I used to play in a band with a keyboard player who was a middle school music teacher.
He would play recordings for his students and say things like “you hear that distorted slide guitar solo?” only to be met with blank stares—they had no idea what he was talking about.
So he’d bring me in to show them guitar sounds in isolation. This is an electric guitar. Listen to the sound difference when I step on this pedal.
In this series, we’ll do a similar thing. I’ll:
- describe a guitar sound (& its backstory) with words,
- include an audio clip of a famous song that uses that sound, then
- play you that same guitar part in isolation so you can hear it more clearly
Just like labeling sections of a song gives you clarity about its form, having the right names for the many common guitar sounds gives you clarity about what you’re hearing.
How To Organize These?
I put the guitar sounds roughly into chronological order based on when they were invented.
It’s a little mind blowing to realize that the sound of seven decades of pop music are all inextricably tied to the sound inventions of a few intrepid tinkerers.
- overdrive & distortion
- rotary speaker
- direct-to-console sounds
- delay: slapback, as a fattener, and as an instrument
- envelope filter
If you’re interested in the signal chain effect order (what order to plug these into one another), we’ll cover that at the end. Buzzwords & jargon we’ll cover in a separate glossary, which you can find here. [article & link on their way asap!]
One last thing before we dive in: this is a living document. Over time I’ll add to it, edit it, and correct my mistakes. In all likelihood, you’re reading a very early version that needs your feedback to improve. If you have suggestions, I’m all ears. Don’t be shy—comment or email me at firstname.lastname@example.org. Thanks for reading!