Korn are pioneers of heavy, down-tuned guitars and are largely credited for bringing the seven-string out of the guitar virtuoso world and into the mainstream.
Well known for their sludgy high-gain tones and eerie, solemn clean tones, which they combine together to create their signature dark and edgy sound.
Today I’m taking an in-depth look at what guitars, amps (along with amp settings), and pedals Korn used to achieve these unique and iconic tones. So, if you want to create these tones yourself, you’ll have everything you need to get you started!
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Guitarist James ‘Munky’ Shaffer was inspired to use the seven-string guitar after becoming a fan of Steve Vai and purchasing one of the original Ibanez Universe 7-string guitars.
Since then, they have stayed firmly within this realm, using Ibanez 7-string guitars exclusively for well over 20 years now.
They have a slew of signature guitars released with the company, so there’s no better place to start if you want these same gnarly tones.
The K7 is the first non-Steve Vai production seven-string guitar from Ibanez and was the go-to instrument for anyone who needed a 7 string guitar for metal. These were such popular and reliable instruments even non-Korn fans would use them!
It had a solid mahogany body, a 5 piece maple neck, and dual DiMarzio PAF 7 pickups. The bread and butter of any metal guitar player.
Ibanez K7 APEX2
The K7’s been out of production for quite a while now, so finding them has gotten pretty difficult. You may be better off with the newer APEX 2 line.
It’s nearly identical in specification with the same mahogany body, maple neck, and DiMarzio PAF pickups. But this time it has a fixed tune-o-Matic style bridge which can help with tuning stability when you’re tuned all the way down to A/Ab.
There’s also the Ibanez Munky Signature APEX30 which makes use of the Evertune bridge, although this will make it difficult to play Korn songs that utilize the whammy bar.
If these signature models are a bit costly for you, consider the Ibanez RGA series, which is almost identical in the specification for a fraction of the price.
For the majority of Korn’s songs, they will tune 2 semitones down from standard tuning. So instead of 7-string E standard, they now have the 7-string A standard (A, D, G, C, F, A, D). Basically, just drop each string by 2 notes and you’re done!
This is also the tuning all of their signature guitars will ship from the factory with.
In some very specific cases, they tune 1 semitone lower than this (for example in the song Alone I Break) they will tune to 7-string G#/Ab standard (G# C# F# B2 E3 G#3 C#).
When it comes to amps, Korn like to use high-gain tube amplifiers with tons of headroom to accommodate their clean tones.
Inspired by James Hetfield of Metallica, they predominantly use Mesa Boogie amplifiers, like the Triple Rectifier. However, Korn has been around for a while and during that time they’ve definitely played the field in the amp world a fair bit.
I’ve seen them use the Bogner Uberschall, the Diesel VH4, and more recently Brian Welch has begun working with Orange.
But if you’re looking for an easy, guaranteed way to nail their sound, there’s no better choice than a Mesa!
Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier
This is the amp they’ve spent the longest time with. When I think of the tonal qualities the Mesa Triple Rectifier offers, it’s exactly what you need to make Korn’s sound.
Huge amounts of gain saturate in quite a loose way. Korn isn’t known for using a super tight modern metal sound, so some of that sludgy and less-defined low-end is perfectly acceptable here!
Additionally, it’s a 150-watt head, which means you can play crystal clear clean tones with absolutely no breakup. This is ideal for those creepy, effect-laden ambient sounds they like to use.
Mesa also offers a smaller and more affordable variant of the rectifier with the small, yet still formidable 25-watt ‘mini’ Rectifiers.
Cab wise they use a simple straight 4×12 Mesa cab with Vintage 30 speakers.
Korn’s Amp Settings
Like all bands, Korn consistently likes to play with their settings and adjust them from tour to tour based on their preferences at that time.
With that being said, the fundamental qualities of their sound have always remained the same: high gain, scooped mids, and lots of rich harmonics.
Here’s a great starting point you can use to get Korn’s sound. You can then adjust further based on the guitar/pickups you are using:
Gain: 8 – You want HEAVY saturation here! Don’t be shy. Korn are not a razor-tight band and good harmonic content is far more important than avoiding low-end bloom. Crank the gain!
Bass: 6 – Korn likes to use their bass guitar as more of a percussive instrument than just pure bass content. This means a little sub 200hz boost on the guitars fills out the low end of the band’s overall sound very nicely.
Mids: 4 – For the nu-metal genre, mids on guitar are the devil! Give them a small scoop to help get that signature dark and slightly muddy sound.
Treble: 6 – A slight boost on the treble helps to highlight the aggressive pick attack that was lost during the mid-scoop.
Presence/resonance: 5 – The Mesa Triple Rec is a fairly balanced amplifier, and these would be used more as corrective settings rather than tone sculpting. Leave them a -is and only adjust if you have a problem with your sound.
This will get you a very solid ‘general’ high-gain rhythm tone. Now let’s take a look at a few song-specific amp settings.
Getting that signature ‘Issues’ guitar tone isn’t too difficult. Around this time Korn tightened up their tone a little bit and made it a little less grimy. So backing off the gain and bringing some of the mids back is key for this song.
Here to Stay
This song is all-out destruction. Barely discernible guitars with as much gain as your amplifier can muster!
Many of the guitars on The Path of Totality are doubled up with a synthesized Reese bass sound. This means we need the guitars to be more ‘in the pocket’ and less dominant.
So here we’re backing off the gain a bit to tighten things up, pushing the mids way up so it can slice through the mix, and bringing the highs down to ‘declutter’ the sound.
The guitars on The Serenity of Suffering album marked a new sound for the band. With far more emphasis on the treble side to give it that aggressive edge, with far less bass.
Korn spends a lot of time on sound design, meticulously crafting effect-laden ambient sounds using a plethora of interesting pedals.
And while they do utilize quite a lot, you can still achieve similar results using plugins or multi-effects units and combining equivalent effects in the same way.
Many bands use a whammy pedal as more of a gimmicky sound, but Korn has used this pedal as a songwriting tool throughout their career.
You can hear the pedal being used on songs such as the intro to Thoughtless or Freak on a Leash.
But they don’t only use it as an octave-up effect for cleans. They like to blend the octave-down function for rhythms, which is why songs like Here To Stay and Did My Time have such an unusually thick and heavy rhythm sound.
MXR Phase 90
Popularized by Eddie Van Halen back in the 80s, the MXR M101 Phase 90 is a super simple phaser pedal with just 1 knob which Korn likes to set on about 4.
They’ll mostly use it to create that warbly effect on clean and lead sounds.
EHX Small Stone
I have tried to figure out how they create the intro sound to Freak on a Leash for a long time, but after some digging, I discovered it was done with this pedal.
It’s a very unique phase-shifting pedal that doesn’t see much use out of augmenting very specific lead sections.
Boss Metal Zone Distortion Pedal
The Boss MT-2 Metal Zone kind of gets made fun of within the guitar community because it produces a sludgy, fizzy distortion that isn’t particularly practical for the majority of bands.
But this sound is exactly what Korn likes! So, if you want Korn’s signature distortion sound, this is the pedal to buy.
Use the settings (from left to right) 2, 6, 6, 7 to replicate their distortion sound exactly.
Korn’s sound is an ever-shifting beast. They like to explore and experiment, from nu-metal to dubstep, they’ve done it all.
But underneath all this experimentation sits a signature sound that clearly defines Korn, and I hope this article has given you some insight into how to achieve their core tone.