sweet spot. I saw Randy California play with Spirit, and I’m pretty sure he used the same pickup for some of his high soloing.”

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