This March marks the 40th anniversary for Dark Side of the Moon. The album took Pink Floyd into super stardom over night and they soon had to learn how to cope with the very issues they were dealing with in the album’s lyrics. More importantly, Dark Side of the Moon also sees David Gilmour growing tremendously as a guitarist, finding his place within the band and establishing himself as a vital creative force. In this feature we’ll look at some of the history of the album and how you can recreate David’s album and live tones.
Dark Side of the Moon was released on March 24th 1973. The album ranks as the third best selling of all time with over 50 million copies sold and nearly 800 weeks on the UK charts (including reissues). By the early mid 70s, Pink Floyd had already established themselves as a super group in Europe and UK but although they’d toured the States many times, they never really breaked there. That changed when Money was released and the single exploded on American radio. The album skyrocketed and Floyd toured all the large halls and stadiums with a tour that never seemed to end.
Dark Side of the Moon was premiered in January 1972. Over a year prior to its release. The suite Eclipse was written over a two weeks period during christmas 1971-72 and worked out and re-arranged during a long world tour in 1972. Listening to the early shows in the UK and the late shows from the tour in Asia, it’s evident that they spent a lot of time rehearsing and fine tuning the songs. On the Run, Time and Great Gig in the Sky in particular went through several changes but it wasn’t until the album was finished and mixed that the songs saw the arrangements that we’re celebrating today.
It’s interesting to hear how much David’s playing and tone changed from the 1970-71 Atom Heart Mother and Meddle/Live at Pompeii period to Eclipse and Dark Side of the Moon. Pink Floyd changed and much had to do with Roger’s new lyrics and songs. The whole piece was written because they badly felt they need new material and to get away from the post-Syd era that had been haunting them for the past few years. Dark Side of the Moon was a new approach and it demanded something new from David Gilmour as well.
When David joined the band in early 1968, his job was pretty much to fill the huge void after Syd. It didn’t even seem that the rest of the band knew what role David would have. They were still a largely psychedelic act and David’s playing was very much influenced by Syd (although he’d learned Syd how to play). By the early 70s, Pink Floyd had moved in a slightly more blues oriented direction although still firmly based in the psychedelic space rock genre. David now sounded more like Hendrix, Beck and other contemporary guitarists but he had also embraced his early influences. Songs like Atom Heart Mother, Fat Old Sun and Echoe featured playing that had a strong blues heritage. This change of style fully blossomed with Dark Side of the Moon.
By early 1972, David had already started using silicon fuzz and he also incorporated a Colorsound Powerboost and a UniVibe in his stage setup. Now, keep in mind that this is the early 70s and guitarists didn’t have a gazillion different brands and clones to choose from. You got your tone from your guitar and tube amp and using pedals was something new and quite unexplored. Back then, it was the era of pioneers – for both effect makers and guitarists.
Ever since before their first album, Pink Floyd had always experimented with new sounds and equipment. Manufacturers would send them stuff to try out and use the band for showcasing their products – like Watkins did with WEM amps and PA systems in 1969-70. David would pick up on this and started very early to mod his guitars and use effects to create new sounds and textures. Neither of the guys were great musicians but Pink Floyd wasn’t about showing off how good you were. It was all about creating a mood and a certain atmosphere that would touch the listener and evoke feelings and emotions. Using new equipment and experimenting with new sounds was a huge part of how they wrote and created music.
David might have been inspired by Hendrix when he started using the UniVibe. However, rather than making it a dominating effect, like Hendrix would, David rolled back the speed and intensity and got this smooth haunting tone that blended perfectly with his guitar tone. A very good example of this is the Rainbow, London, UK show from February 1972 (check out the Moonwalk bootleg). Most of his tones are clean but you can hear this very mild phasing on all the songs – Breathe, On the Run and Time in particular. This was, sadly IMO, abandoned on the album and subsequent tours – although Breathe does feature a UniVibe on the album.
David’s Dark Side of the Moon setup
Complete listings of all the guitars, amps and effects used on the album and tours, including settings for each effect and song.
Dark Side of the Moon 1972-75
Live at Wembley 1974
One of my favourite pre-Dark Side release moments is the Rainbow version of Any Colour You Like. The song is a slow blues-ish number drenched with Rick’s Hammond and David’s Leslie guitar. Actually, on this early version, David sang along with his guitar, just like he does on WYWH – like Hendrix, he is a master at that. He used a second vocal mic that was fed to a Leslie cab, so that both his guitar and vocals were modulated. The guitar also featured the UniVibe, Binson Echorec and possibly the Colorsound Powerboost. Quite different from the album version but heaven to listen to and play along with!
