How To Sound Like Rory Gallagher
I have wanted to sound like Rory Gallagher since I was about 13 years old. I had only just started to play the guitar and my parents bought me a CD called ‘While My Guitar Gently Weeps’. It featured a collection of some of the most iconic guitar solos of all time and on it was ‘What’s Going On‘ by Taste.
When I first heard that song, I was blown away. It remains one of my favourite Rory Gallagher songs. There is a killer riff, a blistering and frenetic guitar solo, and an abundance of the pinch harmonics that are a signature part of Gallagher’s sound. I still think that showcases his playing at its best.
Gallagher combined his fiery technique with an equally fiery tone, that famously inspired guitarists like Brian May and Slash. In fact, May took such inspiration from Gallagher that he used the same amp and the same pedal as the Irish bluesman.
Unlike some of the other guitarists that I’ve featured in this series, Gallagher played a range of different styles. First and foremost he was an electric blues/rock guitarist, but he was also a multi-instrumentalist, played a lot of acoustic guitar, and also used a resonator. Whilst these different styles feature in Gallagher’s work, here I am going to be focusing on what I would define as the ‘classic’ Rory Gallagher tones. Those that feature on songs like ‘Bad Penny‘, Shadow Play‘, and ‘Laundromat‘.
So without further ado, outlined here is everything you need to sound like Rory Gallagher.
The Fender Stratocaster
Rory Gallagher’s beaten up Fender Stratocaster is one of the most iconic guitars of all time. Almost completely stripped of its original sunburst finish, and with innumerable dents and knocks, the guitar is evidence of Gallagher’s intense gigging schedule over the years. The 1961 Strat was Gallagher’s main guitar throughout his career, and supposedly the first Strat ever to be sold in Ireland.
So the story goes, an older Irish guitarist ordered the guitar from the US, thinking that he had bought it in red. When the guitar arrived and it was in fact sunburst, he decided to sell it. Just a teenager, Gallagher bought the guitar for the then hefty price of £100, paying it off in instalments with money from his gigs.
Perhaps because of this early history, Gallagher’s Fender Strat always had immense sentimental value. As he so simply put it:
It was in good condition when I bought it, but it’s got so battered now it’s got a kind of tattoo quality about it… I just like the sound of it. It’s also a good luck thing. It was stolen one time and it came back. It’s kind of a lucky charm; the guitar is a part of me. B.B. King might have several Lucilles, but I’ve only got the one Strat. I don’t even call it a woman’s name. It’s what it is. I still play it every day, I just love playing it
In addition to his Strat, Gallagher also had a White 1966 Telecaster, as well as a Fender Esquire. Both of these were set with a much higher action, which he used when he played slide guitar on songs like ‘Bullfrog Blues‘ and ‘I Could’ve Had Religion‘.
Long story short, if you want to sound like Rory Gallagher, you need to get yourself a Fender Stratocaster. And the great news here, is that there are options to suit every budget. If you are slightly more price conscious, then I would recommend starting with the Fender Squier range:
Beyond the Squier range, some of the cheaper Fender guitars are brilliant. Some of my top recommendations are as follows:
Finally, if you’re looking to invest a little more, than you have the option to go for either the American Series Stratocasters, or for a Custom shop model:
- Fender American Elite Stratocaster
- 1964 Custom Shop Journeyman Relic
- Rory Gallagher Custom Shop Signature
If you want to replicate the sound of Gallagher’s slide playing, then you need to get yourself a Fender Telecaster. Gallagher only played slide on a handful of songs, but his slide guitar tone is very distinctive. It is a sharp and biting tone that is best captured by a Telecaster. So if you want to sound like Rory Gallagher when he’s playing slide, my recommendations to suit different budgets are as follows:
- Squier Affinity Telecaster
- Fender Player Telecaster
- Fender American Professional Telecaster
- Custom Shop ‘Chicago Special’ Fender Telecaster
If you do opt for a Telecaster to play slide, you will need to raise the action, as Gallagher did. This will make your playing smoother and eliminate any chance of your slide hitting the guitar’s frets as you move it up and down the neck.
The main amp that Rory Gallagher used was the Vox AC30. He played this from the early days of Taste, all the way through until the mid 1970s. This is the amp that defined his sound, and it is the amp with which he is associated. It gave his tone the searing bite that he is famous for, and it features on all of his early recordings and live performances. You can hear it on tracks like ‘I Fall Apart‘, ‘Messin’ With The Kid‘ and ‘Crest Of A Wave‘.
