Playing in a tribute band: a story of gear, Gilmour and guitar solos


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Playing guitar in a tribute band is about more than memorizing parts note for note. Especially when the band is Pink Floyd, and the guitarist is David Gilmour. You’ve got to be able to master the tones, the moods, the spaced-out massiveness of the legendary solos – and the Floyd nerds who know every note you’re about to play. Backwards. This is the story of a Blog Of Tone writer who took on one of the biggest – and most challenging – six-string tribute jobs in the business…  

“I think I could walk into any music shop anywhere and with a guitar off the rack, a couple of basic pedals and an amp I could sound just like me. There’s no devices, customized or otherwise, that give me my sound.”

That’s what a certain Mr. David Gilmour had to say about the origins of his stellar tone.

As you probably know, his deft touch left an indelible stamp on the sound of a certain psychedelic blues-rock combo that ended up selling gazillions of albums.

And if you weren’t aware of this man’s ability to make the guitar sound as soulful as angels sighing, know this: no matter what equipment David Gilmour chooses to play, he indeed always sounds like himself. And since I am clearly a dispassionate, utterly objective observer, you’ll allow me the liberty of adding this: he’s the man!

The power of Gilmour

That quote wasn’t the first thing to come to mind when I was offered the David Gilmour role in a German tribute band – the imaginatively named The Pink Floyd Project – in May 2015.

I suppose I’ve long harbored a secret desire to be part of a project like this. Although I haven’t spent decades obsessing over David Gilmour’s every musical move, the opportunity to mimic his sailor-slaying-siren-song-like lead lines was too sweet to pass up.

The great David Gilmour - a legend among guitarists and prog rock fans everywhere. (Photo by Jimmy Baikovicius shared under the Creative Commons license. Original image here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jikatu/23745483622)

The great David Gilmour – a legend among guitarists and prog rock fans everywhere. (Photo by Jimmy Baikovicius shared under the Creative Commons license. Original image here: https://www.flickr.com/photos/jikatu/23745483622)

I’d always been fond of his trademark tone, beautiful phrasing, and world-beating talent for creating epic classics with just a few well-chosen notes.

Of course, there’s no law that compels us to love Pink Floyd’s music, but if you’re like me in that your licks are steeped in blues-rock, Gilmour is one of those giants upon whose shoulders we stand.

Time to get practicing

With just four weeks to go until the band’s first rehearsal, I hit my practice pad immediately.

The band wanted me to audition with three numbers: Shine On You Crazy Diamond, Money, and Another Brick In The Wall. The latter was to be played in its entirety, and Pink Floyd certainly didn’t rush any of its tracks.

With the whole opus of Part 1, The Happiest Days Of Our Lives, and Part 2, we’re talking about more than an half an hour of music chock full of tasty licks for me to learn. And it takes a healthy helping of humility and patience to decipher Pink Floyd tracks, especially if you’re trying to nail the guitar work note for note.

Authentically replicating Gilmour

I was somewhat familiar with the leads of Shine On, Money and Another Brick because I had played these songs at one time or another in various cover bands.

Back in the day, no one really expected truly faithful renditions of these classic Pink Floyd tracks. You just had to hit those notes that everyone recognizes and fake your way through the rest.

Nobody complained as long as it rocked, and I suspected this might be the case because occasionally someone in the audience would come up to me and say something like: “Yo dude, you rock!”

Our man (left), rocking away. He already had the trusty Strat, but could he use it to successfully rattle off all the Gilmour licks required in his new role?

Our man (left), rocking away. He already had the trusty Strat, but could he use it to successfully rattle off all the Gilmour licks required in his new role?

But this was nothing like that.

If the band’s billing itself as a tribute to Pink Floyd, I had to get that Gilmour touch and tone down pat.

Although I had a healthy respect for the magnitude of the challenge, I wasn’t wracked with anxiety until I started researching David Gilmour’s rig. Thumbing through the usual guitar porn magazines, I soon discovered that his backline was prime centerfold material; precisely the kind of gear that we lecherous guitar-types lust for with such indecency.