Another favourite moment is David’s tone on Breathe from the newly remastered Live at Empire Pool, Wembley Arena, London UK show. What you hear is a great example of how David’s guitar sounded with a Leslie cabinet (and the Binson Echo). Compared to the more familiar Yamaha RA200 cabs he used during the Animals – Final Cut era and the Doppolas on PULSE, a Leslie is much darker sounding with a more pronounced rotary and a hint of breakup. As later on, David would split the signal from his pedal board, feeding one line to his Hiwatts and one to the Leslie. Listen to Shine On You Crazy Diamond from that show and hear how he’s switching on/off the fast rotary during the (missing) sax solo section!
Dark Side of the Moon was really the first time that David would experiment in the studio with several different guitars, amps and effects. He’d done this before but not to the same extent. His main guitar was the Black Strat. The album was recorded between June 1972 and January 1973 and at this point, the guitar featured the ’63 rosewood neck, original late 60s pickups and a custom mini switch for combining the neck pickup with either the middle or the bridge.David also used a Bill Lewis custom guitar with 24 frets on Money. It might also have been used on Us & Them, Brain Damage and Eclipse. The slide on Breathe and Great Gig in the Sky, were recorded with a Fender 1000 twin neck pedal steel set up with an open (semi) G chord tuning (D G D G B E). David bough the guitar at a pawn shop in Seattle in October 1970, during the band’s visit to the US on the Atom Heart Mother tour. The pedal steel was used for a handful of shows in France in June 1974, which was the first time he used a slide guitar on stage. The guitar can also be seen on the 2003 BBC Dark Side of the Moon documentary.
There are different reports and conflicting sources on which amps that were used on the sessions. It is most likely though that David used his usual Hiwatt Custom 100 head and WEM 4×12” speaker cab and a Fender Twin Reverb. According to engineer Alan Parsons, the Twin, together with a (silicon) Fuzz Face and the Binson Echorec, was employed for the solo on Time. The amp was possibly used for most of the stuff on the album. David also used a Leslie rotating speaker cabinet (Brain Damage and Eclipse) and reportedly also a Maestro Rover.
Listening to David’s guitars on the album it’s apparent that the solos on Time and Money must have been recorded at a glass shattering volume. Alan Parsons also mentioned this in an interview, saying that the guitars were so loud that no one but Gilmour managed to be in the studio while they recorded. You can hear it in the tone on those solos, how the fuzz is smooth and saturated, almost on the edge of screaming feedback.
For Dark Side of the Moon, David would mostly record his guitars clean, with the tone and character of the amp shining through. On Breathe, Us and Them and Any Colour You Like, he used a UniVibe, while Brain Damage and Eclipse featured the Leslie. The rhythms on Time and Money sounds very much like a Colorsound Powerboost. It could be a cranked Twin but the character of the tone, suggests the Powerboost, which he did use for the live versions.
The solos for Time and Money was recorded with a Dallas Arbiter silicon Fuzz Face and the Binson Echorec. It is possible that David used the Colorsound Powerboost for getting more gain but again, judging by the tones, I assume that he just used the fuzz.
David also used a EMS HiFli for the sessions. This was the very first multi effects processor made for guitar. The huge beast was all analog and operated in real time, which made it quite a hassle to use. It is not documented whether it made it on the album or not but he did use it on a few shows on the 1973 tour, including the Earl’s Court, London UK shows in May.
David’s setup for the 1972-75 period was very basic and easy to replicate. It’s more about knowing the effects and amps and how they can perform, rather than using a bunch of stuff that will mess things up.
My favourite setup feature a Fender Stratocaster with D Allen Voodoo 69 neck and bridge pickups and a Seymour Duncan SSL5 bridge pickup. David used a full late 60s set, which has a lower output bridge but the SSL5 compliments the tones nicely. My amp is a Reeves Custom 50 with a Sound City 4×12” speaker cabinet loaded with Weber Thames ceramic 80w speakers. This should be very close to David’s Hiwatt and WEM stage setup.
For the heavier lead tones I’m using an AnalogMan Sun Face BC109. Most sources indicates that the BC109 transistor was David’s choice as well. It has a bit more gain and lower end than the usual silicon models. The signal then goes into a Colorsound Powerboost. This is a 2005 9V reissue with a master volume control. I’ve set it up for a nice crunchy tone that I use for rhythms and for boosting the fuzz.