In many ways Vox amps are similar to Fenders, but they have a much more treble intensive sound. Their clean tones are bright and ‘glassy’ and when they are pushed, they break up into a very sharp and biting distortion. So if you want to sound like Rory Gallagher in his early years and replicate those fiery tones, you should buy a Vox amp.
Unless you are gigging in large venues (or you don’t have to worry about disturbing your neighbours) I wouldn’t recommend buying an AC30. The AC30 is a large and powerful amp, and you have to crank it to get the most out of it.
Luckily, Vox have a number of smaller amps that will help you sound like Rory Gallagher at lower volumes. My top 2 choices are as follows:
Beyond that, if you want to go for a more powerful amp, then the Vox AC15C1X would be a brilliant choice. This comes with built in tremolo and spring reverb, both of which are great effects to utilise in blues playing. Finally, there is also a hand wired version of the AC4 – the Vox AC4HW1 – which I would recommend if you want a high quality amp that is more suitable for playing at home.
Later in his career – from around the mid 197os onwards – Rory Gallagher started to record using Fender amps. A keyboard player called Lou Martin joined his band, and Gallagher found tha Fender amps better complimented the fuller sound of the new band. Specifically, Gallagher used a Fender Twin at first and then later switched to using a Fender Bassman. He used these amps on songs like ‘Tattoo’d Lady‘ and ‘A Million Miles Away‘ and he used the Bassman extensively during his Irish Tour in 1974
I don’t think the Fender amps have quite the same characteristic Gallagher sound when compared with the AC30. This iOS because they lack that sharp top end that people associate with Gallagher.
Having said that, opting for a Fender amp will definitely help you sound like Rory Gallagher in his later years. Not only that, but I would also argue that Fenders make for better all around blues amps than Vox. They don’t have quite so much top end and so have a warmer and more balanced sound. They also have a more American sound. So if you are interested in playing other styles of blues as well as British blues, buying a Fender amp might be a better investment.
The amps that Gallagher used are two of the most iconic amps Fender ever made. Unfortunately they are also very large and very powerful. So I wouldn’t recommend them if you are predominantly playing at home or in small venues. Instead, I would recommend you go for one of these smaller Fender combos:
These are some of the best Fender amps that you can use at home. They will help you to get those beautiful vintage blues tones without disturbing the neighbours.
The final piece of gear that was a key part of Rory Gallagher’s tone was a treble boost pedal. He first used the Dallas Range Master with his Ac30 and then later switched to using a Treble Hawk booster, which he paired with his Fender amps.
Both of these pedals added more treble and bite to Gallagher’s sound. These pedals gave him the sharp and fiery tones for which he is famous.
The Dallas Rangemaster that Gallagher used is no longer in production. You can pick them up second hand on sites like Reverb, but as they have now become collectible items, they will set you back around $2600/£2000. Luckily, Flynn Amps have built a copy of the Treble Hawk Booster. The company worked with Gallagher’s amp tech, as well as his brother and manager Donal, to faithfully recreate the pedal that helped define Gallagher’s tone in his later years. At $225/£170, this pedal doesn’t come cheap, but it is definitely the best treble booster pedal out there if you want to sound like Rory Gallagher.
Having said that, if you are looking for more budget friendly options, then there are some great alternatives, which are as follows:
- Analog Man Beano Boost
- Electro Harmonix Screaming Bird Nano
- Catalinbread Naga Viper
- BBE Bohemian Boost Pedal
A lot of guitarists are wary of adding more treble to their sound. The common concern is that more treble will make them sound thin and sharp. It’s a concern that is often misplaced. What treble boosters actually do is help shelve away the bottom end frequencies, and accentuate the frequencies you want to hear. They are also a crucial addition to your rig if you want to sound like Rory Gallagher.
Some Closing Thoughts…
Well there we have it – everything you need to sound like Rory Gallagher. Arguably more so than any of the guitarists covered in this series to date, Gallagher was a minimalist. He played the same guitar throughout his career, used only a couple of amps and almost no guitar pedals.
His tone came from manipulating a few key components to create a sharp and fiery tone. This was combined with an intense passion and dedication for the blues. A short while ago I compiled my favourite Rory Gallagher guitar solos. In all of those clips, you can see the way that he attacks the instrument, pouring every ounce of his energy into his lead guitar playing.
Do the same, and combine it with the gear outlined here. You will be well on your way to sounding like one of the greatest and most underrated blues guitarists of all time.