Early Years part 1, 1968-69
Although David’s rig was pretty basic during his first five years with Pink Floyd, both his tone and technique played a significant role in shaping the band’s sound after Syd’s departure. In this first of two articles I’ll look at David’s guitars, amps and effects between 1968-1969 and how he created his tone.
Prior to joining Pink Floyd, David played in several local Cambridge bands. His gear was based on a limited budget and borrowed stuff. While with Joker’s Wild (1964-66) he is seen using a Hofner Club with Bigsby tremolo and Vox amps. David got his first Fender in March 1967, – a mid 60’s white Telecaster with a rosewood neck that his parents gave him for his 21. Birthday. David is seen using the guitar with Bullitt, – his last band prior to joining Floyd. Bullitt was to reunite on David’s first solo album in 1978.
1968 spring and US summer tour
In early 1968 Pink Floyd headed out on a long European tour. It was basically a promo stunt to make the transition with a new singer/guitarist as smooth as possible (more about this below). David travelled with more or less the same setup as his predecessor:
- Early 1960’s all stock Fender Telecaster with a white ash body, white pickguard and a rosewood neck.
- Syd’s 1960’s Fender Telecaster with a white ash body, white pickguard and a rosewood neck. Syd later reclaimed his old guitar during the Saucerful recording sessions.
- 1966-67 all stock Fender Stratocaster with a white ash body, white pickguard and a rosewood 4-bolt neck with a large headstock.
- Fender Telecaster of unknown date with natural brown body, white pickguard and a maple neck with a small headstock.
- Selmer Stereomaster 100w head with 4x ECC83, 4x EL34, 2x GZ34 tubes.
- Selmer 2×12” All Purpose speaker cabinet.
- Selmer 1×18” Goliath speaker cabinet (seen used from autumn ’68).
- “Flaming” Bouton Rouge TV-show, Paris France February 20. 1968 (David’s first TV appearance). You can spot David’s rig behind him to the right, his main setup throughout ‘68, – a Selmer Stereomaster amplifier and a Selmer “All Purpose” cabinet. Notice the second Telecaster leaning up against the amps. David borrowed this from Syd for a brief period.
David got his first Stratocaster in June 1968. It was a gift from the band. The first known footage of the guitar is from the Hyde Park Free Festival on June 29. just a couple of weeks before the band headed to the States. The gift couldn’t have come at a better time. When Floyd headed over to the US in medio July David’s Telecaster got lost by the Airline company and the white Stratocaster became is main axe for the next couple of years. David is also seen with a natural brown Fender Telecaster later the same year. It’s not documented when he bought the guitar but one can assume that it was purchased during their US summer tour.
In several interviews throughout the years Gilmour has stated that he felt quite lost after joining Pink Floyd. It was a combination of joining a band that was totally in limbo after loosing their main songwriter and having to fill the shoes of a brilliant front figure. Now we can look back at the whole transition and see that it went remarkably well because the band managed to promote themselves with a new album and touring like hell throughout the spring, summer and fall of ‘68. Most of their fans didn’t even know the difference between Syd and Gilmour, mostly because the band had, after all, only been around for a couple of years with only one album on their hands. David played on most of Saucerful and by its release he was a full member of the band.
The Hendrix influence
One could sense that although David tried to maintain some of Syd’s original guitar work on the songs they performed he would also incorporate new elements in his playing. Much of it with a distinct Hendrix flavour.
This was 1968, – still some years before the stompbox frenzy and David relied on the few that were available, fuzz, wah wah and echo. Jimi Hendrix was famous for his screaming fuzz tones and his use of the whammy/tremolo arm and David picked up much of this technique. The big difference was David’s use of echo, which made his sound quite unique at the time. David was also a huge fan of Hank Marvin and The Shadows. Later that inspiration led to stuff like David’s playing on Breathe and Mihalis.
- “Let There be More Light” Tous en Scene TV special, Paris, France October 31. 1968. One can easily notice that the band is getting heavier and David seems to loosen up a bit. A great clip showing David’s autumn ’68 setup. Pay attention to the saturated Fuzz Face solo and the use of the wah wah.
It’s easy to hear the Hendrix influence in tunes like Let There Be More Light, Corporal Clegg and The Nile Song. That over-saturated, earpinching (germanium) fuzz tone and the heavy use of the tremolo arm. Like Hendrix David was also a master at getting the most of his limited setup and they both had a unique way of using the guitar volume knob to adjust the gain on the fuzz. David would roll off the volume for a mild overdrive tone used on verse and chorus parts and then turn it up to 10 for the solos. What David also did was to use the guitar volume to create echo swells, a technique that would characterise the sound of Pink Floyd for years to come.
