For quite some time, I too have been looking for my tone. Like many of us, I’ve searched for the “how to sound like srv” recipe for almost ever. I’ve been playing for many years and I own gear I worked hard for. I followed all the advice I could soak up, but my tone was just as elusive as that pot of gold at the end of the rainbow.
On some days, my perfect sound was found, and I just needed to improve my playing ability, then on other days, the newly found tone I had recently embraced was thrown out like a cheating girlfriend.
I mean, I was ok with my playing having only taken lessons in my first year of playing many moons ago. I had played onstage to a hundred people and various other family gatherings, played in bars on jam night, but I was by means of comparison to be considered pro.
My chops were good enough that if I got serious about it, I could have made a living playing gigs. But I couldn’t get that prized tone everyone was expecting to hear whenever I showed up with my gear.
It baffled me that a Boss OD-1 was my go-to pedal over the venerable Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer. This didn’t make sense to me.
So, I started scouring the web to see what SRV’s Tube Screamer set up was. Couldn’t find anything. Went to the forums, where, if you’re patient enough, you’ll find the golden egg, but not always. Fender forums is closed down, unfortunately. The information I found was largely inaccurate except for anything offered by René Martinez, SRV’s long-time guitar tech, René Martinez.
The tone you chase after also can be subject to your mood or setting. How and where an amplifier is placed in a room (or venue) can also greatly affect tone.
From my reading and a little bit of research, it became clear to me that SRV used a TS-808 Tube Screamer before he may have used various TS9s and even a TS10.
Regarding chasing that elusive tone that most guitarists look for, much has been said about tone coming from the fingers, the hands, the strings, the pick, the guitar, and eventually, the amplifier. In the 60s, the greats didn’t use effects pedals except perhaps for a wah-wah effect or fuzz. There were also rotating Leslie cabinets, but these weren’t pedals.
When we take up the guitar, many neophytes try to sound like their favourite artist. I mean who didn’t want to sound like Chuck Berry, or Keith Richards, or Jimi Hendrix, or Stevie Ray Vaughan. Regarding the tone being made up of so many components from the fingers right to the amplifier, what makes tone chasing so special is that we forget about the setting and environment on some of our cherished recordings.
For setting, I don’t mean the knob controls. I mean the studio. Where was that remarkable Layla tone you heard Clapton play on Brownie? What studio? Who was the producer?
Well I found various articles corroborating SRV’s settings. It turns out he didn’t “dial-in” his settings but rather just used the pedal as a boost; a switch. He wasn’t trying to make the tubes scream into his Marshalls. He just needed a little gain at the input. Is this the only way to get to “how to sound like SRV?” No. Again, there’s much in the strings, fingers, soul, and the amp. Well, enough said. Be sure to check out the official SRV site.