Producing the sort of music that garage rock acts did is one thing, but if you really want to capture the essence of the sound you’ll need to work on your tone too. The sound of garage rock, put simply, is fuzz – or distortion. There are plenty of ways to get this sound, but the use of stompbox pedals is the traditional and effect approach. You can also adjust the sound on your electric guitar to give your guitar more depth in the low end. Here, you’ll pick up the basics of both and get your garage rock tone together.
Achieving the Fuzz
“Fuzz” is a distinctly wolly distortion effect that achieves the lo-fi sound of the classic garage rock acts. Stompboxes are basically one-function effects pedals with a big activation foot-switch and a few dials that let you adjust the parameters of the sound. Many stomp-boxes like the Boss FZ-5 or an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi can give you a great vintage sound, but careful adjustment of the gain and other settings on your amp can achieve a similar effect. Generally, you’ll want the gain high (around 8), quite a lot of treble (7/8) and a roughly equal amount of bass, with a moderate level (around 5) for the mids. Mess around with the dials, though, because you might hit on a sound you really like by making some alterations. The best way to get a really authentic sound is to find a second hand, vintage stomp-box on the cheap, but guitarists’ search for that tone has driven the price up.
If you’re not interested in finding a single-use stompbox because you play with other bands or also want to add in some different effects, consider getting a multi-effects pedal. These often contain several different distortion effects, as well as others such as delays, modulations, choruses and even looper pedals. There are plenty of good options, but the M series from Line 6 (such as the M9) and the RP series from Digitech (such as the RP-355) are well-stocked and reasonably priced units.
Settings on Your Guitar
Your electric guitar will probably have at least two pickups, one by the neck and one by the bridge. The switch on the body of the instrument is used to select one of these pickups or a mixture of the two. For most applications, the bridge pickup is usually better because it produces a brighter tone. However, to get some warmth behind your garage rock fuzz, you can consider switching to your neck pickup (particularly if it’s a thin, single-coil one) or using a mixture of the two. This makes the tone fatter, and produces a more vintage 60s-style tone.
Ultimately, there is no “right” tone to achieve. The fuzz is an essential element, but that doesn’t mean that more modern distortions won’t sound cool if you’re playing the right chords. If you don’t want to spend a lot of money, you can get a decent sound with just your amp settings and guitar – just fuzz it up as much as possible. Listen to the guitar sound of some of your garage rock heroes if you want some ideas.