How To Sound Like Gary Moore
Gary Moore played a fundamental role in the evolution of the blues. He took the traditional blues form and fused it with heavy rock, shred guitar, and glam rock. In a totally unique way, he combined the core elements of the blues with these very different genres.
In doing so, Moore helped to revive the blues during the 1980s. He garnered the praise of fans who had no prior allegiances to the blues and set the stage for modern guitarists like Joe Bonamassa.
From the moment I first heard ‘Parisienne Walkways’ I have wanted to sound like Gary Moore. He has a fiery blues tone that is powerful and intense, yet full of soul. It is a beautiful tone that will serve you well as a blues guitarist, regardless of whether you are a huge Gary Moore fan, or just looking to improve the quality of your lead guitar tone.
Over the course of his 50 year career, Gary Moore used a lot of different gear and his sound at different points reflected this. So in this article I’ll focus on how you can replicate the classic Gary Moore blues tones, from albums like Still Got The Blues and After Hours. I’ve outlined all of the equipment Moore used during this period, and how you can recreate the same tones on your budget.
Here is everything you need to know if you want to sound like Gary Moore:
Throughout his career, Gary Moore played almost every guitar imaginable. He played a Fender Strat, a Gibson Firebird, a Hamer Explorer and various different Ibanez guitars, amongst others.
For the most part however, Moore relied on Gibson guitars. His go to guitar was a Gibson Les Paul and for those songs where he wanted a ‘warmer tone’ he often opted for a Gibson ES-335.
When it came to Gibson Les Pauls, there were two different models that Moore used. The first of these was ‘Greeny’ – the iconic Les Paul previously owned by Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac. Moore originally acquired this in the early 1970s, having befriended Peter Green a few years earlier.
‘Greeny’ is one of the most famous guitars in the world. It has been played on some of the best British blues albums of all time and is famous for its amazing tone and the mystery and story surrounding it.
That it was one of the main guitars that Gary Moore used during his career is noteworthy.
When Peter Green was playing with with Fleetwood Mac, guitarists puzzled over how he achieved his tone. His guitar had the power and bite of a Gibson Les Paul, but the definition and clarity of a Fender Strat.
Gary Moore and Joe Dantzig (the founder of Hamer guitars) eventually discovered the secret to this tone in the early 1980s. They deconstructed the guitar and discovered that the magnetic polarity of the pickups wa reversed. This meant that when both pick ups on the guitar were selected together, it produced an ‘out of phase’ sound similar to that of a guitar with single coil pickups.
Do You Need The Peter Green ‘Mod’?
This begs the question, do you need a guitar with out of phase pickups to sound like Gary Moore?
Personally I don’t think so. Peter Green predominantly used Fender guitar amps, which are famous for their clean tones and the clarity of their sound. Green also didn’t use any guitar pedals at all. He had a pure tone that wasn’t coloured by effects pedals or lots of distortion. As a result, when Green di play using both pickups, the out of phase sound was fairly evident.
I don’t think the same can be said for Gary Moore.
Throughout his career, Gary Moore played using much more distortion, which masked ‘Greeny’s’ out of phase sound. In addition, the out of phase sound on ‘Greeny’ is only heard when both pickups are played together. So when Moore played using either the bridge or the neck pickup (which he often favoured during solos), the Peter Green ‘mod’ made no difference to his sound.
Finally, Gary Moore didn’t use ‘Greeny’ at all on some of his most famous songs. Moore’s second guitar of choice was a 1959 Les Paul with standard pickups. It was on this guitar that he recorded ‘Still Got the Blues‘ and captured some of the best blues guitar tones of his career.
The good news then, is that if you want to sound like Gary Moore, you don’t need a guitar with out of phase pickups. An off the shelf Gibson Les Paul, or a Les Paul replica will get you pretty close. With that in mind, some of my top recommendations across different budgets are as follows:
If you are more price conscious, then your best bet is the Epiphone range:
After Epiphone, there is quite a jump up in price, as you get to the standard Gibson range:
If you are a hardcore Gary Moore fan, or if you’re looking to make a serious investment, then beyond the standard Gibson range, the Gibson custom shop models are also worth considering:
If you do want to replicate the Peter Green mod, then Bare Knuckle offer a set of Peter Green pickups. Without incurring too much cost, you could switch out the stock pickups in any of the guitars above with these. This will obviously help if you want to sound like Gary Moore or Peter Green, and more generally, these pickups are also great for vintage blues tones and will increase the range of sounds you can make with your Les Paul.