From a distance, his setup looked suspiciously like the command center of a spaceship from an ’80s sci-fi flick.

It was the bridge of the Nostromo from Ridley Scott’s Alien, only without the alien. But then what was that gnawing away at the pit of my stomach?

Breaking down the sound

An antacid cleared up that problem, but the touch-taste-tone conundrum still tormented me until I remembered that the key to solving big problems is to break them down into smaller parts.

You can’t completely separate the three, but Gilmour’s tone was informed by his choice of amps, effects and guitars. In other words, these are the sounds I would have to imitate – and I’d already had a go for a previous blog, here:

 

Gilmour’s taste and touch – his choice of notes, pick attack, phrasing, bending and so on – determined how I would have to play.

Tone is in your fingers

Once I had compartmentalized these challenges, the problem no longer seemed so daunting. If I had had the presence of mind to call to mind the Gilmour quote, I could have spared myself all the agonizing.

But David’s right: what you’re playing on isn’t as important as what you’re playing. Tone is in your hands, and that’s a good thing.

The dirty business of tribute bands

And so I proceeded to learn the licks with all the calm of a Zen master on valium.

My newfound composure also helped me keep cool when my bandmates gleefully described the gory details of the tribute band business.

I thought they were joking when they told me that some hardcore fans time performances of Comfortably Numb to see how many seconds the tribute version of the Pink Floyd classic varies from the original’s length.

I’ll tell you this much now – their stories turned out to be true.

Here's a guy, timing the Pink Floyd Project as they run through Comfortably Numb. Read and watch on to find out how close they got to the original... (And by the way, this video is released in full on August 19 2016 - stop back here then to watch it in its entirety!)

Here’s a guy, timing the Pink Floyd Project as they run through Comfortably Numb. Read and watch on to find out how close they got to the original… (And by the way, this video is released in full on August 19 2016 – stop back here then to watch it in its entirety!)

Is note for note the best way to learn?

For lack of a better plan, I started in alphabetical order, with “A” as in Another Brick In The Wall. The song isn’t exactly a piece of cake to memorize in its entirety.

A second, relatively long and freely improvised solo in the outro of the 1994 Pulse version of the classic second part makes it particularly tricky to learn.

Lucky for me, this lead hasn’t wormed its way into the public collective musical consciousness, so I didn’t spend a lot of time copping every note. However, there’s no way I’d be able to sham my way through that spacey part at the beginning with the delay all over the rhythm guitar.

The entire part is tightly arranged, and the guitar parts are very much locked in with the other instruments. The delay time has to be right on the money, or the whole thing falls apart.

So at this juncture it wasn’t so much the dry sound I had to get right. The echo pattern is such an integral ingredient that it was my first priority.

One amp for so many sounds?

That magical delay really floats my boat anyway, so I decided to start by decoding its DNA.

Time was an issue in another respect: with so much left to learn, I had none to waste fussing with unfamiliar gear.

My GrandMeister 36 would be able to imitate a lot of different sounds, and the ability to store each tonal preset in a memory slot would make my task so much simpler.

Speaking of ease of use, the remote app on my iPad, paired with the wireless capability provided by the WMI-1 wireless MIDI interface, made my choice of amp a no-brainer. In a just world, this setup would be pictured in every dictionary under the definition of ‘convenience’.

The GrandMeister 36 and its accompanying app for iPad would be a crucial part of achieving Gilmour's tone with just one amp...

The GrandMeister 36 and its accompanying app for iPad would be a crucial part of achieving Gilmour’s tone with just one amp…

A smaller rig = less back pain

The GrandMeister and I were soon on a roll, replicating one Gilmour sound after another rather convincingly, if the measure of a ‘convincing’ sound is that works well for that number.

And even if I couldn’t duplicate the man’s sounds to perfection, it was close enough for surprisingly satisfying sessions practicing alone at home and with the band in the rehearsal room.

