80s Clean Guitar Tone Tips

Ah the 80s! A time when clean, shimmering guitar tones were found in pop, rock, metal and everything in between! Andy Summers of The Police fame is one of the players who helped define the guitar tones of the era, but The Pretenders, The Smiths, Bryan Adams and Def Leppard are all acts who made great use of clean, modulated tones.

These tones tend to be bright, so a single coil pickup is a good place to start. Strats were everywhere during the decade and a strat-style instrument is very appropriate for this sort of tone. But not everyone played a strat (or tele). James Honeyman-Scott of The Pretenders often played a 335 (twin humbucking pickups) and he produced some great tones in this style.
Compression is next and will help level out the picked chord notes. Given the nature of the instrument it can be very hard to achieve a level of consistency between notes, especially when arpeggiated, so the compressor will help you achieve that. For this video we used an MXR Studio Compressor pedal with a fairly transparent setting to just tame some of the loudest notes.
To add some shimmer to the sound we have used a BOSS MD 500 modulation multi-effect unit with a chorus setting. The chorus is not too obvious, but adds some depth and tonal variance to the guitar part. Of course, feel free to play around with the parameters as you like. Checkout Midnight Oil’s use of chorus with the rate all the way up for something very different! Start with the intro to Armistice Day!

Following the chorus pedal we added in some reverb from the MXR Reverb pedal. In this case we used a plate setting with a generous amount of reverb, but didn’t let it be too obvious with the part we were playing on the track. 

The actual ton from the amp can range from ultra clean to something with a bit of bite that is not as clean as you might expect (pop-metal, LA Glam, even some of Metallica’s famous intro riffs.

These type of tones are not hard to produce, work so well on arpeggiated guitar chords, and are a heck of a lot of fun to play on songs from any era!

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