“The Equipment Helps a Little Bit But More Often Than Not It’s In Your Own Personality”: Mick Ronson Talks Trademark Tone

Mick Ronson
(Image credit: Ian Dickson/Redferns)

David Bowie’s landmark fourth studio album Hunky Dory turns 50 today. Often cited among fans as a firm favorite this all-killer-no-filler masterpiece is crammed with classics from cover to cover including "Oh! You Pretty Things,” “Life On Mars?” and the LP’s lead single “Changes.”

Co-produced by Beatles engineer Ken Scott and featuring arguably Bowie’s greatest band – the Spiders from Mars lineup of guitarist Mick Ronson, bassist Trevor Bolder, and drummer Mick Woodmansey – Hunky Dory marked a stylistic turning point.

“It was like, ‘Wow, this is no longer rock ’n’ roll. This is an art form,'” Bowie told one interviewer. “We kind of thought, cool, that’s where we want to be at. Fuck rock ’n’ roll! It’s not about rock ’n’ roll anymore, it’s about: How do you distance yourself from the thing that you’re within? We got off on that.”

David Bowie and Mick Ronson

(Image credit: Debi Doss/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

Key to fulfilling the album’s disparate vision was guitarist Mick Ronson whose inspired playing and arrangements set him apart as a unique talent. “I would put him up there with the best I’ve ever worked with,” remarked Scott. “I think Ronno was better than any of the Beatles as a guitarist. His playing was much more from a feel point or melodic point of view.”

Famously using a stripped Gibson Les Paul Custom, Ronson’s trademark electric guitar tone was as much about his technique and approach as it was the equipment itself. “The equipment helps a little bit,” he points out in this interview, “but I think more often than not it’s in your own personality. It’s in your own makeup. It’s in your own fingers.”

In recognition of the album’s 50th anniversary Parlophone will be releasing a picture disc edition of the 2015 Hunky Dory remaster on January 7, 2022.

David Bowie 'HUnky Dory' 50th anniversary picture disk

(Image credit: Parlophone)

Pre-order it here.

Rod Brakes

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 WorldGuitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.