David Gilmour has just finished off the second leg of the Rattle That Lock tour. His playing and tone is already talked about among fans as among his best. In this feature we’ll look at the recent evolution of David’s rig and tone.
David’s new stage rig is a return to classic guitars and the exhausting array of stompboxes similar to what we saw in the 80s and 90s. It’s a surprising mixture of old and new that reveal a determination to really recreate the classic tones from the Floyd catalog and at the same time, exploring new sounds.
The whole show is really about David finally realising himself as a solo artist, without the weight and pressure of Pink Floyd. While On an Island, and as much as I love that period, comes off as sort of forced and perhaps even unfulfilled, Rattle That Lock, and the tour, sees David in a much more relaxed fashion and not afraid to really bring out the big guns.
It’s speculation of course but to me it is pretty obvious that Endless River was as much a closure as it was a tribute to Richard Wright. David now has the experience of On an Island and the freedom to do pretty much whatever he wants, without having the constant shadow of Pink Floyd hanging over him. Perhaps that’s also why Rattle That Lock sound less Floyd than On an Island.
Rattle That Lock was recorded simultaneously with the extensive work and overdubs done to Endless River. It was a long and continuos session, which was also a first in David’s brand new recording studio, Medina, located in Hove outside Brighton, UK.
The studio feature a vast collection of guitars, amps, pedals and other instruments and provides David with an easy access versatility that he never had in Astoria. It’s no doubt that both he and not least Phil Taylor, David’s long-time technician, got inspired to check out new gear and new ways of arranging and setting it all up.
So, who tracks down all that stuff? Well, most of it is already in David’s huge collection. He and Phil has been collecting guitars, amps and pedals since the mid 70s. It’s always been there but now they got the space for it.
David might be very aware of what tones he wants but Phil is, and has always been, the one to realise those tones, the one who tracks down old and new gear and the one setting it up.
They also get a lot of stuff sent to them as companies no doubt see the marketing value of David using their products.
David’s studio and stage rigs are also inspired by trends. Back in the 80s, it was all about new technology, which lured David down the path of guitar synths and digital effects. By 1994 and Division Bell, there was a return to the basics, much thanks to the grunge bands and the resurrection of analog pedals. Now, the trend is vintage guitars, amps and stompboxes. It is no longer frowned upon to use rotary cabs and flangers. Thank God!
On an Island was a mellow, down to earth album. Like the music, David’s tones are perhaps some of the smoothest he’s ever recorded. To create that lush tone, they mic’ed each amp with two mics, one up close and one further away for ambience. David also used a lot of delay, to create space and long sustained notes. Heavy distortion was toned down and he also employed guitars and amps that fit in with the overall sound of the album.
Rattle That Lock is very much the opposite of On an Island. As mentioned above, the album was recorded simultaneously with Endless River but while David’s guitars on that album is unmistakably Floydish, with swirly rotary cabs and complex delay textures, Rattle That Lock is cleaner, straight to the point and much more modern sounding.
Each amp in David’s new studio, is mic’ed with a Neuman U87 condenser microphone set fairly close to the grille. These mics has a bigger tone than the usual Shure SM57 but they also sound brighter, with emphasis on the upper mid range.
The Black Strat and a couple of Telecasters, was favoured for the recording sessions. This, combined with clean amps and brighter sounding Tube Drivers and compressors, produce a tone that’s perhaps less warm and smooth compared to what we’re used to coming from David, with a lot of presence around 2-2.5kHz.
This is done to create a brighter, cleaner and poppier (in lack of a better word) sound. Songs like the title track and Today, has a more radio friendly production, which require a different approach tonewise.
One can argue that On an Island or Endless River both feature a better sounding Gilmour but that’s kind of beside the point when you look at it from David’s perspective. His goal with Rattle That Lock was to produce something different and if anything, David certainly show a lot more confidence and joy this time around.
Read more about David Gilmour’s Rattle That Lock studio rig here.
David’s current stage rig is a continuation of the studio setup. He’s no longer using his trusted Pete Cornish pedalboards but rather a large rack, with all the pedals laid out. Everything is routed through a Skrydstrup switching system, allowing an almost unlimited amount of presets and tones.
It’s surprising perhaps, given that David seems to have favoured the Pete Cornish boards since early 2000s (and in the late 70s/early 80s). But, having everything in an easy access fashion allow David and Phil to test and try new pedals along the way, like they did during rehearsal and again prior to the South American leg, where they added a Sovtek Civil War Big Muff and switched the EQs around.
They can also fix any problems easily, without having to open up the Cornish board or possibly having to ship it back for maintenance.
However, the amount and choice of effects is more or less constant. David has a palette he likes to work around and everything they change and introduce is within that tone family.
