Billy Corgan Amp Settings – Nail the Smashing Pumpkins Tone!

Author: Liam Plowman | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

At the end of the glitter and spandex-laden decade known as the ’80s, there was an alternative rock explosion that saw rise to many iconic bands such as Nirvana, Alice In Chains, and Pearl Jam.

But no one quite hit the spot quite like The Smashing Pumpkins, who not only helped pioneer the style but masterfully blended emotional depth with high levels of musicianship to make some very unique songs that weren’t afraid to shake up the increasingly stale 3 minutes 30-second ‘rock block’ formula.

At the helm of The Smashing Pumpkins sits guitarist and singer Billy Corgan, who is a self-admitted gearhead and tone enthusiast.

So today I’ll be walking you through the guitars, amps, pedals, and settings Billy uses to achieve the sounds and tones he needs to make The Smashing Pumpkins sound the way they do.

Guitars

Throughout his career, Billy has used a wide variety of guitars that include all the usual suspects you’d expect, such as the Stratocaster and the Les Paul.

But these days Billy is primarily using his own signature Reverend Billy Corgan Guitar. While at first glance you wouldn’t be blamed for thinking it’s just a re-skinned Fender Jaguar, the Billy Corgan Signature model has some unique quirks and tricks up its sleeve that give it its own flair and personality.

It has two custom-made Railhammer pickups which aim to nail that traditional fat P90 sound while still being hum-canceling with a bit of modern cut to it.

The custom-machined pickguard covers are incredibly unique and give it a striking visual appeal!

Additionally, it has a very unique low-profile custom-machined contoured knobs which not only look sleek, but they feel great in the hands.

If the price seems a little too steep, you may wish to consider Fender’s more affordable Player Jaguar series.

Tuning

Early on The Smashing Pumpkins would spend a lot of time in regular E standard, but as their career progressed, they experimented with a number of altered tunings which include:

Drop D (DADGBE): This is used on songs such as “Cherub Rock” and “Today”.

Eb Standard (Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb): Essentially standard tuning with each note dropped down by 1 semitone, this is used on songs such as “Bullet with Butterfly Wings”.

Open Emaj (E B E G# B E): This tuning allows you to play a full chord by just barring a single fret, you’ll see this tuning used on songs such as “Soma” and “Hummer” where a slide is utilized.

Drop Db (Db Ab Db Gb Bb Eb): Essentially the same as regular drop D tuning, but then each string is dropped 1 note further to make them all flat. Used on the songs “Muzzle” and “Geek U.S.A”.

Amps

As you can imagine, for someone who’s passionate about guitar and equipment Billy owns and uses a wide array of amplifiers both in the studio and for live performances.

However, there are a couple of amps within this collection that stand out as being pivotal players in that classic Pumpkins sound.

Firstly is the Marshall JCM800 which was primarily used on the first 3 Pumpkins albums. As one of the most iconic amps of all time, the JCM800 hardly needs an introduction. It’s everyone’s go-to amp when they want that iconic British-style distortion.

Unfortunately, this legendary amplifier comes with an eye-wateringly high price tag. So some great small format JCM 800 style amplifiers I can recommend are the Marshall DSL5CR, or for those on an even tighter budget the Micro Dark from Orange can still really nail the British rock sound for a ludicrously cheap price.

The other amps worth mentioning are the Mesa Mark series. Particularly the Mark III and IV which are Mesa’s top-of-the-line tube amplifier range. However, the older models can be difficult to source so you’ll find that these days that the Mark VII (their current flagship) is far more available.

Unfortunately, there’s not a great deal of budget-friendly Mesa alternatives, for that reason I recommend the AmpliTube ToneX. It’s a digital modeler and one of the cheapest ways to gain access to an equivalent tone.

Billy Corgan Amp Settings

The tones used in The Smashing Pumpkins are diverse, to say the least. In a given song you could be using fully fuzzed-up distortion, gritted-up rock tones, and even glassy clean tones.

Here’s a great neutral starting point for a solid Smashing Pumpkins Distorted sound.

