One of the very first â€œeureka!â€ moments I had when I started doing research on Davidâ€™s gear was when I learned how he did the seagull screams during the mid section in Echoes. Iâ€™d been using slides, overkill fuzz and just about anything that could nail the effect but nothing came close to Davidâ€™s unique tone. In this article weâ€™ll look at how the effect is achieved and the different techniques.
Firstâ€¦ a little history lesson.
David explains in an interview with Guitar Player (January 09): â€œWe discovered it as the result of a serendipitous accident that happened in about 1969 or 1970, when a roadie had plugged the wah in the wrong way, and I stomped into it and got this incredible screaming noise. â€œ The brilliance of this effect isnâ€™t really the effect in it self but the fact that David went ahead and explored how he could tame and integrate the effect in a song after obviously having heard something that must have sounded quite horrible. Actually, David employed the effect long before Pink Floyd wrote Echoes. It can be heard during early live versions of the unreleased song Embryo. One of the earliest known sources is from a performance at the Town Hall in Birmingham, UK February 11 1970. The effect can also be heard on a performance for ORTF Studios (French TV) December 4 1970 as a part of an instrumental often referred to as Corrosion. In this clip David is using the legendary Bill Lewis guitar that heâ€™d bought in Canada only a couple of months earlier. Another great source for the seagull effect with the Bill Lewis is the Super Pop 70 VII festival, Casino de Montreux, Montreux, Switzerland November 22 1970. Listening to these clips you can hear that the effect behaves a little differently on humbuckers (more on that below). The seagull effect can also be heard on Is There Anybody Out There from the The Wall album.
Echoes was premiered April 22 1970 in Norwich UK (introduced as Return of the Son of Nothing). The seagull sequence was now moved to Echoes from Embryo, which now featured echo swells produced with the Binson Echorec. Although the effect pretty much stayed the same throughout the years, David would sometimes experiment like in 1974 when he would add a MXR Phase 90 for an even more dramatic effect (Colmar, France 22 June 1974). Echoes was also performed on a handful of shows during the beginning of the Momentary Lapse of Reason tour in 1987. David used the blonde 1983 â€™57 reissue Strat with EMG pickups and since these canâ€™t be used for the effect itâ€™s uncertain how he did it (and there was no wah wah in his rig either). Echoes was once again performed on Davidâ€™s last solo tour in 2006. Now his wah was hooked up to a custom Cornish unit that allowed David to switch the in/out put signal on the wah with a single stomp. This was also done on Davidâ€™s Animals/Wall Cornish pedal boardwhere the wah had a custom switch on its heel for switching the input/outputs (Echoes was never performed with this board though). On the early 70â€™s David would manually switch the cables on the wah to be able to play both Echoes and stuff like Set the Controls. Itâ€™s not documented whether his first pedal board (1973-75) had a switch but there doesnâ€™t seem to be any visible cables so there might have been a similar solution as on the Cornish board.
Pink Floydâ€™s quadraphonic sound system was used to spread the seagull effect around the concert venue or stadium. Listening to bootlegs from the 70â€™s and 1987 you can hear that some parts are louder than others. This is because the loudest parts are from the front stage PA, while the lower parts are from the rear PAs.
To get the right pitch and tone, the seagull effect is best achieved with a Stratocaster with vintage style pickups â€“ note that the effect wonâ€™t work with the EMG DG20 pickups since these have active EQ controls instead of tone pots. You also need a vintage style wah wah pedal like a Vox or Cry Baby. Some newer models do not work. I also recommend echo for a rich warm tone. Digital delay will obviously give you the delays but not the same almost reverb-like tone.
Stratocaster with vintage style pickups
1. Reverse the connections on your wah wah pedal. Plug the guitar into the output and the cable that goes into the next effect or the amp into the input.
2. Set up for a clean tone with lots of echo/delay (aprox. 300ms) with long feedback.
3. Set the guitar volume at 10, the upper tone control at 10 and the lower tone control all the way off. Set the pickup selector in the fourth position, combining the middle and bridge pickups.
– Before you go on to the next step itâ€™s extremely important that you set the volume pedal as low as possible so that you just barely hear the guitar.
4. Turn on the wah wah and let it stay with the heel all the way down. Slowly turn the lower tone knob up towards 10. You should now hear the feedback. Adjust the volume pedal for the desired volume.
5. Adjust the pitch of the feedback by carefully turning up and down the lower tone knob. Somewhere between 3-2 the tone fades and by making a really slow fadeout you can achieve the â€œlaughingâ€ effect.
6. Combine these techniques with switching the pickup switch up and down from position 1-5 and by adjusting the pitch on the wah wah.
Set the pickup selector in the middle position and use the lower/bridge tone knob to control the effect. Repeat the stages above.
Iâ€™m sure most of you already master the effect but I hope this tutorial made it even clearer. Donâ€™t forget the Examining Echoes article for more details on how to create a killer tone for the rest of Echoes. Start cracking some windows!