B.B. King once described Peter Green’s guitar tone as the ‘sweetest’ he ever heard. Find out how you can create the same beautiful blues tones to suit your budget and setup
I have wanted to sound like Peter Green from the moment I first heard ‘Black Magic Woman‘ as a teenager. In my opinion, Green’s playing represents everything that is so brilliant about the blues. He plays with pure emotion. His playing is not fast, nor is it flashy. He doesn’t use a range of exotic scales. Instead, he strips everything back to focus on what is essential in blues – feeling.
Peter Green had amazing touch and feel, as well as 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:
Peter Green was the original owner of ‘Greeny’ – a 1959 Gibson Les Paul that has now become one of the most famous guitars in the world:
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 it was responsible for the beautiful tones on most of their iconic songs.
After Green quit Fleetwood Mac in 1970, he sold the guitar to his friend Gary Moore, who was then a young and up-and-coming guitarist. Moore went on to use the guitar for most of his career as well. He played it with Thin Lizzy and used it to record songs like ‘Parisienne Walkways‘ and the album Blues For Greeny – which he recorded in tribute to his old friend.
Unfortunately, many years later Moore ran into some financial difficulty and sold the Les Paul. And to the dismay of many Peter Green and blues fans, the iconic guitar has ended up in the hands of Metallica’s Kirk Hammett.
Greeny played a huge part in Peter Green’s distinctive tone. When Green was with The Bluesbreakers and Fleetwood Mac, guitarists puzzled for years 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 Stratocaster. His tone was powerful and thick, but it was also more refined than that of some of his contemporaries, like Eric Clapton.
How Green 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’
The mystery was solved in the early 1980s, when then owner Gary Moore took the guitar to his friend and the founder of Hamer guitars, Jol Dantzig.
Both Moore and Dantzig 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 set up incorrectly at the Gibson factory. If that was the case, then it was certainly a happy accident in a year when Gibson manufactured thousands of Les Pauls. This was an idea supported by Joe Bonamassa, who acquired a 1959 Gibson just over 10 years ago that had the same feature.
The 1959 Gibson Les Paul
If you want to sound like Peter Green then, there are 2 main factors that you need to consider. You need to look at the type of guitar that Green played, as well as the unusual configuration of the pickups in the guitar. We will first look at the guitar here.
Given the key role that Greeny played in Peter Green’s career, I would recommend going for a 1959 Gibson Les Paul, a ’59 Les Paul replica, or a vintage style Les Paul. Original ’59 Les Pauls in good condition typically cost well over $125,000/£100,000. And although the Gibson Custom Shop released 2 slightly different replica versions of Greeny in 2010 and 2015, such is the build quality and legacy of the guitar, that even second hand versions of these replicas start at around $5,300/£4250 on sites like Reverb. Unfortunately then, those options are beyond the reach of most players.
The good news, is that there are a lot of vintage Les Paul reissues and replicas out there across a range of budgets.
In the lower price range, these Les Pauls tend to be Tribute style guitars, or guitars modelled after a specific decade. Then if you go up to the Custom Shop level, you can find guitars that are built to replicate models made in a specific year. This typically requires higher quality, bespoke made parts and manufacturing techniques. And both of these incur extra cost.
So with that in mind, the best option outside of the Custom Shop is to look at Tribute and ’50s style guitars. These are vintage style models that do a great job of recreating the features of a ’59 Les Paul, without the higher price tag.
In the lower price range, I would recommend going for an Epiphone replica. After Epiphone, I would recommend one of the cheaper Gibson Tribute or Studio models. Beyond that, if you can stretch to it, then there are some brilliant Gibson Les Paul options. Finally, if you are looking to spend a bit more and make an investment, then there are some beautiful Gibson Custom Shop models out there.
All of these guitars will help you to sound like Peter Green. And with a few further tweaks to your pickups and set-up (see below for more details), you can get even closer to Green’s signature tones.
The second factor that you need to consider if you really want to sound like Peter Green, is your pickups. Green is famous for his out of phase tone, and it is by far the most distinguishing characteristic of his ’59 Les Paul.
So with this in mind, it will be a challenge to really sound like Peter Green using stock pickups. When pickups are out of phase, you get a unique sound when you select both pickups together. The tone becomes somewhat ‘scooped’ and is sonically more similar to that of a guitar with single coil pickups.
To recreate this element of Green’s sound, you have 2 choices. The first is to buy a set of Peter Green style pickups, that have their polarity reversed. There are not a huge number of these signature style pickups out there, but some of my top choices would be:
The second way of getting closer to Green’s tone is to modify the pickups you already have in your guitar. This 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.