Gain: 7 – Billy’s primary distorted sound can be described as ‘grungy’, it’s saturated, not well defined (by design), and is also quite dark. So you’ll need a generous amount of distortion here.

Bass: 6.5 – The tone should be quite thick and meaty so you can pump up the bass quite a lot without worrying too much about the negative effects it has on definition and articulation. This plays well into the stereotypical grunge tone.

Mids: 3.5  – There is a distinct scooped mids quality to his tone so pulling out just a little of the mids further adds to that dark and tamed quality.

Treble: 6 – Although I’ve described the tone as being quite dark, this primarily comes from the mid scoop and there is actually still some top-end present here. So a slight boost to the treble can make sure it will still stay nice and clear in the mix.

1979 (Verse Tone)

This is a great example of how The Smashing Pumpkins use a very warm and pleasant-sounding clean sound with no breakup, but can still retain a lot of energy thanks to a slight mid and top boost which breathes life into the sound while accenting the pick attack.

Gain: 0

Bass: 6

Mids: 6

Treble: 6.5

Today

While at first glance it may seem like the guitars here are very bass-heavy, if you listen carefully it’s simply that the bass guitar is very loud in the mix. The guitars themselves are actually quite thin and fuzzy. So here actually removing some of the bass helps free up room for the bass guitar to take a more prominent role.

Gain: 7

Bass: 3

Mids: 5

Treble: 6

Ava Adore

The guitars take more of a supporting role here with a nice strummable clean tone that has just the tiniest bit of breakup when picked hard which helps add a little bit of texture and life to the sound.

Gain: 2

Bass: 3

Mids: 5

Treble: 6

Pedals

While Billy does use a Mastermind GT switching system, this is not paired with an effects unit or multi-FX processor, he is still very much old school and opts to use traditional pedals. The downside is that they are mostly high-end boutique pedals, often handmade by smaller manufacturers.

For all his delays he uses the Strymon Brigadier pedal, which is a less complicated version of the Strymon Timeline where it puts a huge emphasis on emulating an authentic analog delay tone. But it’s not the cheapest pedal ever, so if you’re on a tighter budget I would recommend the MXR M169 Carbon Copy analog delay.

He also uses the Beano Boost from analog man which is a modern clone of the old 1960s British Dallas Rangemaster, essentially acting as a tube screamer to add just a little extra juice to his sound. Obviously, analog man is not a big company so in lieu of this pedal you cannot go wrong with the classic Ibanez TS9.

For when he needs even more gain and fuzz he uses the evil eye MKIII from Minotaur which are fully handmade boutique pedals.

There’s also a Behringer Octave Divider which is a quite unique sub-octaver and ring modulator that Billy puts to good use creating some of his more gnarly distorted sounds (it’s also really cheap too!).

The Joy of Tone

Billy’s guitar rig is a ton of fun to play, because he’s so open to utilizing those more gnarly and ugly-sounding distortions/fuzzes you don’t really have to worry too much if you oversaturate the gain or if you use too much bass, that’s what you want!

This frees your creativity up massively and you can really go to town diming certain settings that you would normally need to be more measured with.

I hope you found the information shared helpful and have fun making some of these tones for yourself!

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About Liam Plowman

Liam is a British musician who specializes in all things guitar, audio, and gear. He was trained as a guitar technician at the Oxford Guitar Gallery and currently teaches at multiple music schools across the UK. Key skillset includes purchasing unnecessary guitar equipment and accumulating far too many plugins.

1 thought on “Billy Corgan Amp Settings – Nail the Smashing Pumpkins Tone!”

  1. Hello my friend, i just was curious about your mentions of the tuning on Cherub Rock, Today, Muzzle, and Geek U.S.A. as I feel quite sure that they are Standard E, Standard E (but played in Eb), Eb (with the B string down an extra whole step to Ab), and Standard E respectively. Can you explain your reasoning/thoughts behind these assertions? I can’t even see how those tunings would be reasonably played, especially on something like Geek U.S.A. or Cherub Rock where the open E string is a fairly constant part of the riffs. Thanks

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