Loosing the main songwriter and driving force in the band meant that one had to readjust and seek out a new direction. Perhaps it was desperation but psychedelia pop already belonged to the past and Pink Floyd searched deeper into their folk and blues roots while at the same time continuing to experiment with electronic effects. David had also developed a very unique style using slides and echo to create soundscapes and noise and with the equally haunting Farfiza sounds from Richard Wright Pink Floyd soon got the label “space rock”. It was only fitting that they would be invited by several European TV networks to perform to the landing on the moon in late 1969.
- “Biding My Time” Royal Festival Hall, London UK April 14. 1969. This footage is from the rehearsals for the première of Pink Floyd’s new suite “The Man and The Journey” that consisted of old repertoire and new songs and improvisations. It was all very innovative at the time and kind of a distant cousin of what would later turn into conceptual ideas for Dark Side of the Moon. The clip reveals David’s setup only a couple of months before he started using Hiwatt amps. Notice the spare brown Telecaster lying on the floor and the Cry Baby wah wah, – he normally used Vox wahs at the time.
By summer 1969 David had started using Hiwatt amplifiers, – a relationship that would last for nearly 40 years (and counting) only interrupted in the mid 80’s. It’s not documented when David bought the amps but one of the first known pictures is taken at the Van Dike Club, Plymouth, UK, August 1. 1969. Hiwatts were designed by Dave Reeves who had been making amps since the mid 60’s and worked for Sound City between 1966-’68. In early ’69 he began making custom 100w heads for musicians under his new brand Hiwatt. Both Jethro Tull and The Who are seen using Hiwatts as early as May ’69 and the word must have spread quickly. David is seen using Selmer amps at the Royal Festival Hall show on April 14. but a theory could be that he bought the Hiwatts in July, as the band was vacant for most of the month. His setup for the remainder of 1969 included two Hiwatt DR103 heads and two WEM speaker cabinets.
Amps autumn 1969
- Hiwatt DR103 All Purpose 100W heads with Mullard 4xEL34’s power tubes and 4xECC83’s pre-amp tubes. Controls for normal volume, brilliance volume, bass, middle, treble, presence and master.
- WEM Super Starfinder 200 cabinets with 4×12” Fane Crescendo speakers with metal dust caps.
It is also claimed that David used Sound City amps, – especially since they’re shown on the Ummgumma album cover. However there are no pictures or other sources confirming this and it seems that he went straight from Selmer to Hiwatt. The Sound City L100 amps are All Purpose and could have easily been used by Waters or Wright or even for the PA system.
Pink Floyd used borrowed or in-house equipment on several occasions during 1968-69. They didn’t bring their own backline to the States in July ’68 and are seen using both Vox and Orange amps and speakers. Some rather odd TV-appearances from the era show the band doing playback and fooling around with equipment that clearly isn’t theirs:
There are different reports (and opinions) on whether David is playing on all of the Saucerful album or not (apart from Jugband Blues). Syd had been let go but contributed one song and most likely played on Remember a Day.
Saucerful of Secrets was, as its predecessor, drenched with studio trickery yet the atmosphere is darker and less pop oriented. David used his live rig on the albums and the basic effects lineup. As Saucerful was completed before he got his first Strat, so he only used the Telecaster and the Selmer amps. The white Strat was largely used on both More and Ummagumma and both albums were recorded before he got the Hiwatts, so again he used the Selmers.
All three albums includes several songs with acoustic guitars. Gilmour is seen using a Levine “Western” steel string on several occasions, most notably at the Royal Festival Hall concert in April 1969. Both Crying Song and Cymbaline from More include an undocumented acoustic nylon string guitar.
David’s first known use of a Leslie speaker is documented on Narrow Way (part 3) from Ummagumma. The song features David’s white Stratocaster into a Leslie 147 throughout the song.
Pink Floyd would tour for the rest of 1969 and also record music for the film Zabriskie Point. The “The Man and the Journey” suite would prove it self to be a wakening for the band, – they was indeed capable of producing unique music and shows without Syd. There was a strong unity in the band and an urge to experiment with ways of expressing themselves. 1970 would see some interesting projects and a dramatic change in David’s sound and rig.
- “A Saucerful of Secrets”, original recording (1968)
- “More”, original recording (1969)
- “Ummagumma”, original recording (1969)
- “Top Gear” performances 1968-69
- Various concert and video footage (see YouTube clips)
- Sound magazine interview with David Gilmour (Guitar Heroes), 1983
- Interviews with David Gilmour from various magazines
- “Inside Out” Pink Floyd biography by Nick Mason
- “In the Flesh” by Povey/Russell for pictures and concert dates references
- “The Black Strat – A History of David Gilmour’s black Fender Stratocaster” by Phil Taylor