Out of phase alternatives
If you are a huge Peter Green fan and you really want to capture Green’s specific sound, then I would strongly recommend that you either buy out of phase pickups, or mod your guitar. However, if you like Green but don’t want to modify your guitar or commit to changing its sound so dramatically, then there are some other alternatives worth considering.
My recommendation here would be to look at vintage style humbuckers. These are pickups that aren’t out of phase, but will which will help you to capture the sounds of a regular vintage Les Paul. These are ‘underwound’ pickups that have a lower output and a more vintage sounding tone. Luckily, there are some great options here. Some of my top choices are as follows:
- Gibson ’57 Classic Humbuckers
- Seymour Duncan ’59 Humbuckers
- Seymour Duncan Seth Lover Humbucking Pickups
- Stormy Monday Humbuckers
These pickups are not out of phase, and so won’t help you to recreate that element of Green’s sound. What they will do, is help you to produce beautiful vintage blues tones. And this will still go a long way to helping you sound like Peter Green – largely because 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 Green’s 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. So you can sound like Peter Green on a lot of his most famous recordings, without making any alterations to your guitar whatsoever!
This is also true if you have (or go out and buy) a modern Gibson guitar that replicates an early model. These guitars (some of which are listed above) are likely to come stock with vintage style pickups. So if that is the case, you don’t need to go out to buy any new pickups at all. Instead you can focus on other areas of Green’s set-up.
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 Super- Natural‘, ‘The Stumble‘ and ‘So Many Roads‘.
After this, Green moved on to become 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 Green toured, he played with 6, 100 watt Orange Matamps, as well as 16 speaker cabinets!
After this, Green switched again and started using Fender amps. At various points he played 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.
Some initial considerations
If you are looking to buy an amp that will help you to sound like Peter Green then, there are a number of important factors that you should consider.
The first, is to think about which of the various tones that Green crafted most appeals to you. Are you looking for the heavier tones of his time with The Bluesbreakers? Or the softer and sweeter tones of some of his later Fleetwood Mac records?
The second, is to consider how else you plan on using your amp. Are you interested in dialling in heavy British style blues tones? Or are you looking for a softer and cleaner American sound?
The answers to those questions will determine which type of amp you should buy to sound like Peter Green. And below I have laid out the different options in detail.
There is of course the option to buy one of the amps that Green originally used. And in fact, apart from the Orange Matamp and the Fender Dual Showman that Green played, reissue models of the amps that Green used are readily available. So with that in mind, any of the following could make a brilliant choice in the right context (more on this below):
Additionally, you can also pick up both an Orange Matamp and a Fender Dual Showman second hand on sites like Reverb. The Dual Showman Reverb was discontinued in 1993, having been judged by many to be poorer quality than the more popular Twin Reverb. As a result, these are relatively inexpensive. The heads start from around $1000/£750 on Reverb. Unfortunately, the same can’t be said for second hand Orange Matamps, as the heads start from around $5000/£4000.
Authenticity vs. practicality
Of course then, the first consideration when looking at the amps that Green used, is the price. Even the reissue amps are still quite expensive, and will be beyond the reach of a lot of players. Fortunately though, there are some great alternatives across a range of price brackets, which I’ve laid out below.
The other consideration you have to make here – and it is a fairly significant one – is that these are powerful amps. To get the best out of them, you have to crank the volume. This is what gives you that beautiful, vintage sounding overdrive. And this is how Green played his amps. Like so many of the early electric blues guitarists, he cranked the amps until they started to break up into a warm and rich overdrive.
Cranking a 100 watt amp or a Marshall stack produces a huge amount of volume. So if you are predominantly playing at home, in a studio, or in small venues, I wouldn’t recommend any of the amps that Green actually used. Perhaps the only exception to that is the Fender ’64 Deluxe Reverb. At 20 watts you could crank that more easily than the other amps listed above. But even so, it is still probably too large to play at home for most.
As such, I would recommend opting for a smaller combo or stack. And the great news is that there are options here to suit a range of different budgets. There are also options that will help you to recreate specific sounds from different points in Green’s career.
If you want to sound like Peter Green in his earlier days of The Bluesbreakers, but don’t want a big combo or a stack, then there are some brilliant smaller Marshall combos and heads. My top choices across a range of budgets are as follows:
Of these combos, there are head versions of the Studio Vintage Plexi and the Marshall Origin 20W. So if you wanted to build a stack, one of these smaller heads could be a brilliant choice. You could then pair it up with one of Marshall’s smaller vintage style 1×12″ cabinets.