Across the course of his career, Gary Moore played a number of different guitar amps. He often used custom built Soldano amps when playing live, and he also experimented with Fender amps later in his career.
These are some of the most famous guitar amps ever made. They have a recognisably British sound, and were made popular by guitarists like Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton in the 1960s. The quality of their distorted vintage blues tones is second to none.
Replicating these tones is a challenge. For the vast majority of us, these amps are totally inappropriate for home use. To get those beautiful vintage blues tones, you have to play these amps at high volume. Cranking a huge amp like a JTM45 at home is impossible, and playing it at a low volume isn’t a suitable alternative. The amp will sound choked and you won’t get those beautiful soaring blues tones.
I wrote in a bit more detail about the drawbacks of larger guitar amps here. But the key point to keep in mind is this – if you are playing at home or at small gigs, 15 Watts is more than enough.
The Best Amps To Sound Like Gary Moore
Opting for a lower output amp rules out all of the amps that Gary Moore used during his career. It also eliminates a lot of the other Marshall amps on the market, which are also high watt combos and stacks.
Marshall do have the DSL range, but I tried the DSL40R recently and was a little disappointed by the quality of the distortion. I thought it sounded a bit thin and ‘fizzy’.
That’s not to say that you should totally discount them though. On paper, the DSL range is brilliant – they have lower watt options, like the DSL20R, the DSL5R and also a single watt DSL1R All of these amps would be perfect for home use. In addition, both the DSL40R and DSL20R have different modes where you can play the amps at a lower output. Again, this would work well for those of you who are playing at home or in smaller venues.
So, don’t be out off by my experience. If you want to sound like Gary Moore and are looking for a great value amp, you should definitely try the DSL range out. See what you think, and you may well find that you love them!
Marshall have also recently released the ‘Origin’ series of guitar amps. These are built with vintage British blues and rock tones in mind. I haven’t personally tried these amps, but having watched a number of demos, they seem to get much closer to the Gary Moore style vintage blues tones than the DSL range.
The Origin series has a 5W Combo, 20W Combo and Head and a 50w combo and Head. Like the DSL series, these amps also have different modes that allow you to play at different power outputs. So even the louder amps could work well at home on these lower output modes.
Beyond Marshall, there are a few similarly voiced amps that I would recommend:
I’ve recently become a big fan of Friedman amps. I tried them out a couple of months ago and was blown away by their versatility and the quality of their tones. They are a bit more expensive, but I do think that spending more on your guitar amp is a worthy investment when it comes to tone.
If you want to sound like Gary Moore, then you’ll need to invest a bit more in guitar pedals.
Over the course of his career, Moore came to rely on a number of guitar pedals, which helped to give him his signature sound. There were as follows:
Ibanez Tube Screamer
The Tube Screamer was a mainstay on Gary Moore’s pedalboard. He predominantly used the TS9, but later also came to use the TS10.
The combination of a Tube Screamer, Gibson Les Paul and a Marshall amp is not that common. Famously, Stevie Ray Vaughan paired his Tube Screamer with a Fender Strat and various different Fender amps. It is this pairing that produces the classic Tube Screamer sound. Fender guitars and amps are famously lacking in the middle of the dynamic range, or the ‘mids’. The Tube Screamer boosts the mids disproportionately, and thickens up the tone of a Fender Strat and Fender amp combination.
Gibson guitars and Marshall amps don’t have the same problem. By adding the Tube Screamer into the mix with his Marshall and Les Paul, Moore pushed the combination to its breaking point. He added more distortion to his sound, as well as the sustain that was a characteristic part of his tone.
Long story short, if you want to sound like Gary Moore, you need to buy a Tube Screamer. For authenticity, either the TS9 or the TS9B 9 are your best bet. Having said that, I have the TS808 and it works brilliantly. Stevie Ray Vaughan also used the TS808. So this is a good option if you are buying guitar pedals with tonal versatility in mind.
The Marshall Guv’nor
Of all of the pedals listed here, if there is one that will help you sound like Gary Moore, this is it.
Moore famously used the Marshall Guv’nor pedal on ‘Still Got the Blues’. The tones on this song and album are some of the best that Moore produced during his career.
The original Marshall Guv’nor pedal is no longer in production. You could buy yourself an original for around £100-150, but instead I would recommend opting for their updated model of the pedal, the Marshall Guvnor-2.
