FEATURE: How to sound like Satch

With Joe Satriani on tour behind his new album ‘Professor Satchafunkilus and the Musterion of Rock,’ now seems like as good a time as any to have a look at tapping into a little of Satch’s tonal mojo.

Over the years Satch has taken on many tonal guises, and his distortion has come from various sources: Pedal into a clean amp; overdriven power valves; preamp distortion; even direct into a mixing desk and audio plugins in the case of his Engines Of Creation album. So when hunting down Satch tones, the question becomes one of which tone you’re looking to recreate.

A good place to start with any Satch tone is his choice of pickup. Most of the time he uses the Dimarzio FRED model, a medium output unit with a pronounced, vowel-like midrange. He’s also used the Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates, as well as his new signature Dimarzio Mo’Joe humbucker, essentially a hotter version of the FRED.

If you don’t have any of these pickups on hand to throw into your guitar, you can approximate a little of the tonal signature of the FRED by using a graphic equalizer pedal as the first element of your signal chain following the guitar. Reel the treble in a little bit and boost the mids and high mids a little. Eventually you’ll find that sweet spot where single notes almost sound like harmonics.

Next we need our distortion. Satch has a signature Vox distortion pedal, the Satchurator, but over the years he’s used a whole batch of different models from various companies, both into clean amp channels and on top of already distorted sounds. Whether you’re getting your distortion from a pedal or an amp, aim for something with enough gain to gently compress notes so you can get the full effect from legato techniques like hammer-ons, pull-offs and tapping. If you need a little more gain than the pedal is capable of dishing out, try goosing the volume of the EQ pedal by a little bit. Turn it too high and you’ll get unwanted noise, but just a few dB should add a little fullness.

Finally you’ll need delay. Again, Satch has used various pedal and rack delay units over the years. Look for something with a tap tempo footswitch so you can align the delay repeats with the tempo of the song (especially on the ballads), and depending on the effect you’re after, you might want to use a more ‘vintage’ toned effect which rolls off the treble of the repeats.

(This article was originally published in Mixdown magazine in June 2008)