If you want a softer tone that captures the sound of Peter Green in Fleetwood Mac, I would recommend looking at Fender amps. Specifically, I would recommend opting for a small Fender amp that will give you a cranked sound like Peter Green, but at a lower volume. And thankfully Fender have choices to suit every budget. Some of my top recommendations are:
If you are looking for something with a bit more power and headroom, then either a Fender Deluxe Reverb or a Fender ’65 Super Reverb would be my top choices. Both of these are large and powerful amps (particularly the Super Reverb). So they are probably too loud for home use. But if you are gigging and need a bigger amp, then either of these could work very well.
Orange – an honourable mention
As previously mentioned – Peter Green was one of the early ambassadors of Orange amps. He used Orange Matamps during the early days of Fleetwood Mac and when the band toured around the U.S. for 3 months.
You might think then, that adding an Orange amp to your set up would be a great idea. But in fact, I probably wouldn’t recommend it. This is because, by Orange’s own admission:
In terms of their design and sound the first OR100 and OR200 series were low distortion “hi-fi guitar amps.” Sonically, they had little if any resemblance to the characteristic Orange mid-range crunch that began… in 1971
In other words then, the modern day amps that Orange offer don’t sound anything like the Orange Matamps that Green played. As such, if you want to sound like Peter Green, I don’t think buying a modern day Orange amp would be the best choice. Instead I would recommend going for one of the Fender or Marshall amps listed above.
That is not to say that Orange don’t make great amps. Rather, it is to say that they are better suited if you want to play slightly heavier styles of rock music.
Boost & overdrive pedals
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 up and overdriving.
Green drove his amps hard and that really helped create his tone. The challenge for most of us, is getting that cranked sound at a volume that you can play at home or in a small venue. And this is where a choice guitar pedal or two can help.
Specifically, I would recommend adding either a clean boost pedal or a low gain overdrive pedal to your rig.
A clean boost will push your amp and add a bit of extra overdrive and aggression to your tone. There are a huge number of different pedals to choose from (which I outlined in more detail here), but some of my top choices are:
If you want the option of producing a bit more overdrive, I would recommend going for a ‘dirty’ boost pedal that can handle more gain, or a low gain overdrive pedal that won’t colour your sound too much. My top choices here are as above as well.
It is worth noting here, that Green didn’t actually use any of the pedals outlined above. So if you are looking for authenticity, then these are not ‘must have’ pedals. Having said that, they will help you to get a cranked tone at a lower volume, and some of them – like the Boss Blues Driver – will help you to dial in a range of vintage blues tones.
The final effect that you need to consider if you want to sound like Peter Green is reverb. Green used a lot of reverb, especially when playing live. Just listen to the live version of songs like ‘Black Magic Woman‘, ‘Jumping at Shadows‘ and ‘The Green Manalishi‘. Green’s sound is thick with reverb, which helps to give his playing a slightly ethereal feeling. In fact, when Fleetwood Mac first started touring, Green used 2 stand alone spring reverb units!
The good news, is that many of the amps that Green used (and which I have also listed above) have reverb built in. If that is the case for your amp, then you’re all set.
If not, then you need to buy a separate reverb pedal. Not only is reverb essential if you want to sound like Peter Green, but it is a key part of a beautiful blues tone. So if your amp doesn’t have reverb, I would recommending opting for a vintage voiced reverb pedal.
I wrote an article on these recently, which you can read in full here. But some of my top recommendations to get those Green style tones are as follows:
Each of those pedals will also make a great addition to your rig if you are looking for a greater variety of reverb sounds than your amp offers you.
Unlike many of the players that I have covered in my ‘Sound Like Series‘ so far, guitarists have placed much less focus on the strings that Peter Green used. There is speculation that Green used quite heavy gauge strings – possibly as heavy as .012. There is also some speculation that he raised his pickup height much higher than other players, which allowed him to play thinner strings, but make them sound like they were heavier. However there doesn’t seem to be any concrete evidence of either of these theories.
So when it comes to choosing strings, I would focus on using the gauge that allows you to play at your best. Given that Green doesn’t play fast, but does favour big soaring bends and long sustaining notes – it might be worth opting for a slightly heavier gauge of string. But I wouldn’t worry about it too much. Some different brands and gauges I would recommend are as follows:
Experiment with a few different brands and gauges until you find what works best for you.
Well there we have it, everything you need to sound like Peter Green.
The approach that Green took to his gear was very similar to the way he approached his playing. He stripped everything back and just focused on the essentials, which was his signature Les Paul plugged straight into his amp. He didn’t have an extensive pedalboard, nor did he use any fancy effects. His sound came from his out of phase pickups, an overdriving tube amp and a bit of added reverb.
So if you want to recreate Green’s tones, focus on those core elements. 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 please do let me know how you get on in the comments section!
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