Tom Scholz: How to Build the Perfect Wall of Power Chords

Boston's sonic architect dishes on how he got the inimitable guitar sound that so dominated rock radio in the mid to late 70s.
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Back in 2014, GP's Jude Gold sat down with Boston six-string maestro and sonic architect Tom Scholz to discuss the band's then-new album, Life, Love & Hope. You can read the entire interview here, but - in honor of Scholz's birthday today - we thought we'd include some excerpts from the interview on Scholz's speciality, his immaculate production and inimitable tone. 

No matter how many (hundred) times you've heard “More Than a Feeling,” when it comes to creating - as Steve Lukather put it - a "perfect wall of power chords," we can all learn a thing or two from Scholz. Read on!

Steve Lukather credits you with being the first person to figure out how to create a perfect wall of power chords. What’s the recipe?

I grew up listening to classical music, so on a song like “More Than a Feeling,” when it breaks into that chorus part, that’s what I wanted to hear - that symphonic power, that impact

I discovered that what I needed to do was have stereo guitars for rhythm parts, split up on the sides. I’d usually track two separate guitars on each side, purposely detuning each pair at least ten cents apart in pitch, sometimes including a center track. 

It would have been easier if I had had vari-speed on my tape machine, but, instead, I had to detune the guitar each time I re-tracked, which was no small job. Also, while you want the parts to be tight, you don’t want the takes exactly on top of each other, rhythmically - you might want one slightly ahead, the next slightly behind.

For stacked lead parts and harmonies, though, you need to be super tight with everything - every note, bend and bit of vibrato should be in tune and in time with the other takes, just like with vocal harmonies. 

I often double the main lead part on each side and put the harmony melody, if there is one, in the middle. [Boston co-guitarist] Gary Pihl and I spend hours making sure we’re right with each other on parts to get the effect we’re looking for on stage. Live, I often tune a little bit flat of the rest of the band, because when you add vibrato to a note that isn’t bent, you’re going to go sharp.

And what advice do you have for people who aspire to track a world-class album at home?

The cool thing is that today, everybody can record an album in their bedroom on a laptop. The big disconnect - and I see this even on a professional level with paid engineers - is that, to some degree, engineers have become little more than skilled video game operators. 

They’re really good at running the software that is available to them, but they often lack basic knowledge about sound that you really need to have - knowledge that, had I lacked it, would have left me without a prayer of doing any of the things I’ve done with Boston. 

I’m not talking about advanced string theory, either, just basic principles of superposition, phasing, chorusing, etc. You can learn this stuff in any high school physics course. So do that. Learn about sound. Dig into the physics of music.