Before every kid gets his first guitar, he spends hours in the mirror perfecting his air guitar moves. There’s a dramatic downpick, an overblown Pete Townshend windmill, and some frantic soloing. Honestly, many adults still probably do this whether they own guitars or not. But once you actually start playing, you quickly notice that simply strumming the same chords as your guitar heroes doesn’t necessarily produce the same sound.
Do you know why? Science! Or, more specifically, the series of tubes and wiring that make up the inside of your guitar, your pedals, and your amplifier. Things as simple as the condition of electrical contacts can alter the instrument’s sounds. So, who do you want to sound like? Jimmy Page? Jimi Hendrix? Let’s break down their gear.
The Led Zeppelin legend is a good guitarist to start with, thanks to his iconic stature. There are a few things at play when it comes to Page’s otherworldly guitar playing abilities. While the early Led Zeppelin songs featured Page’s Telecaster playing, it’s his Les Paul that has become synonymous with the Zeppelin sound. To get that chunky sound with decent sustain like on “Kashmir,” you need a guitar with some mean humbuckers and a heavy body that allows for notes to last hours.
If the name doesn’t jump out at you, take a listen to “How Soon is Now?” by the Smiths and you’ll know exactly why he’s on the list. That 80s anthem is just one of his spectacular guitar moments. Unlike Jimmy Page, his sound doesn’t rely on muscular humbuckers and heavy Les Pauls (though he has used them a bit). Rather, his most famous compositions were created on a Telecaster with single coil pickups for that crisp, jangling sound that would become his trademark.
These days, he plays Jaguars which have more powerful pickups and a tremolo bar, which is essential to that “wall of sound” many of his compositions have. Marr is an excellent example of a player who uses pedals to create a complicated, signature sound.
Who doesn’t want to be Jimi Hendrix? Widely considered as the best guitar player in rock history, his signature guitar is without question his Stratocaster. But, it’s not just the guitar alone. Equally important were his Marshall amps and Vox Wah pedal. To hear all three on display, take a listen to the career highlight “Voodoo Child (Slight Return)” where he uses all of his gear to create a sublime sound.
This short list was heavy on guitarists with “J” names (a coincidence, really!) but the three of them have very distinct sounds that have been emulated ever since. It can’t be stressed enough that the gear you’re using is what produces the distinct sounds you’re looking for. If you want to get into the nitty gritty of it, read more about electrical contacts and how different metals produce different sounds. The instrument cables you choose, the pickups you install in your guitar, and the weight of your guitar’s body are all essential components to the sound you create.
You never know. Maybe someday, you’ll be a guitar player with a signature sound that others want to imitate.
Aaron Krychek is a total gearhead who has played guitar for most of his life. He loves writing about music.