In fact, this worked so well that I started to doubt if I’d really need a big amp, a humongous pedalboard and all that MIDI clutter to become a semi-credible Gilmour clone.

The thought of hauling around all the equipment he uses to make that crazy diamond shine on stage was as disagreeable as the prospect of spending my retirement complaining to grandkids about what a pain in the back it is to be an aging rocker.

Getting the delay right

It turns out that 440 milliseconds of delay was just right to nail those dotted eighth notes and raise goose bumps with spine-tingling accuracy. I dialed in just enough feedback to weave a carpet of echoes just dense enough to play the tasty fills without ripping holes into the rhythm tapestry.

With all those echoes bouncing around, it takes some fierce concentration to lock back into the groove right on the downbeat after each fill. But with a little practice and patience I got the hang of it.

Touching my tone on the iPad

As the band rehearsed and the songs evolved, I was able to fine-tune my settings on the iPad. I can’t tell you how convenient this arrangement was for me.

I placed my iPad off to the side and slightly behind me, but within reach from my standing stage position up front as well as further back from the lap steel I used for Breathe, The Great Gig In The Sky and High Hopes, among other tracks.

That way I was able to access the GrandMeister remotely.

Any Gilmour clone worth his or her salt needs to bring some serious lap steel action to their live show.

Any Gilmour clone worth his or her salt needs to bring some serious lap steel action to their live show.

I had the bridge of the Nostromo – shrunk down to the size of a notepad and a largish toaster – at my fingertips, and I was able to switch sounds and keep an eye on everything from both positions.

Nailing that Another Brick sound

As for the spacey intro to Another Brick: it didn’t take me long to figure out what Gilmour had been up to.

It seems to me that for this number, he used a relatively light touch with an unusual amount of sustain for a Strat. So, I set the gain to 2 o’clock to conjure some tasty compression that would let those notes ring. I liked the neck pickup best for this; it just felt right to me and sounded close enough to the original for my purposes.

Trust your ears to get the tone you need

And speaking of feel: the Internet is vast beyond measure, and you may well find a place where someone in the know has posted your favorite player’s 100% guaranteed bona fide original setup, sourced straight from the cousin of the guy who used to deliver pizza to a studio that his guitar tech may have frequented on a Thursday in April of 1973.

Something tells me it’s probably not a good idea to slavishly follow this guidance.

Instead, trust your instincts. Dial in a tone that’s in the ballpark, but suits your personal touch and taste, and then work your way as close to the original as you can.

Pretty close is plenty close for me.

Adding ingredients to the tone recipe

On Another Brick, I found that cranking the gain made the dynamic response just a little too volatile, so I used an outboard Carl Martin compressor to keep things in check and add even more sustain.

That all-important pedal board, featuring the Carl Martin compressor in question. And plenty of other gear. Note the H&K FSM-432 MKIII MIDI board to the left of the compressor.

That all-important pedal board, featuring the Carl Martin compressor in question. And plenty of other gear. Note the H&K FSM-432 MKIII MIDI board to the left of the compressor.

The basic sound was still squeaky clean, yet powerful and assertive with a chiming attack that rung my bell.

With the added compressor ironing out the kinks in the dynamics and volume, my sound was almost as satisfyingly smooth and homogeneous as the original. I spiced up my sonic stew with what I thought would be the finishing touch, a pinch of phaser with the rate set slow and the depth low.

I was wrong; it wasn’t quite there yet, so I dropped a Rotosphere pedal (the legendary Leslie speaker simulator) into the GrandMeister’s FX loop to give it a whirl. The organized chaos of this organic rotary effect added just enough random modulation to achieve liftoff, elevating my sound into the stratosphere where Pink Floyd’s space rock dwells.

It’s not the size of the rig – it’s what you do with it that counts!

All this has led me to realize that I don’t need a massive rig to perfectly recreate the sounds of the original Pink Floyd songs. My fairly modest setup would get me more than close enough.

I also realized that a persuasive cover is less about fussing and finessing until you nail the sound just so, and more about playing the parts faithfully, with fire and passion.

