FEATURE: How to sound like The Cure

It seems that in the current musical climate, a lot of people are discovering (or rediscovering) the Cure. Their influence on bands like AFI and A Perfect Circle has turned a new generation onto the moody, atmospheric sounds of flanged chords and baritone guitars.

A key element of the Cure sound is the use of baritone guitars, and not of the ‘downtuned metal axe’ variety. The Cure sound is often built around a Fender Bass VI, the same instrument Nigel Tufnel declared too valuable to even look at in This Is Spinal Tap. This instrument looks a lot like a Fender Jaguar, but it’s tuned a full octave lower. It doesn’t quite sound like a bass, and you can still play chords on it without the sound turning to low-end mush, but it sounds especially great around the middle of the neck. You can approximate this sound by using a regular guitar in standard tuning and staying around the lower strings but you’ll notice that the tone sounds ‘looser’ than the real thing because the string tension is completely different even though you might be playing notes of the same pitch. To compensate for this a little, pick right up near the bridge. This will give you at least a hint of the characteristic treble bite of the Fender Bass VI, and will also reduce pitch drift. The rigidity of the note is a big part of why the Bass VI is so unique, and why it’s also used by Placebo to add solid rhythm behind Brian Molko’s more jangly edge.

Another important part of the Cure’s sound is their use of keyboards. This poses certain challenges to us guitarists, but you don’t need to spend thousands on a guitar synth. Many multi effect units include synth patches which manipulate your incoming guitar signal in a way which imitates the sound of analog synths. These are especially useful if you can blend in the original, unaffected guitar sound. Sometimes these settings don’t hold up so well on their own, but mixed at about 60-70% of the volume of the straight guitar sound, they can be very useful. You might also try using a reverb pedal with the original note turned all the way down, set for about a second of reverb with very fast reflection, then fed into a compressor and a delay. Tremolo-pick the hell out of the note, and you can get somewhere close to the keyboard sounds of The Cure’s classic ‘Fascination Street.’

CLICK HERE to try to luck out on a Fender Bass VI on eBay.


NEWS: New releases 27/10/2008

Click on any title to buy the album.

Living Colour: CBGB OMFUG Masters: August 19 2005 CBGB Records
This live set captures Living Colour about a month after I saw them at the Metro in Melbourne, as the band toured off the back of its reunion album, Collideoscope. This set features a few songs from that album as well as a lot of classic material, mainly drawn from the first two albums, which honks me off slightly because my favourite LC CD is ‘Stain,’ which is only represented by ‘Ignorance Is Bliss’ here.

Megadeth – Rust in Peace (Vinyl reissue) Capitol
Another one of those ‘if you don’t have this, you can’t call yourself metal’ albums, Rust In Peace features the Megadeth debut of Marty Friedman, fresh from Cacophony and eager to fill every available corner of this album with exotic phrasing and unusual melodies.

Cradle of Filth – Godspeed On The Devil’s Thunder (Special Edition 2 CD) Roadrunner
This is a concept album telling the story of Gilles De Rais, the world’s first serial killer and a good buddy of Joan of Arc. This one’s being hailed as the band’s most ‘aggressive and chilling’ album to date, and is a must for anyone who spends as much on white facepaint as I do on lattes.

Exodus – Let There Be Blood Megaforce
Thrash pioneers Exodus rerecord their classic Bonded By Blood with their new line-up, to bring the album’s sound up to date with their later recordings, and with a slightly less terrible cover. Produced by Exodus’s Gary Holt and mixed by can-he-do-no-wrong producer Andy Sneap.

Steve Vai – Passion and Warfare (Vinyl reissue) Sony Legacy
What is it with vinyl reissues? Not that I’m complaining, cos here’s another one I never had the chance to buy on vinyl when it was first released, and there’s a good chance I’ll probably buy this just for the sentimental value – I really wanted this on vinyl when it first came out (I was 12) and had to settle for the tape. Anyway, another classic of the genre, if you’ve never heard it you suck, etc etc etc.

The Cure – 4:13 Dream Geffen
The 13th album by The Cure, rearranged from the original plan to release a double album. This one contains the ‘light’ tracks, and the dark moody stuff will be released at a later date. The Cure is now down to just four members – Robert Smith, Simon Gallup, Porl Thompson and Jason Cooper – and this album is suitably stripped back.