How To Sound Like Peter Green
Peter Green is one of the most underrated guitarists in British blues. He ascended to fame as the frontman and lead guitarist of the original Fleetwood Mac. During his time with the band, they:
- Produced 5 hit records
- Released 4 hit albums
- Went on to sell more records in 1969 than both The Rolling Stones and The Beatles, combined.
Within just a few short years, Peter Green achieved greater commercial success than two of the world’s most famous bands. He went from being a little-known blues guitarist, to one of the most famous musicians in Europe.
Sadly, a series of mental health struggles cut Peter Green’s career short. But during his time with Fleetwood Mac and throughout sections of his solo career, he recorded some of the best blues songs ever written.
He had amazing touch and feel and a tone that garnered praise from guitarists like B.B. King, who once said of Green: ‘He has the sweetest tone I ever heard; he was the only one who gave me the cold sweats’.
A huge part of that tone came from Green’s fingers. But he also had a unique set up that helped him achieve his beautiful tones. Outlined here are the specifics of his set up, and everything you need to know if you want to sound like Peter Green.
If you want to sound like Peter Green, then you need to start with ‘Greeny’ – his iconic 1959 Gibson Les Paul. 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 owned by some of the world’s most famous guitarists, including Gary Moore and Kirk Hammett.
Peter Green first used the guitar during his short tenure with John Mayall & the Bluesbreakers. It went on to be his main guitar in Fleetwood Mac and was responsible for the beautiful blues tones on all of their most iconic songs.
During his time with Fleetwood Mac, guitarists puzzled over how Green achieved his tone. His guitar had the power and bite of a Gibson Les Paul, but the definition and clarity of a Fender Strat. His tone was thick and heavy, but it was more refined than that of some of his contemporaries, like Eric Clapton.
How he was able to strike that balance remained a mystery whilst he was in Fleetwood Mac, and it was a question that troubled guitarists for the next 10 years.
The Peter Green ‘Mod’
When Green left Fleetwood Mac in 1970, thankfully the guitar didn’t entire into retirement with him. Instead, it found itself in the hands of Gary Moore, who had befriended Green a few years earlier. Moore went on to use the guitar on Thin Lizzy’s 1979 ‘Black Rose’ album, as well as his later 1995 tribute album to Green – ‘Blues For Greeny’.
In the early 1980s, Moore took the guitar to his friend and the founder of Hamer guitars, Jol Dantzig.
Both guitarists assumed that the secret to Peter Green’s tone was out of phase pickups. When pickups are wired out of phase, they usually produce a sound that is typically a bit thin and hollow. This they thought, accounted for the difference in tone in Green’s Les Paul.
They agreed to deconstruct the instrument, expecting to find that Green had re-wired his pickups to achieve his signature sound. But when they took it apart, they found that this wasn’t the case. The guitar was essentially an off the shelf model. Dantzig remained puzzled, until he checked the polarity of the pickups. In his own words:
I used a compass to measure the pickups’ magnetic polarity. I discovered that one magnet was oriented north-to-south while the other was oriented south-to-north. The pickups were magnetically out of phase—this was the secret we’d all been searching for!
Dantzig suspected that the guitar had been incorrectly set up on the factory. If that was the case, then it was certainly a happy accident in a year when Gibson manufactured thousands of Les Pauls.
Years later in the early 1990s, Green also claimed that he had initially removed one of the pickups and put it back on the wrong way around. There are very few (if any) pictures or clips of Green playing with just one pickup. Whether this was the case remains in question, but it has only added to the mystery surrounding the instrument.
How To Sound Like Peter Green
All of this begs the question, do you need out of phase pickups to sound like Peter Green?
For authenticity, yes. You are not really going to sound like Peter Green using stock pickups. When pickups are out of phase, you get a unique sound when you select both pickups together. It is somewhat ‘scooped’ and is sonically more similar to that of a guitar with single coil pickups.
The good news, is that making the Peter Green mod is fairly straight forward. It does require some skills with a soldering iron, so if you aren’t comfortable making alterations to your guitar, I’d recommend taking it to a guitar tech who can do the job for you. With the magnetic polarity of your pickups reversed, you’ll get that beautiful out of phase tone when you set your pickup selector to the middle position.
If you want to take things one step further, then you can also buy a specific set of Peter Green pickups from Bare Knuckle. These are vintage style pickups that are also wired out of phase. They are comparatively fairly cheap and will help you to get that bit closer to those authentic Peter Green tones.
The second and even better piece of news, is that Peter Green didn’t always have his guitar set to use both pickups. Commentators always focus on the fact that Green’s pickups were out of phase. But in fact many of his live performances show him using either the neck or the bridge pickups. In these positions, the fact that the pickups were out of phase, is irrelevant.
With out of phase pickups, the only difference in sound is in the middle position, when both pickups are played together. So you can sound like Peter Green on a lot of his most famous recordings, without making any alterations to your guitar whatsoever!
Peter Green used a 1959 Gibson Les Paul. These are some of the best instruments the company has ever produced, and an original will set you back in the region of at least £100,000. This hefty price tag is accounted for largely by the iconic guitarists who played them. The list includes Peter Green, Gary Moore, Billy Gibbons and Jimmy Page, amongst others.
Beyond this, 1959 Gibson Les Pauls had amazing sustain, and beautiful and well defined clean tones. Those are the elements that you need to replicate if you want to sound like Peter Green (without having to re-mortgage your house!) To start with, you need to get yourself a Gibson Les Paul, or an Epiphone replica.
