The ultimate guide: Blues sound and guitar tips

Quick facts: Blues on the guitar

Blues is more than just a style of music, it’s a philosophy of life. And for those of you who want to express your love for this profound and emotional style of music through the guitar, here are a few quick facts. Everyone can play the blues – from beginners to professionals. The basics are important: a large part of blues music is based on the 12-bar blues structure. Chord progressions, rhythms and scales, e.g. the pentatonic, are your building blocks. After all, it’s all about feeling, expression and improvisation. Your tools are the guitar, the amplifier and the effects pedals – and this is where the art begins.

The perfect equipment for blues on the guitar

There is no definitive answer to the question of which guitar and which equipment is perfect for blues. It depends on style, taste and budget. However, some brands have stood the test of time. Among the guitars, the Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster or the Gibson Les Paul and ES-335 are particularly popular. The type of pickup plays an important role, as it has a significant influence on the tone. Single coils give a bright, clear tone, while humbuckers deliver a fuller, warmer sound.

Famous blues guitarists and their guitars

1. BB King – Gibson Lucille

2. Eric Clapton – Fender Stratocaster

3. Freddie King – Gibson Les Paul

4. Muddy Waters – Telecaster

5. Albert King – Flying V

6. Stevie Ray Vaughan – Fender Stratocaster

7. Buddy Guy – Fender Stratocaster

8. Johnny Winter – Firebird

9th John Lee Hooker – Epiphone Sheraton

10. T-Bone Walker – Gibson ES-5

11. Robert Johnson – Gibson L1

12th Son House – National Resonator

13th Duane Allman – Gibson Les Paul

14. Elmore James – Kay K-6560

15. Lightnin’ Hopkins – Gibson J-45

Of course, these are just a few examples. There are many other great blues guitarists with different preferences.

Amplifiers for blues guitars

When it comes to amplifiers, tube amps are the ultimate in blues. They deliver that warm, vintage tone that we all associate with the blues sound. Brands like Fender, Marshall and Vox have produced some of the most popular models. The Fender Deluxe Reverb and Super Reverb, the Vox AC30 and the Marshall JTM45 are just some of the amps that are popular among blues musicians.

Blues guitarists and their amplifiers

1. BB King – Lab Series L5

2. Eric Clapton – Fender Twin Reverb

3. Stevie Ray Vaughan – Fender Vibroverb

4. Buddy Guy – Fender Bassman

5. Jimi Hendrix – Marshall Superlead

6. John Mayer – Fender Bandmaster

7. Gary Clark Jr. – Fender Deluxe Reverb

8. Bonnie Raitt – Fender Deluxe Reverb

9. Robert Cray – Matchless Clubman

10. Kenny Wayne Shepherd – Fender Vibro-King

Each of these amps has its own character and sound. It’s worth trying them out and experimenting to find your own individual tone.

Multi-amping in the blues

Multi-amping can be a great way to expand your tone and create different sounds. It involves using two or more amps at the same time. The trick is to use different amp models to take advantage of the different tonal characteristics. For example, a Fender Deluxe Reverb with its bright and clear tone can be perfectly combined with the warmer and fuller tone of a Vox AC30.

Effects pedals for blues sounds

Effects pedals can add another level of variety to your blues sound. Overdrive pedals can create that saturated, crunchy tone we all love. The Ibanez Tube Screamer and Boss Blues Driver are two famous options. Distortion pedals like the Pro Co Rat can be used for a heavier blues rock sound.  Modulation pedals like Chorus, Phaser and Tremolo can create deep and rich textures. Finally, delay and reverb add space and depth to the sound.

BB King – The King of the Blues

BB King’s guitar, affectionately known as “Lucille”, is a Gibson ES-355 without f-holes to avoid feedback. King usually has his guitar set to the neck pickup to produce a fat, warm tone. The amplifier he used was the Lab Series L5 – a transistor amplifier, not a tube amplifier. A distinctive feature of King’s sound is that he kept his amp very clean, with no overdrive or distortion. Instead, he expressed his emotions through his vibrato and bending technique.

Stevie Ray Vaughan – A modern blues master

Stevie Ray’s main guitar was a Fender Stratocaster, mostly using the neck pickup for his signature fat tone. Vaughan’s amp choice was a combination of several Fender amps, including a Vibroverb, a Super Reverb and a Twin Reverb. This setup gave him the ability to create different shades of tone. Vaughan was known for his aggressive, highly attacking style and for his use of relatively heavy overdrive. One of his keys to this tone was the Ibanez Tube Screamer overdrive pedal.

Different sounds with two overdrive pedals

Using two overdrive pedals can add an extra layer of saturation and dynamics to your sound. You can use one pedal as a boost to create your basic tone and use the second pedal for distortion. Alternatively, you can use both pedals simultaneously to create a dense, extended overdrive sound. It is important to consider the interaction between the pedals and your guitar and amp. Different pedals will interact differently with different guitars and amps.

The blues rock lead sound

Blues rock lead sounds are generally characterized by saturated and torn tones. This is where overdrive and distortion pedals come into play. They create the dense, reverberant sounds that we know from guitarists like Stevie Ray Vaughan or Joe Bonamassa. This sound is characterized by fuller mids and extended sustain.

The woman tone and which guitarist shaped this sound

The “woman tone” is a thick, singing sound that Eric Clapton coined with the band Cream in the 1960s. To create this tone, Clapton adjusted the neck pickup on his Gibson Les Paul and turned the tone control all the way down to attenuate the treble. The result is this powerful, buzzy, yet clear tone.

The reverb effect pedal

Translated from Italian, “reverb” means resonance. A reverb pedal therefore creates resonance or reverberation. This effect can create a space around your sound, from a small room to a huge hall. Reverb is often used subtly to give the sound more depth and dimension, but can also be used more intensely for an atmospheric, airy feel. There are many types of reverb, including room, hall, plate and spring, and each has its own characteristics.

The rotary effect pedal

A rotary effect pedal imitates the sound of a rotating speaker that was originally used in the Hammond organ. This effect creates a kind of vibration or “swirl” in the sound that serves to create more movement and interest in the sound. The most famous use of this effect is probably in Pink Floyd’s “Breathe”, but it is also common in blues music.

With all these tips and information, you are now well equipped to create your own unique blues sound on the guitar. Have fun experimenting and playing!