Guitar Tone Series Part 3: Raw and Rough

The first two articles, The Clear Blues and Experimentalists, took a look at the trailblazers of the earlier eras who worked with clean and jazzy styles. In the third article of this series, we are going to review several guitarists who are associated with a louder, grungier attack. They run the gamut from Hard Rock to Grunge to Blues, but what they all have in common is a commitment to rough and ragged playing.

Stevie Ray Vaughan

Although the late SRV’s blues playing had its roots going as far back as the landmark recordings of Robert Johnson in the 1930s, his unique tone set him apart from his contemporaries. In this instance, his tone was obtained by using extra-thick-gauge strings and playing them hard and loud. He also tuned his guitar down to E-Flat to give his blues playing a deeper tone.

Recommended Recordings: TEXAS FLOOD, THE SKY IS CRYING

Kurt Cobain

With all of the press surrounding Nirvana front man Cobain’s singing and songwriting (not to mention his tumultuous life and premature death) what often gets overlooked is his unique sound. He used left-handed Jaguars and Mustangs with the humbuckers installed at an angle, plugged into a Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion pedal.

Recommended Recordings: NEVERMIND, INCESTICIDE, IN UTERO-Nirvana

Andy Summers

The guitar sound heard throughout the 80s was largely due to this man. Although he had recorded and toured in the final lineup of The Animals, he is most famous as the guitarist for The Police. His minimalist yet rough and edgy style, which was duplicated by many bands, parlayed into an acclaimed solo career, playing jazz-tinged New Age music. During his stint in The Police, he used a flanger and multiple pedals to get a clean, yet compressed sound

Recommended Recordings: ZENYATTA MONDATTA, SYNCHRONICITY-The Police; I ADVANCE MASKED-Andy Summers and Robert Fripp

The Edge

U2’s guitarist and songwriter (along with Bono) followed in the footsteps of Andy Summers by using a wide range of effects to accomplish his desired sound with a Gibson guitar. He is famous for his delay. His versatility has helped one of the greatest rock bands ever to stay critically and commercially successful for over 30 years. Few stars can pull off the first name “The.”


Neil Young

Neil Young cannot be pigeonholed. He has played in genres as far ranging as rockabilly and electronica. But he is best known for his work with Crosby Stills, Nash, and Young as well as his legendary rock albums with Crazy Horse. Nirvana, Pearl Jam (with whom he recorded an album), and many other grunge bands cite Young as a major influence. His primary guitar is a 1953 Les Paul with a mini-pickup from a Firebird attached in the treble position.

Recommended Recordings: WELD, EVERYBODY KNOWS THIS IS NOWHERE, HARVEST, TIME FADES AWAY (difficult to find, but worth it)


Every renowned player has a tone that you can achieve. With a bit of research, you can find out what he or she uses to get their signature sound, and work towards achieving it. Read the next in this series to learn more about those that focus on speed and flashy fingering.

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