Queens Of The Stone Age guitarist Josh Homme has always been a master of the dry, clean-yet-distorted tone, and nowhere is this sound more in-your-face than on the self-titled debut by his ‘other other band,’ Them Crooked Vultures, a trio with Dave Grohl on drums and Led Zeppelin’s John Paul Jones on bass and keyboards. Homme’s guitar is recorded very cleanly and mixed very loud and clear, so this recording is the perfect way to get your ears right up close to his tone without risking the wrath of security by scrambling up on stage to jam your ear against his speaker cabinet.
There are a few tricks to getting Homme’s tone down. Part of the secret is in using low or medium output passive humbuckers. Use too beefy a ‘bucker and you risk overloading the input of your amp, smearing articulation and making everything too hot. Homme is fond of interjecting power chord riffs with barre chord stabs, and this kind of contrast and emphasis would be totally lost of your dynamic and tonal spectrum were squished by too hot a pickup. His pickup choice also helps to maintain clarity and punch when playing single note lines on the lower strings (and don’t be shy about using the neck pickup for overdriven rhythm – it’s all too easy to get into the ‘I play rock, so rhythm guitar must be on the bridge pickup’ trap). Homme has been known to use a variety of Aussie-made Maton electric guitars over the years (check out the BB1200 JH with Maton ‘Hommebuckers’) in addition to Ovation Ultra GPs.
Homme has used all sorts of amps over the years, including bass amps and an array of vintage Ampeg valve amps. Aim for a clean tone to start with (rather than beginning on your amp’s high gain channel), but crank it to get some crunch and grind from the power amp and the speakers rather than the preamp. Keep the bass at treble at around halfway or lower and boost the mids for some of that characteristic power. It also helps if you’re able to get your hands on several amps and a splitting device so you can drive multiple sound paths at once, all set for different sounds, and preferably with different speaker sizes, wattages and constructions to really enhance the three-dimensionality of the sound.
Homme uses pedals to augment his basic tone from time to time, and the Crooked Vultures album is home to a few particularly tasty octave fuzz sounds. This type of octave effect (also heard on Jimi Hendrix’s ‘Purple Haze’ solo and used more and more live by Joe Satriani) is different to the harmonizer or pitch shift version of octave doubling. The effect, which is combined with fuzz, is more like a bizarre squirrelly harmonic overtone doubling your original note. True octave fuzz pedals track better when you use the neck pickup, and they’re very interactive units so you might need to listen closely and adjust your picking technique by minute degrees to get the most out of the pedal. You can also get some rather strange background noise if you don’t mute your strings properly between notes or chords, so be careful!