Play it fairly right, and put some heart and soul into it, and even those obsessive-compulsive Pink Floyd fans will buy into what you’re selling.

In other words, even if David Gilmour descended from the mother ship and agreed to lend me his rig, I’m not going to sound just like him.

The tone is important, of course, but the touch and phrasing will determine if the lines sound sufficiently Floydish.

So there you have it: no matter how much prep you do, you're never going to sound exactly like David Gilmour, unless you're David Gilmour. Accept it, have a great time playing the songs, and move on.

So there you have it: no matter how much prep you do, you’re never going to sound exactly like David Gilmour, unless you’re David Gilmour. Accept it, have a great time playing the songs, and move on.

Adding your own musical personality to covers

There was one more lesson in all of this for me: if it rocks, let it rock.

Gilmour is a wonderful stylist, but he’s not exactly Angus Young. As hard as I tried to play his solos note for note, there were still some lines that felt foreign.

Gilmour’s tailored suit wasn’t a perfect fit for me; it was a little too loose here and a bit too tight there. I suppose what could be called my signature style shone through from time to time, and after a while I decided to stop fighting it and go with the flow.

I started with David’s licks, but filtered through my personality, whims and fancies, I sometimes ended up with something else.

And I can I live with that.

One last word of advice

So my advice to fellow guitarists in tribute bands is this: don’t worry about buying every piece of gear that this or that iconic guitarist plays.

Instead, decode each song’s sonic DNA.

Do your best to approximate that sequence, but play every line like it’s the last you’ll ever play. If you put your heart into it, it will steer your touch and tone in the right direction, and your audience will believe when it hears the truth according to you.

And that brings us back to that Gilmour quote. He’s right. QED – ’nuff said!

There’s more to come

By the way, we’re planning another blog on the issue soon, where our budding guitarist will discuss his amp presets, FX, guitars and more – don’t miss it. Until then, so long and shine on!

 

First published: July 07 2016. Most recent update: November 29 2017.

Edit: if you’re still here, we’re sure you’ll want to read the second part of this story. Just click on the picture to go there now:

pfp story 2 square-6253

And if you liked this post, try these too:

Leave a comment

Jim on July 22, 2016 Reply

Hello

Thanks for the response, just to finish on, why are you discontinuing such a great pedal?
Guess I will have to wrap mine in cotton wool as its value is set to rocket when available units dwindle…LOL
Also, what about making the Tubemeister 36 settings app available for the Tubemeister 18, I have an 18 Anniversary, very nice amp of course

Best Regards
Jim

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on August 8, 2016 Reply

    Hi Jim. The reason is frustrating: it’s because some of the parts were made in Russia, and you simjply can’t get them any more. And nowhere else does them 🙁 So, the seacrh will go on for more sources of parts like that, but until we find one there won’t be any more Rotospheres! So yes, keep yours safe, secure, and under lock and key 😉

    Hmm, interesting. With the GM36 app, you could very well adapt the general EQs to the standard TM models. We’ll ask around, see if it’s possible we do sort of a list of tones…

Jim on July 21, 2016 Reply

Just acquired a virtually new Rotosphere mkii.
Looking at this website, H&K have disavowed all knowledge of it.
Nothing in archives so no support, not that I need any at this time, but….
One of the best pedals ever, whats going on??

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on July 22, 2016 Reply

    Hi Jim! Hmm, the Rotosphere is still on our site, on the Archives page. It’s under ‘T’: Tube Rotosphere MKII (which is probably why you didn’t find it – we should really move it to the ‘R’ section). You can get the manual and other info there.

    We would never disavow the Rotosphere, because, as you say – it’s one of the best pedals ever made! We hope you gte many great years of use out of yours, and rock on! 🙂

Robert on July 10, 2016 Reply

I play in an Allman Brothers tribute. I need to cover Dickey, Duane, Warren, and Derek. The GM36 with midi helps cover all that ground. The tricky tones are Duane’s bass Plexi from Fillmore east and Warren’s Soldano. Both have creamy saturation with very little high freq distortion overtones – still working on those after over a year with the GM36. The Resonance helps with some of the Marshall tones.

