Deftones have been able to craft one of the most unique musical signatures of any modern band.
Stephen’s heavy, Meshuggah-inspired down-tuned guitars juxtaposed with Chino’s raw and clean melodic vocals all come together to create a sound quite unlike anything else.
So today I’ll be taking a deep dive into the guitars and gear Stephen Carpenter uses to achieve his signature tones, and show you how to go about making these same tones for yourself.
Table of Contents
While Stephen has been very open about his influences, citing many of the metal titans such as Meshuggah and Fear Factory as inspiration.
Deftones are a far more experimental band that uses a wide variety of sounds ranging from the heaviest of metal tones to dreamy cleans and effect-laden ambient guitars.
ESP LTD SCT-607B Stephen Carpenter Signature
Stephen has been playing his own signature range of guitars from ESP since 1998.
And while the original SC-20 was but a humble 6-string, as the band progressed the need for more strings and lower tunings quickly became apparent.
That’s where the LTD SCT-607B comes in. It’s a 7-string model that features a 27” baritone neck to support those ultra-low tunings.
It also features Stephens’s own signature Fishman Fluence pickups which have both an active and passive voicing.
The purpose of this is so you can get that ultra-compressed and pushed high-gain tones on the active voicing, but then flick over to the passive voicing for cleans and ambient sounds.
If you can’t get access to his specific pickups the regular Fishman Fluence Moderns utilize the same dual-voicing technology for this purpose.
So by using something like the far cheaper Ibanez RG7421 7-string and fitting it out with Fishman pickups you can achieve a very comparable tone.
SP LTD Stephen Carpenter Signature SC-608
Once again taking influence from modern metal bands such as Meshuggah and Periphery, Stephen decided to make his own 8-string signature model, the SC-608.
This is very similar in specification to the 7-string model, using specially designed Stephen Carpenter Fishman Fluence 8-string pickups to be able to handle the massive tonal variety Deftones requires.
It has an all-mahogany body and locking tuners for extra tuning stability, which is much appreciated when tuning this low!
When this signature model was released 8-string guitars were still somewhat of a rarity.
But as they’ve grown in popularity we now have plenty of very capable 8-string production models such as the RGMS8 Multi-scale 8-string which gives you access to the extended range at a very cheap cost.
Deftones use 6, 7, and 8-string guitars, each in multiple tunings.
This can be tough to keep up with, so here’s a quick rundown of all the main tunings they’ve used for each album:
Adrenaline – Standard 6 string (E A D G B E)
Around the Fur – Drop C# 6 string (C# G# C# F# A# D#)
White Pony – Drop C 6 string (C G C F A D)
Deftones – G# 7 String standard (G# C# F# B E G# C#)
Saturday Night Wrist – F# 7 String standard (F# C# F# B E G# C#)
Diamond Eyes – 8 String standard (F#BEADF#BE)
Koi No Yokan – 8 String drop E (E-B-E-A-D-G-B-E)
Gore – 8 String standard and drop E
Ohms – 9 string standard (C# F# B E A D G B E)
Of course, there are multiple tunings used within each release, these are just the most prevalent ones for a given album.
Stephen is very much a gearhead and loves to constantly try out new equipment in the studio and on the road.
And he’s certainly not hung up on tradition as we’ll constantly see him using cutting-edge technology such as high-end amp modelers and dual-board powered pickups.
Fractal Audio Axe FX II
The Axe FX is an all-encompassing guitar rig in a box. While its main selling point is the fact it has a ton of high-quality amp models built into it, it’s also a pretty feature-complete effects processor too.
So when Stephen would use this unit live he would simply plug his guitar straight into the Axe FX, and then run that out to the front of house.
This is an approach that was most likely inspired by Periphery’s Misha Mansoor who is largely responsible for popularizing the Axe FX.
These days most of the high-end amp modelers are pretty comparable in terms of sound quality, so the Quad Cortex from Neural DSP or the Kemper Profiler would make great alternatives.
The JMP-1 is something Stephen used to use in the earlier days of Deftones, but it was an important piece of gear and played a big role in creating the band’s signature sound.
It’s essentially a tube preamp that was able to blend classic Marshall tones with some modern features such as MIDI controllability (a first for Marshall at this time).
While this unit has been long since discontinued, something like a Line 6 Helix would make a very worthy substitute.
Deftones Amp Settings
Stephen’s high-gain sounds have always leaned towards modern metal. They need to be tight, articulate, and super clear, even when tuned very low.
Gain: 6 – Unlike more classic styles of metal, modern down-tuned styles will actually use less gain in order to stay as clean and tight as possible. Relying more on the picking hand to create the aggression.
Bass: 4 – A small roll-off on the bass can also help to clean the tone up a bit and stop things from becoming too muddy on those very low strings.
Mids: 7 – A healthy boost to the mids will let the guitar slice right through and sit in the mix nicely. Scooping mids when tuning this low is usually a very bad idea as you’ll quickly see (or hear) your guitar disappear underneath the competing instruments.
Treble: 6 – A small boost to the treble helps to add a bit of edge to the sound, but don’t go too far as in the digital modeling world this can quickly turn into undesirable fizziness.
Change (In The House Of Flies) (verse)
While the previously mentioned high-gain tone is ideal for the chorus, the verse requires a little bit more of a dialed-back crunch tone. Focus carefully on your right-hand picking dynamics here.
Back To School
As one of Deftones earlier songs, it has a bit more of a loose feel to the guitar tone and more saturation than you might see Steph use these days. It’s a great chance to get wild with your tone!
While Steph is clearly using his 9-string guitar in the music video for this song, he sticks to the higher register mostly playing single-note passages.
Because you don’t need to accommodate the low end here the gain can treble can be cranked a bit to bring out the pick attack.
Even though the modelers Stephen uses already have every effect a guitarist could want built into them, he does make use of a few pedals here and there for writing purposes.
MXR EVH Flanger
One of the most popular flanger pedals around, the EVH Flanger is great for augmenting clean tones and giving them that dream-like ambient quality.
This is one of the more costly flanger pedals, so something like the TCE Thunderstorm or the MXR Micro Flanger can offer a far more affordable solution if you need a high-quality flanger sound.
The TimeLine Multidimensional Delay Pedal is really the ultimate delay pedal. Any conceivable delay type and routing you can imagine, the Strymon can handle it.
While there’s really no substitute that’s as comprehensive and capable as the Strymon, a good way to emulate these complicated delays is to use a multi-fx unit such as the Line 6 Pod Go and stack multiple delays together using the internal pedal routing feature.
Explorers of Tone
The main thing that makes Deftones’ music so exciting is that nothing is out of the realm of possibility for them.
From the most modern of high-gain sounds to clean dream-like ambient tones, whatever’s making the best sounds at that particular moment is what’s going to get used.
This unrestricted philosophy towards tone is something many players and songwriters can benefit from embracing.