Wouldn’t you love to walk into a guitar store and yell out “One Gilmour box, please!”. Of course there is no such thing. Not that anyone hasn’t tried but there’s more to his tone than just one box. Still, I get the question all the time. “What’s the ultimate pedal for Gilmour’s tone?” In this feature I’m going to go against all my principles and recommend what I think is “Gilmour in a (few) box(es)”.
The reason this is against my principles is that buying a new pedal should be based on taste, need and how well that particular pedal matches with your guitar, pickups, amp and other pedals that you might want to combine it with.
In case of trying to figure out which pedal is the most Gilmourish of them all, you obviously have to take into consideration David Gilmours mind, hands, gear, the venues he’s playing in, how they recorded the guitar etc.
But that’s boring right? Let’s forget about that for now! Let’s assume that your guitar, pickups and amp can handle anything and your skills are only surpassed by the master him self.
My list below is based on pedals that are available today and within a reasonable budget (hence no vintage or Cornish). You can either walk into a guitar store or order them online. They may not be the cheapest ones but that’s a topic for later. I’m not paid or endorsed by anyone. This is my opinion based on what I think is the closest match to each tone and era. Please see the Buyer’s Gear Guides for tips on alternative pedals for bedroom, recording and stage use.
David’s more recent tones are recognised by heavy use of compression. Not only for sustain but also for creating presence and a more pronounced attack.
The Effectrode PC-2A, as featured in David’s Rattle That Lock stage rig, is an optical compressor, with a transparent and smooth compression. Compared to a more conventional transistor compressor, the PC-2A is a more dynamic sounding unit, responding to your picking and overall tone.
You can easily go with almost any compressor, but there’s something about that optical tone that makes everything sound like a million bucks, with all the sustain you would ever need.
Guitarists didn’t have much to choose from in the late 60s but most of them, including Jimi Hendrix, owned and used the red Dallas Arbiter Fuzz Face. David Gilmour used one too on all Pink Floyd albums and tours between 1968-1971 (possibly later).
There are many great sounding germanium fuzz pedals on the market, like my favourites, the Jam Pedals Fuzz Phase and MJM (red) London Fuzz. Still, these, among others, are intentionally voiced slightly different than the original.
The SunFace captures the raw and uncompressed tone of the original NKT-275 Fuzz Face. It has all the characteristics and harmonics, without ever getting muddy or dark. It also cleans up extremely well, which is essential for songs like Let There Be Light, Atom Heart Mother and Echoes.
David Gilmour switched from germanium to silicon transistor fuzz in 1971. Not only did this make his tones sound more aggressive but it also played a role in moving Pink Floyd from being a psychedelic act to more of a classic rock band.
The SunFace BC109 has tons of saturated gain that, with the right settings, almost starts to oscillate and make all kinds of sweet harmonics. The brightness of the pedal can easily be darkened by increasing the volume and fuzz, almost taking the pedal into Muff territory. It’s wild yet easy to tame, which is what you need to be able to nail those mellow leads on Mudmen and play both rhythms and lead on Money with just one pedal (like David did).
David Gilmour was introduced to the Big Muff in the mid 70s. Again, his tones got more aggressive and perhaps even partly responsible for the sometimes cold and heavy sound on Animals and The Wall in particular.
David’s Big Muff tone is tricky to nail because it’s almost always paired with a rotary speaker and, often when playing live, a booster. What I’m looking for, to nail his 1976-83 and present Big Muff tones, is that smooth and mellow tone, with a hint of fuzz harmonics and a pronounced attack. It also needs to be wild and aggressive, with fat lows and sparkly top.
I could have chosen the Vick Audio ’73 Ram’s Head, which is one of my favourites, but the red Pig Hoof from Electronic Orange wins my vote by a hair for having that extra bite and edge characteristic of the violet ram’s head.
For the ’94 Division Bell tour, David employed a Sovtek (Civil War) Big Muff Pi. Compared to the Ram’s Head, this one’s got more gain, low end and most importantly, more mid range.
There are many great sounding Sovtek Civil War clones on the market, like the Wren and Cuff Box of War and Stomp Under Foot Civil War. In my opinion the Patriot is the closest match to the tones I’m hearing on PULSE. It’s got a nice amount of mids without sounding boxy. It’s fairly dark but the top end cuts through, making the pedal sound well balanced. What makes it different to the others is the slightly more saturated tone and a throaty, almost vocal character.
The Powerboost was David’s main overdrive and booster unit between 1972-77 (replaced by the Cornish ST2 for the 1979-83 era). He is also seen using the Overdriver throughout the 1990’s and the Powerboost is also seen in his current home studio setup.
I’d have no problem swapping this one for either a Vick Audio Overdriver or the Buffalo FX Powerbooster. However, neither quite manages to produce the mojo and character of the original.
The Colorsound got a super transparent tone and responds incredibly well to your picking and (tube) amp. Its super crisp, yet smooth overdrive and punchy, almost twangy cleans are essential for nailing David’s tones on the WYWH album and his Animals live tones. Have a Cigar, Pigs, Sheep. This is the one.
The Tube Driver has been David Gilmour’s main overdrive and booster unit since the early 90s. In many ways in changed his tones from being bright and aggressive to smoother and warmer. The pedal dominates both Division Bell and On an Island.
