Here’s Why Kevin Shields is a Cornerstone of Alternative Rock Guitar

Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine poses with a collection of Fender Jazzmaster and Fender Jaguar guitars, London, 1990
(Image credit: David Corio/Redferns)

Where other guitarists have bags of technique, Kevin Shields has originality. As the leader of My Bloody Valentine, he led the group through a pair of albums – 1988’s Isn’t Anything and 1991’s Loveless – that remain alt-rock cornerstones and ground zero for shoegaze.

But it was on their 1990 EP, You Made Me Realise, that Shields found his secret weapon. Wielding a borrowed 1964 Fender Jazzmaster with a tremolo, he discovered he could use the device to make his notes warble and drop.

Applying backward reverb, he created waves of sound that made the whole production teeter woozily as if in a dreamscape.

The resulting “glide guitar” became his plaything. “It was like a new toy, really,” he says.

Shields influenced many other alt-rock mainstays, including Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis and Smashing Pumpkins’ Billy Corgan, and went on to work with numerous acts, from Yo La Tengo to Patti Smith.

No less than Vernon Reid declared of him, “He achieved a wholeness and a unity. He created his own sound.” In doing so, he tremendously expanded guitar’s sonic palette for everyone else.

In this 2018 Fender film celebrating 60 years of the Jazzmaster, Shields’ love for the original Fender offset electric guitar is evident.

When asked how many Jazzmasters he owns, the American-born Irish guitarist replies, “Not a lot. Not millions… Ten, I think. Maybe eleven or 12. Probably 12. There’s more, but I’ve got lots of other ones. Made up ones, Japanese ones, copy ones. So maybe 25. But 12 good ones…

“I need them. I need more.”

We hear you, Kevin!

Browse My Bloody Valentine's catalog here (opens in new tab).

Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as GuitaristTotal Guitar, Guitar World (opens in new tab)Guitar Player (opens in new tab) and MusicRadar (opens in new tab) in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.