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on July 11, 2016 Reply

    Cool story Robert. Have you got any links to the shows you mention with the tricky tones? If you’ve got some YouTube ones or something, send them over and we’ll have a look, see if we can’t emulate them a bit 🙂

HalfBlindLefty on July 9, 2016 Reply

Great story and well written to. Great fun to read.
Keep it as simple as possible and tone/sound is player specific , or as we say in the fingers.

I play for my own fun and not with bands, but when i need a certain sound to record something I tend to dial it in from memory using either my Cybertwin Se or my Tweaker 15 / Gmajor combination. Works fine for me and since I have no complaining band members I get away with it.
I remember a guy with the nickname epluribus who disected my cybertwin sound setup for some notes on (I think it was) Coming back to life. I setup the tube stage using rhe Hotrod preset and he perfectly explained technically why that worked out for me.
I was glad he did not ask me why I’d choosen the settings I used, If he had I would have to tell him I only used my ears and had no good technical reason to select the settings 🙂

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on July 11, 2016 Reply

    Guess the key point here is: what sounds good to you is the best option. Tone is subjective, after all. And if you’ve got no complaining band members to worry about, all the better! With a flexible rig like the one you describe, you’ve certainly got no shortage of tones to choose from 🙂 Glad you enjoyed the blog!

Matt on July 9, 2016 Reply

Really enjoyable read and you’ve got it spot on.

I play lead guitar in a Kings of Leon tribute act and i completely agree about getting as close as possible without obsessing over every gear choice being authentic. Technology nowadays is amazing, the ability to program in exact delays and easily achieve big shimmering reverbs means getting close to that tone on the record isnt difficult. Im quite fortunate that the lead guitarist in KoL uses relatively inexpensive pedals anyway so i have been able to get some authentic gear he uses, although I’m not too heart-broken I’ve not got my hands an old-school Ampeg Reverberocket 212R, my H&K does a decent job without the old amp issues!

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on July 11, 2016 Reply

    Cheers for the cool feedback Matt – we’re happy to hear a fellow tribute artist agrees with us! Yep, with KoL you’re certainly working on a more streamlined rig than David Gilmour, but as you say it’s not necessary to get the exact ‘original’ amp when you can get really close with a more flexible modern equivalent. Plus with your H&K you can go out and play other stuff really well too 🙂

Dave on July 9, 2016 Reply

What an awesome tone and great band!

be great if you could release the exact settings on the GM36 for all of those amazing tones.

Love Floyd and love Hughes & Kettner equipment.

Thanks for the great blog guys!

Dave

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on July 11, 2016 Reply

    Cheers Dave, glad you enjoyed the blog! We’ll certainly ask our man if we can have his GM36 app screenshots, which we’d then share either on this page or in the second half of this blog when it’s published in a few weeks 🙂 Then you can get Gilmoured up too!

Huey T. on July 8, 2016 Reply

Wow… what an interesting story! The point is: keep it as simple as possible if the show itself is complicated and complex. In 2016 you could think “let’s do this sophisticated job with the billion possibilities of today’s hi-tech digital guitar sound solutions…” But the guitar player here decided right to use an “old school” tube amp (let’s forget about the app and all the digital MIDI stuff for a moment here 😉 ) Analog sound for the benchmark of analog rock music, what else? 🙂 And in my opinion the videos speak for themselves: in its own way, the GrandMeister & Mr. Blog Writer did a perfect job together!

    Hughes & Kettner Hughes & Kettner on July 8, 2016 Reply

    Thanks Huey! Yeah, our man had a whole lot of fun writing this, and his Gilmour journey has been a real eye-opener too. For us too, because we have to live with him practicing the solos in the office every time he gets a free minute 😉 But again, the story does prove the point a lot of our blogs make: less really can be more when it comes to great guitar tone. We’re looking forward to the next instalment of this blog, and the videos that will be coming from the group’s next live shows in the next few months!