As Brian Damage reports today, David’s tone on Comfortably Numb is voted “the greatest guitar tone of all time” by Guitarist magazine. Of course, this isn’t news for us Gilmour geeks but it’s always nice to see that others have understood what we have LOL! Although I can’t say that I agree with the rest of the list, David is in impressive company:
1. David Gilmour – Comfortably Numb
2. Jimi Hendrix – Voodoo Child (Slight Return)
3. Eddie Van Halen – Sinner’s Swing
4. Brian May – Play The Game
5. Stevie Ray Vaughan – Couldn’t Stand The Weather
Comfortably Numb, or the idea to the song, dates from David’s sessions for his 1978 self titled solo album. The original demo has been featured on many bootlegs and it’s easy to hear the beauty of what’s to come. It would have been cool to hear a finished version of David’s idea but I think the genius of the song lies in the combination of Roger’s minimalistic approach and the larger than life guitar solo.
David’s setup for this “greatest guitar tone of all time” is quite simple and perhaps a bit surprising to fans and guitarists that might not know him that well. He used the Black Strat, which at the time still featured the Di Marzio FS-1 bridge pickup. The guitar also featured, as now, the mini toggle pickup switch combining the neck and bridge pickups. Some sources indicates that this was employed on the first of the two solos and David was seen engaging the combo on the 2006 tour. The guitar is fed into an Electro Harmonix 1973 ram’s head Big Muff and the signal was split in two into a Hiwatt DR103+WEM stack and a Yamaha RA200 rotating speaker cabinet.
The magic of his tone lies in the production. There are many ways to mic a cabinet and to mix the signal and a good example of how it could have sounded is most of the solos on his first solo album and Final Cut, which is considerably more liquidy and rotary drenched with lots of ambience. Comfortably Numb is quite the opposite with a dry close mic’ed tone that hits you right in the spine. The Yamaha is mixed low but if you listen closely you can hear that the signal has been paned to each side creating a huge stereo sound. The signal also sound like its been compressed and gated a lot too to get that tight punch and attack. Teh movie version is even more extreme.
Check out Examining: Comfortably Numb for more details about the history, David’s tone throughout the years and how you can get your own killer Comfortably Numb tone!
Please feel free to share your top 5 “greatest guitar tone of all time”!