Breaking Down Billy Gibbons Sound - A Look at Gibbons Setup Through the Years

Author: John T Halbert  

One of the most well known guitar legends is undoubtedly Billy Gibbons of ZZ Top. If you don't know who he is, you've really missed out on a large portion of rock history & need to get on YouTube or Napster and give ZZ Top & Gibbons a listen. One of the things that's most asked about Gibbons is how he gets his unique sound. His guitar has a very dry tone that is unique & helps create ZZ Top's unique sound.

While his tone is stuff of legends, and may remain his secret forever, Billy has used a bevy of amps, effects & guitars to produce this unique sound. Back in the day, Gibbons was most well known for playing his '59 Les Paul Standard, named Pearly Gates. You can hear him playing it on songs such as "La Grange", "Tush", "Beer Drinkers and Hell Raisers", as well as many others. He uses a heavy set of strings on this guitar (.011-.052) & actually uses a quarter as his pick of choice. In addition to his Paul, he is also well known for using Dean guitars, most notably the furry ones that he's known for spinning around in his music videos. You can hear him play a Dean Z on tracks from the '80s like "Gimmie All Your Lovin'" and "Sharp Dressed Man".

In more recent years, Gibbons has been known for playing a wider range of guitars. He's been seen playing a '55 Les Paul, with a P-90 in the neck, as well as a '60 Gretsch Bo Diddley on ZZ Top's album "Rhythmeen". Gibbons is also no stranger to Fender's axes. He's been seen playing the classic Stratocaster, Telecaster, Esquire, Teisco Del Ray, Chiquita travel guitar and Jaguar, just to name a few. Also, he's been playing a Mark Erlewine custom guitar since the '80s.

As for effects, Gibbons is well known for using a variety of strange effects. He's been seen with vintage wahs, flangers, harmonizier, MXR Pitch Transposer and a Roland chorus, just to name a few. One effect that I've seen him use and think he's used to an amazing end is the Bixonic Expandora fuzzbox.

Billy's choice of amps is also well rounded and includes a custom Rio Grande 125-watt tube amp, a '66 Marshall Plexi, Scholz Rockman, various Fender amps, and a Marshall JMP-1 tube preamp with Peavey's TubeFex. Onstage, Gibbons runs his sound through Orange 4x12 cabinets to create his stage sound. In the mid-'80s, however, this was not his preferred onstage setup. He is most famous for his use of the "Amp Cabin", of his own design, which were walls of Marshall and Fender amps, facing inward on each other, with a mic in the center. He roofed his cabin and used the setup to create a sound that's truly unique.

While Gibbons continues to create a unique and one of a kind sound through his setups, he's been no stranger to experimentation and variety in his setups. I don't know exactly how he gets his tone, and may never for that matter, but one thing I do know is that he's used his expertise to create some of the most unique sounds in the history of Rock and Roll.
John T Halbert is a writer who publishes on subjects of self help and human ability. His studies include the human body and mind and the innate abilities that lie within. He recently helped publish a series of websites about the Schwinn 431 Elliptical and Elliptical Exercise Equipment.

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