The Tube Driver doesn’t really sound like any other overdrive pedal that I’ve played. Any pedal at all, really. Obviously, it does a nice job replicating David’s tones but the pedal is so much more. With a distinct amp-like character, much like the early Plexi and JTM Marshalls, the Tube Driver is incredibly versatile, covering just about anything from transparent cleans, to tube overdrive and fuzz. It behaves very much like a tube amp too, getting more compressed the more you crank it.
One of its biggest strengths as I see it is that despite having a fairly mids scooped character, the tone cuts through with a lot of presence. It has a nice full body and in some way or another, it fits any guitar and amp.
Perhaps inspired by Jimi Hendrix, David introduced the Uni-Vibe in his rig in early 1972. It was heavily used on the Eclipse suite and later Dark Side of the Moon. Electronic Orange’s Moon-Vibe MKII is, in my opinion, the best replication of the classic Uni-Vibe and David’s early 70s tones.
The Moon-Vibe blends incredibly well with most pedals and an additional control for symmetry, allow you to fine tune the sweep or throb depending on how the intensity and speed are set. It’s one of the few Uni-Vibes out there that manages to produce tremolo-like swirls even at the highest speeds, which is much needed for Any Colour You Like.
The classic Phase 90 was David’s main modulation unit during the 1974-75 leg of the Dark Side of the Moon tour and of course widely featured on the WYWH album.
The ’74 reissue from MXR’s Custom Shop is a straight clone of the original delivering dark and smokey phasing, without getting distorted or muddy. Whether you place it first or after, it works equally well with cleans, overdrives and fuzz. Like the original, the pedal feature hardwire bypass, which will add both noise and tone loss but that’s the nature of the pedal and I have yet to discover a phaser that sounds like this one.
The Electric Mistress flanger (David used a late 1976 V2 model) is essential for David’s late 70s and early 80s tones. The pedal was heavily featured on the 1977 Animals tour, his 1978 solo album, 1979-81 The Wall album and tour and last on 1983’s The Final Cut.
The original Electric Mistress is no longer in production (this list only featured available pedals, remember?) and the current Deluxe from EHX sound too dark and boomy (don’t even consider the Stereo or Neo Mistress). The Hartman Flanger is very close to the original but it doesn’t blend that well with high gain pedals like a Big Muff.
Now, I’m sure you think I’m crazy but the Mooer ElecLady is in my (very humble)0 opinion the best model available today. It sounds like a blend between the ’76, with a liquidy swirl and the late 90’s Deluxe and its slightly more jet-like character. Be careful with the settings though. You need to find the sweetspot for it to really nail those tones.
The Boss CE-2 chorus played a huge part in David Gilmour’s tones between 1981-2005. Either used as a stand alone effect or to create a wide stereo spread assigned to specific channels.
The Chorus Lab is a close match to the CE-2, with a warm and natural sounding tone that doesn’t sound too dominating nor boxy. Its effect mix control also allow you to simulate David’s milder chorus tones, achieved by assigning a CE-2 to just one of the amps.
The rotating speaker cabinet has been an essential part of David’s studio and live tones since the early 70s. From employing Leslie cabs in the early days, to the Yamaha RA200 and the custom made Doppola speakers, the rotary effect is perhaps hard to hear but you’d notice some of the magic missing if they weren’t there.
The Boss RT20 is a pretty mediocre rotary sim. It sounds more like a very deep chorus. Pedals like the Strymon Lex and Neo Ventilator has a much more authentic tone.
However, David always used his rotary cabs in combination with clean speakers, which created a very subtle chorus effect so you don’t really want something that sounds too authentic. The RT20, with its effect mix control, does a very convincing simulation of the Yamaha speakers in particular and that liquidy texture that’s always present in David’s tones.
The Binson Echorec’s unique tone played an important role in shaping not only David Gilmour’s guitar tones but also the Pink Floyd sound between 1967-1977. Dawner Prince has managed to recreate much of the magic and mojo of the old Binson with their Boonar.
It will take you some time to figure it all out but the exhaustive amount of features makes it possible to simulate all the classic tones, with impressive detail and authenticity. Set it up for a fast slap-back in swell mode for the intro on Time or a single tap delay, with 300ms and a hint of that organic sounding modulation, for those ethereal sounds heard on Live at Pompeii and Dark Side of the Moon.
You might want to check out the Guru’s Amps Echosex and Catalinbread Echorec as well. Both offer great sounding Binson tones. However, neither comes close to the amount of features and authentic sounds of the Binson.
The classic 2290 Digital Delay was David’s main delay unit in the 80s and 90s, delivering both vintage echo sounds and more complex, modern textures.
The Nova feature all the classic tones of the 2290, including the studio quality 2290 digital delay sound, impressive tape and echo simulations and just about anything else. Banking up your own patches allows you to cover all of David’s tones from all eras with a high level of authenticity.
So, there you have it. No huge surprises perhaps but these are all pedals that I would stick on my own David Gilmour board if I were to replicate his tones. As mentioned above, the pedals listed are without any consideration as to what guitar and amp you’ll be using.
I’m sure you have other favourites though and perhaps you even disagree with my choices. Please use the comments field below and let me hear it!