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 Peter Green fan, or you’re looking to make a serious investment, then beyond the standard Gibson range, the Gibson custom shop models are also worth considering:
Any of these guitars will set you on the right path to sound like Peter Green. But if you do want to get that little bit closer, then as mentioned above, you could modify any of these guitars or invest in a pair of Bare Knuckle out of phase pickups.
Between 1966 and 1970, Peter Green used a whole range of different amplifiers.
With John Mayall’s Bluesbreakers, he opted for high output, heavy rock amps like the Marshall JTM45. This created the tones you can hear on the album ‘A Hard Road’, and specifically on songs like The Supernatural and The Stumble.
These tones – whilst beautiful – are not those most strongly associated with Green. In fact, they are more reminiscent of the tones that made Eric Clapton famous with The Bluesbreakers. Green’s tenure with The Bluesbreakers was his first big break, and he hadn’t yet fully cultivated his own sound.
Green’s tone came into its own when he formed Fleetwood Mac in 1967. If you really want to sound like Peter Green, then replicating his set up during these years should be your focus.
Peter Green was one of the earliest ambassadors of Orange guitar amps. Orange Music started out as a music shop on New Compton Street in London. Green, and other famous guitarists like Paul Kossoff and Marc Bolan were frequent patrons. Shortly after opening, Orange Music founder Cliff Cooper decided to create his own range of amplifiers, when major amp manufacturers refused to stock their amps in his shop.
Cooper teamed up with amp manufacturer Mat Mathias and released the original ‘Orange Matamps’.
The Matamps that Green used were big, 100 watt amps. He combined these with a mix of 2×12 and 4×12 Orange speaker cabinets. In total when he toured, he played with 6, 100 watt Orange Matamps as well as 16 speaker cabinets!
Although these amps featured the iconic Orange logo and styling, tonally the Matamps bore little resemblance to modern day Orange amps. In fact they had high quality cleans and sounded more like Fenders. It wasn’t until later in the 1970s that Orange developed the distorted tones for which they’re now famous.
As such, if you want to sound like Peter Green, opting for a modern Orange amp probably isn’t the best idea. These amps are great for heavy blues rock, but you may struggle to capture Peter Green’s more refined tones.
Having initially endorsed Orange Matamps, Green later switched to Fender, using at various different points a Dual Showman Reverb, a Twin Reverb and a Deluxe Reverb. These are the amps that Green used during some of Fleetwood Mac’s best live performances, including The Boston Tea Party in 1970.
If you want to sound like Peter Green and capture those vintage blues tones, I would opt for a Fender amp.
The Dual Showman Reverb amps were discontinued in 1993. Judged by many to be poorer quality than the more popular Twin Reverb, you can buy second hand Showmans online quite cheaply. But given that Fender have released reissues of both the Twin Reverb and the Deluxe Reverb, it makes more sense to buy one of these new.
This is particularly true of the Deluxe Reverb.
Peter Green’s tone came from cranking his Fender amps to the point where they started to ‘break up’. With tube amps, this creates the beautiful and natural sounding distortion characteristic of early British blues guitarists. To achieve the same sound, you have to play your amp at a high volume. If you don’t, then your sound will be choked and you’ll never be able to get those vintage blues tones.
This is what makes the Deluxe Reverb a great choice if you want to sound like Peter Green. At 22 watts, it is small enough that you can crank it at home without annoying your neighbours. If however you are still concerned, then some lower wattage Fender amps to consider are:
All of these amps are in a slightly higher price bracket. But as I wrote about in more detail here, I do believe that you get a lot more for your money by spending a bit more on your amp. All of the amps listed above are brilliant and will really help you in your quest to sound like Peter Green.
Peter Green didn’t use any guitar pedals during either The Bluesbreakers or Fleetwood Mac. Like so many guitarists from the 1960s and 1970s, his tone came from pushing his amp to the point of breaking into distortion. Provided you have yourself a Gibson Les Paul and a Fender valve amp, then you will be able to get close to those Peter Green tones, just by cranking your amp.
The trouble is that you can’t always play at high volume. Even small amps make a lot of noise and it’s unlikely that you’ll be able to play loud all of the time.
This is where guitar pedals come in handy. By adding pedals to your set up, you can get that cranked sound at a lower volume. You’ll be able to rip out those classic solos and sound like Peter Green without disturbing your neighbours.
Given that Green didn’t use any specific guitar pedals, my advice would be to opt for a high quality pedal or pedals that recreate vintage blues tones. Some of the best out there are:
- Boss BD-2 Blues Driver
- Tone City King of Blues
- Klon KTR Overdrive
- Analog Man King of Tone
- Fulltone Plimsoul Drive Pedal
The way these guitar pedals will sound is going to depend greatly on the guitar and amp you’re using. As always, before you go and buy anything, I would recommend going to try it out in person. Take your guitar and ask to use the same amp that you have at home. This will help you to best judge what will work best for you.
Some Closing Thoughts…
The good news, is that if you want to sound like Peter Green, you don’t need to rush out and buy lots of different guitars or pedals. Green’s beautiful tones were the result of his pairing a high quality vintage guitar with a cranked tube amp. His focus was always on the quality of his set up. Although the exact gear that Green used is prohibitively expensive for most of us, I hope the budget friendly options outlined here have been helpful.
Beyond that – if you want to sound like Peter Green, then you have to put in the hard hours of practice. During the height of his career, Green was an exceptionally skilful guitarist. He was recognised for his versatility, the quality of his vibrato and the nuances of his playing. His fingers played a huge part in his sound. Like his idol B.B.King, Green cared about the quality of the notes he played, rather than the quantity.
If you take the same approach to your playing, and combine that with the suggestions outlined here, then you’ll be well on your way to recreating the beautiful blues tones of ‘The Green God’.
Good luck – and let me know how you get on in the comments section!