Tuesday, November 18, 2014

Zakk Wylde Gear Guide

ADHD's Gear Guides at any Budget. I'm a firm believer that the tone comes from the hands. If your trying to achieve a certain guitar hero's tone it's not enough to have the chops but you've got to get down their style of attack with your picking hand as well. That said every step you take toward finding the right gear is often very inspiring and WILL get you closer to “that” sound. I'm going to break these down into Guitars, Pickups, Pedals and Amps.

Zakk Wylde Gear Guide

Zakk Wylde is one of the biggest guitar heroes in the world. His Les Paul through a Marshall on steroids approach takes the classic rock-n-roll formula and turns it up to 10. He has always kept a Keep It Simple Stupid attitude to gear every since his early days in the late 80's with Ozzy. A Les Paul, loaded with EMG's, and a handful of pedals into a Marshall JCM800 is the backbone of his sound. Zakk is famous for shredding pentatonics and pitch harmonics, but he is more than capable of playing everything from bluegrass to piano ballads to Al Di Meola style fusion.

Guitars – Zakk Wylde has a lot of different guitars, Gibson Flying V's and ZV's, Dean Razorbacks, and a few others. But he is most known for wielding the Bulleye Les Paul. According to legend it was originally cream but he didn't want people to think he was trying to be another Randy Rhoads so he asked someone to paint it with a vertigo spiral. When it came back it had a bulleye on it and it was time for his first photo shoot with Ozzy. Zakk just rolled with it joking that the bullseye would give the haters in the audience something to aim for.

NOTE: Zakk Wylde has started Wylde Audio and the Gibson/Epiphone models are discontinued.

Wylde Audio Odin Grail- While Wylde Audio has a plethora of offerings the Odin Grail has that famous Bullseye that the man made legendary. Some people don't like the tweaked shape on this guitar but if it doesn't throw you then rock on.   

Gibson Zakk Wylde Les Paul- There have been different versions that Zakk has played over the years but this is the guitar everyone associates with him. It's a Les Paul custom with a maple cap and neck, ebony fretboard, and EMG pickups. And of course the Bulleye graphic.

Epiphone Zakk Wylde LesPaul- The import version of Zakk's iconic “Grail” is a great deal. It's better built than the typical Epi Paul, and already loaded with EMG's. If your shopping used there are some great deals but makes sure the EMG's are the 81-85 set as the HZ set won't get you the same sound.

PRS SE Tremonti- At first it might seem odd to include this model in the budget offerings but the PRS SE line has some of the best built budget models in the business. Couple that with already hot humbuckers and a similar control layout, if your looking for something other than the “bullseye” you can't go wrong with these.

Pickups- EMG's have a unique, modern sound and if you want that Zakk Wylde tone the EMG 81-85 set there isn't much else to choose from. But don't think they are just for metal, a lot of country guys use them and even tone guru David Gilmour was a fan for many years. EMG's use a preamp that acts as a buffer to drive your guitar signal down long cables. I always have at least one guitar with EMG's in it for a smooth modern metal sound.

EMG Zakk Wylde Set- If your loading a Les Paul with EMG's this is the set your going to need. It comes with replacement parts for all the electronics and quick connects for everything. You can drop this in almost any dual humbucker mahogany bodied guitar and get the Zakk sound.

Seymour Duncan Blackouts- Not exactly the same sound as the EMG's SD's Blackouts have been a big hit with the metal community. They have a more open sound and wider frequency response but the preamp is very much the same. If EMG's weren't exactly what you were looking for but you still want that modern sound try these.

Pedals- Zakk Wylde's choice of pedals hasn't changed that much over the years. In the early days it was Wah, Vibe, Drive, Chorus. Recently he's toyed with a few other pedals but it's still basically the same.

Dunlop Zakk Wylde Crybaby- This pedal has become a favorite of players everywhere, based on the Hendrix wah, it has a thick sound that cuts through the live mix and no extra knobs to distract from your playing.

Dunlop Hendrix Crybaby- A favorite wah of many players the Hendrix Crybaby is what Zakk used for years before his signature wah pedal. A great choice for players wanting to accent their leads.

MXRZW44 Berzerker Overdrive- an overdrive with less of a mid hump than a tube screamer. Zakk uses this to push his JCM800's from crunchy into screaming distortion.

Boss SD1 Overdrive- Before the ZW44 this was the main stay on Zakk's board, they are cheap and work great to cut through the mix.

Dunlop Rotovibe- Not exactly a UniVibe or a Phaser but a useful replacement for both on a cramped pedalboard. Sounds get thick and swirly when engaged. Vibe purist won't like it but it's an underrated pedal IMO.

MXRZW90 Wylde Phase- I talked about what surprising fun this pedal is in my review. Zakk has been using the EVH Phase 90 in the modern setting but his signature pedal is the same thing without the toggle switch. I use it for Phaser and Vibe-ish sounds and it can be bought for cheap when they go on sale. This is my “make it sound cool” pedal.

MXRZW38 Black Label Chorus- Zakk uses Chorus to thicken up sounds almost like a doubler. Give it a lot of width but keep the speed down. It also adds a sparkle to the sound making Zakk's signature pitch harmonics easier.

Boss CH1 Super Chorus- As with some of his other pedals this is what Zakk used before MXR started putting his name on everything. It's a favorite of a lot of players. 

SuhrRiot- If you'd rather play though a clean low watt amp like a Fender Hotrod this pedal sounds very similar to an over driven JCM800. It's my personal favorite 800 in a box pedal.

In the last few years Zakk has also been experimenting with the MXR EVH Flanger and MXR Carbon Copy as well as the Boss Octave pedal.

Amps- Despite a few early adds with a different manufacturer Zakk has always used Marshall JCM800's. But a word of caution, these amps have to be cranked and according to long time BLS guitarist Nick Catanese  “most people sound like ACDC when they play though them, you have to really hit the strings hard”. They also tend to sound different from each other so don't judge them all by one experience.

Marshall JCM800 Reissue- With guys like Kerry King and Zakk Wylde playing 800's the demand for these forced Marshall to reissue the popular amp. Couple it with your favorite overdrive pedal and this is the sound of 80's shred.

Marshall DLS Reissue-This reissue is a great mid priced amp, that sounds great at lower volumes and has a bit more gain than the JCM800. It's a great amp, don't over look it. 

The JCM800 tone on a budget is difficult, The Suhr Riot and other Marshall in a box pedals are close. Another option is amp modelers, which seem to be getting better every couple of years. Still there is nothing quite the same as the feeling of standing in front of a great sounding JCM800 half stack.

Obviously there are a lot of alternatives out there but these are a great place to start your tone search. 

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