At only £45, this is one of the cheapest guitar pedals on the market and is amazing value for money.
Moore used the pedal in much the same way he used his Tube Screamer. The Guv’nor boosted the signal of his guitar and added more power, distortion and sustain to his tone.
For you, this pedal will help you sound like you’re playing through a cranked JTM45, but at much lower volumes. This particular pedal is also one that colours your tone quite significantly. So if you have a Fender amp (or an amp less inclined to naturally break up at lower volumes) then by adding this pedal to your rig, you can still sound like you are playing through a cranked Marshall.
Gary Moore’s tone has a lot of depth and sustain. Just listen to a song like ‘King of The Blues‘, or to his cover of ‘The Messiah Will Come Again‘. Each note rings out and sustains long after Moore has finished playing.
This largely comes from his guitar, the high volume of his amp and his distortion pedals. His technique also plays a big part. But Moore also added delay pedals to his rig, and this played a key role in his sound.
Delay pedals are not commonly used in the blues. They are more typically associated with alternative or progressive styles of music. But I think blues guitarists are missing a trick here.
When you use a delay pedal, the sound of your playing ‘decays’ gradually. Rather than ending abruptly, the sound of each note fades out slowly. This adds a depth to your sound. If you combine this – as Gary Moore did – with tasteful vibrato, you end up with the long soaring bends that are so characteristic of Moore’s style.
Gary Moore used a Roland SDE-3000 pedal during his career.These are no longer available, so some of my top recommendations are as follows:
It is worth noting, that if you want to sound like Gary Moore, you will not utilise your delay pedal to its full potential. If you add huge amounts of delay to your sound, you will not sound bluesy at all. You just need to add a very small amount of delay to achieve that Gary Moore sound.
The final effect you need if you want to sound like Gary Moore is reverb.
Reverb and delay often get confused, but they are in fact slightly different. Reverb is a natural sound that occurs when sound gets reflected. Reflections ‘build up’ and then the sound naturally decays as it gets absorbed by objects in a room. In a similar way to a delay pedal, adding a reverb pedal to your rig will help with sustain.
Reverb rounds off each of the notes you play in a natural way. This makes them sound less abrupt and harsh on the ear, which is especially true when you’re playing using a lot of distortion.
Towards the end of his career, Gary Moore used a Digitech reverb pedal. Digitech have a very similar model still on offer – The Digitech Polara Reverb.
A lot of guitar amps have reverb built in. If that’s the case for you, then you don’t have to worry about buying a reverb pedal. But if your amp doesn’t have reverb, then you need to add it to your rig. Some of my top recommendations are:
- The Digitech Polara Reverb
- Boss Rv-6 Digital Reverb
- Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Nano
- Strymon Big Sky (this pedal is overkill when it comes to blues – but it is also an amazing guitar pedal and a worthy investment if you love reverb, or play alternative styles as well as blues and rock)
It’s unlikely that you’ll utilise a reverb pedal to its full capacity. This is especially true of a pedal like the Strymon Big Sky – which has a whole range of different settings. But regardless of which pedal you choose, a bit of reverb will improve your overall tone and definitely help you sound like Gary Moore.
Some Closing Thoughts…
So there we have it, all of the gear you need to sound like Gary Moore and capture the amazing tones from albums like Still Got The Blues.
The second piece of the puzzle is how to play like Gary Moore. As is true of all of the guitarists I’ve covered so far, the gear they use is only one part of the equation. Gary Moore was an extremely technical player. He had amazing touch and feel and played with total precision at speed. To really sound like Gary Moore, you will need to spend a lot of time working on your technique.
That’s an article for another day, but until then, I hope you’ve found these suggestions helpful and you enjoy replicating those beautiful Gary Moore tones. And if you’re worried about your technique, just crank your amp and hit that famous bend from ‘Parisienne Walkways’. Playing the blues doesn’t get much better than that…
Let me know how you get on and if you have any thoughts or questions, just post them in the comments.
P.S. If you enjoyed reading this article, please share the love 😁 Thank you!
Feature Image – Tibban99 (Wikimedia Commons) – The License for the image is here
Image of Peter Green – Nick Contador (Wikimedia Commons) The License for the image is here.
Images of Guitar Gear – Marshall, Marshall Guvnor, Digitech Delay, Tube Screamer, Digitech Reverb