So, does David really need all those pedals and effects? Not all at once, obviously. Most of the time, each section of a song (intro, verse, chorus, solo) only feature 2 or 3 effects but he clearly wants to replicate the classic tones for the Floyd songs and for that he needs different distortions, modulation and delays for authenticity. As fans, we don’t expect any less.
As on the album, David’s favoured guitar is the Black Strat. It seems to have the same mods and features as in 2006 – nothing new is reported. He’s also using his 55 Fender Esquire, which is a first since the Wall tour in 1980-81 (not counting guest appearances). How cool is it to see those two guitars together again?! There’s also the 56 Les Paul Goldtop, the Jedson slide and a selection of acoustic guitars.
David has mentioned, in recent interviews, that he wanted a slightly more aggressive tone for the tour. Perhaps that’s why he’s now using Hiwatt Custom 50s, which is easier to control and drive, compared to his trusted old Custom 100s. The heads are set up with linked input, rolled back treble and a fairly high set pre-amp volume. This will produce a very warm and punchy tone at the very edge of breakup, which again creates a powerful basis for the pedals.
The 50w Hiwatt heads will also match the two low wattage Alessandro heads (although they are very loud). The main setup for the show, is one Hiwatt head combined with one Alessandro head, with the other two heads as spare. The combo is close to what David used for the 1993 Division Bell recording sessions, with the Hiwatt providing presence and mid range and the Alessandro a pristine, bell-like clean tone.
The setup feature three different compressors: Effectrode PC-2A, Demeter Compulator and a Slide Rig from Origin Effects. The latter seems to be assigned to the Jedson for slide, while the Effectrode and Demeter alternate in different patches for different applications based on their tone and characteristics.
Although David’s always been a fan of using compressor pedals, and perhaps more so than most guitarists, he now seem to favour compression over milder overdrive and having to stack overdrives and distortion for the right amount of sustain and balance.
I assume this is part taste but it also allow a cleaner signal and less noise and feedback. Still, I think he’s using too much compression and some of his tones are squeezed so hard that instead of being enhanced, they choke up and the attack sounds more like a pop rather than a more musical click.
An example is the opening track on Rattle That Lock and the tour, 5am. I love his playing and phrasing but the tone is heavily compressed and it doesn’t leave room for any dynamics. He could easily have achieved a similar but better tone, in my very humble opinion, with just the Goldtop into a Tube Driver, set for a hint of breakup.
The solo on Time also seem to suffer from David being overly confident in his compressors and boosters. Rather than kicking in a heavy distortion (Tube Driver) or Big Muff, he’s relying on compression and mild overdrive to produce those ethereal and sustained notes. It doesn’t happen and he seem to struggle more than he should.
There are three Tube Drivers in the rig. Each set with different settings – clean, overdrive and distortion.
The clean Tube Driver acts more like an EQ, adding a bit of tone and body to the otherwise fairly neutral sounding amps. Adding a compressor, will enhance the clean tone and provide sustain. Stacking a second, slightly dirtier Tube Driver on top of the first, produce a fatter sounding overdrive, with lots of character and harmonics, much like driving the front end of a tube amp.
The setup also feature three EQs. These are set more or less identical, with a slight boost between 200-400Hz and a slight roll off in the higher mids, around 3kHz. We’re talking 2-3dB on each of these bands, at most, but the effect is just enough to make everything sound just a tad smoother and stick out a bit more in the band mix.
A surprise perhaps is the fact that David doesn’t seem to be stacking the Big Muff with an overdrive, like in previous years. On both Sorrow and Comfortably Numb, he’s just using the ram’s head Big Muff combined with one EQ and delay.
The rig feature no less than five delay units: 2 Providence Chrono Delays, 2 Free The Tone Flight Time Digital Delays and the trusted old MXR DDL II rack unit.
David has always used delay to create a bigger sound and textures. In the 70s he preferred a Binson Echorec for its lush reverb-like character. In recent years, he’s been stacking delay units set with different delay times, to replicate the sound of the Binson’s multiple heads.
For the intro on Time, David’s using both of the Flight Times and a Chrono to create that familiar slap-back echo, with the long feedback. On many of the solos, including Comfortably Numb, two delays are employed – one set for a fast slap-back to create space and one for 600ms, with 6-7 repeats.
Again, as with the album, the delays are not as dominating as earlier. They’re used with much more care and for creating a bigger tone, rather than long sustained notes. This underlines the overall sound of David’s guitars and the production and sound of the band, allowing the guitars to cut through more easily, while also maintaing a cleaner presence.
David’s stage rig is overwhelming by the looks of it but breaking it down reveal that it’s not much different from yours and mine. It’s a versatile setup, designed to cover as much ground as possible and be easy to use and maintain.
Keep in mind that David and his band is covering well over 40 years worth of material and to achieve a certain authenticity, you need a few extra guitars and pedals. Not having to be concerned with flight costs and cargo space also allow for a bit more extra, in case something should break down.