For modulation I use both a UniVibe and a phaser. By 1974, David had replaced the UniVibe with a Phaser 90, which was mainly used for the new songs (Shine On, Have a Cigar and You Gotta Be Crazy) but it sounds great for Breathe, Us and Them and some of the other songs as well. I like to switch between the two. For the UniVibe I’m using a Dry Bell Vibe Machine. This sounds amazing and you got those deep throbbing sounds even on the lower speed settings. The phaser is a MXR Custom Shop 1974 reissue Phase 90.
For delays I’m using a TRex Replica. It has a nice warm analog tape sound perfect for those Binson tones. Check out the new Catalinbread Echorec if you want even more authentic tones and the MojoHand Recoil, MXR Carbon Copy, EHX Deluxe Memory Man… among others.
Last in the chain, after the delay, I have a Strymon Lex rotary sim. Of course, no pedal can fully replicate the acoustics of a rotating speaker but the Lex is probably as close as you’ll get. The proper way would be to split the signal after the delay and feed it to two amps, with the Lex on one of the lines. However, I mostly use it for Breathe and Any Colour You Like (1972 version), so I like to keep it in the main chain and with a full volume mix.
David’s early setups relied heavily on the tone from his Stratocaster and Hiwatt tube amps. This doesn’t mean that it’s impossible to recreate the tones without an expensive tube amp. Regardless of what you have, set it up to produce a warm, punchy clean tone that will be the basis for all your tones. See the Buyer’s Gear Guide – Amps for some tips on great sounding tube amps for bedrooms and tight budgets.
Any guitar will do but if you’re looking for something new then check out the Squier Classic Vibe series or, if you can spend a bit more, the excellent Fender Classic Series. See the Buyer’s Gear Guide – Guitars for more tips. Also, check out the Buyer’s Gear Guide – Pickups for some tips on how you can turn a budget guitar into a high class instrument.
Need more tone tips?
Tone (part 4) – pedals. A comprehensive guide to all the basics of setting up your gear and arranging the pedal board.
Tone (part 3) – amps. Learn how to set up your amp for different purposes – bedroom, studio, gigs.
Simulating rotating speaker. Tips on how to recreate David’s rotary speaker setups and sounds.
Which effects you should choose, depends on your guitar and amp. Fuzz and bright sounding overdrives can be a challenge on smaller amps and solid states in particular. If you think your setup can handle it, then check out the new Fuzz Face minis from Dunlop (silver or blue) or the MXR Classic Fuzz. If you need something a bit more versatile then you can’t really beat a RAT. It can produce anything from overdrives, classic distortion and pretty convincing Muff and fuzz tones.
For overdrive and boost you need a transparent unit with moderate gain that won’t colour your signal. Check out the Boss BD2, TC Electronic Spark Booster or the Mooer Blues Mood. All of these works equally well as boosters and for overdrive, with that classic Colorsound Powerboost character.
UniVibes are expensive and although there are a few budget models available, they don’t really nail the complex sound good enough IMO. Besides, UniVibes aren’t that versatile either. If you do want one then check out the VoodooLab Micro Vibe or, if you’re budget allows it, the excellent Dunlop RotoVibe. You’re probably better off with a phaser though. It will cover the UniVibe tones and the WYWH songs as well. The Mooer Ninety Orange is a great sounding clone of the Phase 90 with a few extra features.
Any delay will do. Your best choice is probably a multi processor that’ll deliver both digital and analog tones as well as banking. That way you can cover all your delays with just one unit. Check out the TC Electronic Flashback or the slightly more expensive Nova Repeater. If you want a single echo unit, then the EHX Memory Toy and MXR Carbon Copy will cover your needs.
David Gilmour is an old-school guitar player and like many before him, not least Hendrix, he learned how to create a large palette of tones with a very limited setup. Using the guitar volume control to control your tone is a key element in getting the right tones. Rolling down to 8 or 9 on the guitar, makes the cleans warmer and smooths out most of the nasty transients you often get without compression. Listen to Wembley 1974 and the solo on Breathe. The super smooth tone you hear is achieved by rolling down the guitar volume and using a careful picking technique.
Again from Wembley 1974, listen to the rhythms on Money. That’s the Fuzz Face with the guitar volume at about 4 or 5. Even with a pretty aggressive silicon fuzz you can get a nice bright overdrive. The middle section is also a great example of how you can get almost pure clean tones and heavy overdrives by constantly adjusting the guitar volume and the strength of the picking.
I hope this feature has been useful for creating your own Dark Side of the Moon tones. Whether you prefer the studio version or the live recordings, the essence is to keep it simple with just a few effects and a good basis from your guitar and amp. Feel free to use the comments field below and share your favourite Dark Side of the Moon moment and your setup!