I often get questions regarding Davidâ€™s use of rotating speakers and how this effect can be achieved without actually having to buy a Leslie. Rotating speakers have been an essential part of Davidâ€™s tone since the early 70s â€“ both on albums and not least in his stage setup.
The classic old school way of using Leslies is to just plug the guitar into the cab. David did this on Narrow Way, Brain Damage, Eclipse etc. The tone is easily recognizable with a fat swirling sound with bite and grunge. However, David would usually – and still is – blend the rotating speaker cabs with his Hiwatt rig. This is easily done by simply splitting the signal from the guitar/pedal board and feeding it into the two setups. The result is a smooth warm tone with a mild chorusy swirl. The whole â€œsecretâ€ to Davidâ€™s setup though is that the rotating speaker cabs are mixed much lower than the amp rig.
So whatâ€˜s the difference between using a rotating speaker cab and a chorus? The split signal creates a stereo effect, which is something a chorus canâ€™t do by it self. The rotating speaker also resonates and creates dynamics and acoustics that a pedal canâ€™t replicate. The construction of the rotating cab is essential with the horn literary throwing the sound in all directions creating a unique resonance depending on the distance to the surrounding walls etc. In technical terms this is called the Doppler effect. A chorus on the other hand is just a pedal with its obvious limitationsâ€¦ no matter how good is sounds.
Letâ€™s look at Davidâ€™s different setup to better understand the difference between the tones. The setups have changed somewhat over the years. Between 1971-75 he used Leslie 147/760 cabinets, which have an aggressive tremolo tone with a distinct bite and attack. A good reference is the Wembley 1974 show. Between 1977-1983 he used Yamaha RA200 cabinets which have a unique chorusy tone achieved by three horns/speakers on an axis. Compared to a Leslie, the Yamaha has a much more open character with a subtle tremolo. The Yamahas can be heard all over Is There Anybody Out There â€“ Wall Live and Davidâ€™s 1978 solo album. In 1994 he used custom designed rotating speakers called Doppolas. These had a tone that was not as aggressive as a Leslie but neither as liquidy as the Yamahas. The Modena, Italy 1994 show is a great reference (Shine On, Sorrow, Another Brick in the Wall).
In Davidâ€™s stage setup the rotating cabs were on for most of the songs. This is perhaps hard to understand because while theyâ€™re easy to hear on Is There Anybody Out There â€“ Wall Live theyâ€™re barely noticeable, if at all, on PULSE. Still, thatâ€™s the whole idea. Youâ€™d hear it if they werenâ€™t on PULSE and they were also mixed much higher on the Wall tour especially. It may also be hard to hear that the album version of songs like Shine On You Crazy Diamond and Comfortably Numb were recorded with the amp+rotating cab split. Again, the rotating cabs were mixed low. These are also examples of how a rotating speaker can make the overall tone warmer and smoother without dominating with a distinct tremolo/chorus tone. On the other hand, songs like Raise My Rent and Dogs are drenched with the Yamaha high in the mix.
Between 1977-1983 in addition to the Yamaha RA200 cabinets David also used an Electric Mistress flanger. The difference between a rotating speaker cab and the Mistress might be hard to recognize as he would use both at the same time but a good reference is Mihalis, where the Mistress is in focus and Raise My Rent where the Yamaha is loud and thereâ€™s no Mistress. The Mistress has a liquidy chorus tone with a slight metallic â€œjetâ€ colour while the Yamaha is a slightly muddier chorusy tremolo tone.
Replicating the effect of Davidâ€™s amp+rotating speaker combo is difficult if not impossible without actually carrying a rotating speaker cabinet like a Leslie, Yamaha RA or Doppola. There is lots of sims on the market though like the Boss RT20, DLS Rotosim, Line 6 Roto Machine and the classic Korg G4. Most of these simulate the sound of a Leslie in solo pretty well but IMO fails to replicate the mild liquidy tone of Davidâ€™s Yamaha and Doppolas. The other option is to use a chorus and perhaps a model that has a bit more defined tone like the Boss CE5. The Electric Mistress (late 70s model and Deluxe) also does a good job simulating a rotating speaker and the right settings can get you very close to the Yahamas. Itâ€™s important to keep in mind that when a chorus, phaser or flanger is referred to as a good rotary sim the reference is usually towards fast settings for that distinct tremolo tone. Thatâ€™s not what you want for Davidâ€™s tones. Therefore, a phaser or UniVibe might not be the best option unless you want to have something to nail Any Colour You Like.
Chorus single amp setup
Using a chorus as a colouring modulation and for replicating Davidâ€™s rotary sounds require two different setups. A normal way of using chorus would be to place it after the gains and in front of the delays. In a rotary sim setup the chorus should be placed at the very end of the chain after the delays.
Flanger single amp setup
The Electric Mistress 9V/18V and Deluxe are IMO a great way to replicate Davidâ€™s Yamahas â€“ the tone is quite convincing with a Muff especially. Unlike the chorus I think the Mistress sounds best when placed after the gains and in front of delays both for a normal colouring modulation and rotary sim setup.
Rotary sims single amp setup
If youâ€™re using rotary sims I strongly recommend that it has a master effect volume control or a dry/wet mix. Otherwise the effect will be too dominating. More so than a chorus and flanger I recommend that a rotary sim is placed at the very end of the chain after the delaysâ€¦ unless you want to use to replicate a more conventional Leslie tone. Units like the Boss RT20 also allow a stereo setup but keep in mind that if you decide to split the signal in two setups you need to split it before the rotary unit to maintain the â€œcleanâ€ tone from your amp and mix it with a â€œwetâ€ tone from the second amp.
Split signal setup without rotating speaker cabinet
An even more authentic setup would be to split the signal between two amps and use a chorus, flanger or rotary sim between the split signal and one of the amps. This is easily done with a Y splitter box. Keep in mind that you need to either set the â€œwetâ€ amp with a lower volume or use a chorus, flanger or rotary sim unit with a master effect level control to be able to mix the â€œwetâ€ effect lower than the â€œdryâ€ amp. This doesnâ€™t mean that you need two Hiwatt stacks though. The â€œwetâ€ amp can very well just be a 10-15w combo like the excellent Laney Cub thatâ€™s placed next to your main amp. This will be just enough to get that slight stereo spread and natural acoustics.