Kyuss Guitar Tone Guide With Amp Settings & Gear!

Author: Santiago Motto | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

Infinite clouds of dust, thousands of miles carrying the gear, endless jams, and a lot of talent are what took Kyuss to redefine stoner rock. From celebrations in the depths of the desert to filling stadiums with screaming fans, Josh Homme and company created a cult around distorted guitars through bass amps.

But I don’t want to get ahead of myself here. There’s a lot to tell you about the tools Kyuss used to bring stoner rock back from the desert into the airwaves.

This is going to be one trippy, heavy, magical ride, so fasten that seatbelt, sonny boy!

Kyuss Guitars

The guitar that Josh Homme played with his friends on their trips to the desert, was mostly a very, very weird and unique Ovation Ultra GP. This guitar, released in 1984, is the guitar that can be seen in most of the footage available from the Kyuss days.

In fact, Josh didn’t own just one but three Ovation Ultras. He mostly used the black one but he also owns a red and a sunburst model.

As you might expect, yes, they are very hard to find. And also yes, if you find one, get ready to pay thousands for it.

That’s sort of the bad news. The good news is that a company called Eastwood makes copies of many discontinued or hard-to-find guitars such as Jack White’s Airline, and Johnny Ramone’s Mosrite, among others. The company came up with a model named Eastwood GP that’s a replica of Josh’s black Ovation.

But I have more good news because the Ovation is basically a solid mahogany guitar with a mahogany neck and a pair of very powerful DiMarzio DP-104 Super-2 humbuckers. Therefore, you can replace that guitar with a mahogany-made dual-humbucker ax.

Some alternatives could be a Gibson Les Paul DC, a double-cut guitar that fits the bill perfectly. I mean, it has to be weird enough, otherwise, Josh would never use it.

Another great guitar is a PRS Standard, which receives that name because it’s all mahogany, with no maple cap. You can get the S2 or the SE version for a more affordable option.

The mahogany body will allow you to get those super-low lows you need for the stoner sound. Remember, Josh played these guitars tuned down to C standard in the middle of the desert at a deafening volume for his friends. Humbuckers and mahogany are the way to go.

Kyus Effects Pedals

During the Kyuss times, the pedalboard that Josh carried from show to show was very minimal. I mean, later on, during QOTSA days, he was able to show the world a much more psychedelic and intricate side of his songwriting. But that came long after the initial stoner days in the desert.

Another big difference between those days and Queens of the Stone Age is the lineup. Josh was the only guitar player in the band and he had a lot of sonic territory to cover with just a six-stringer (and huge, blasting amps, of course).

But he did use a pedal that can be traced to his current pedalboard, the Boss SD-1. This is an inexpensive guitar pedal that Josh still uses today to push the amp into overdrive by adding some gain to the signal.

Yes, playing a guitar with hot pickups into an overdrive pedal and then hitting the amp is to immediately take it into the overdrive zone.

Another pedal that Josh still uses today is the also inexpensive Boss GE-7, a graphic equalizer he used back then to boost the lows and later in QOTSA to boost the mids.

Finally, the other pedal that Josh used was the Wah for some of the leads and jams. I mean, you can’t play proper stoner rock unless you have a Wah pedal at your disposal and obnoxious levels of gain. You can choose your favorite, he played a Morley (and still does).

Some people say he used a Big Muff Pi in the Kyuss era but to the ear of this guitarist and writer, the sound would be much more compressed with a muff in front of the amp. On the contrary, it is overtaken by the low end, it sounds loose, huge, and wide.

Kyus Amps

Kyuss amplifiers changed throughout the band’s career. Some of the early footage shows Josh playing through a JCM900 head.

That’s a very underrated amp from the ‘90s used by legends the size of Dave Navarro and Homme himself. This is the amp most people believe Josh played for the Blues for the Red Sun album released in 1992.

You could replace it with a family-friendly Marshall SC20H Studio Classic or the budget-friendly Marshall ORI20H.

After that era, Josh started using TubeWorks amps. These heads were part of the Kyuss sound but can also be seen during QOTSA’s concerts and recordings.

The Tube Works is a weird amp because it’s a hybrid construction that employs two 12ax7 valves in the preamp section and a 100-watt solid-state power section. There used to be many amps like that. Depending on your age, you must have played through a Marshall Valvestate, Fender Roc-Pro, or Vox Valvetronix series.

Well, that’s the sound. You have the warm overdriven sound of the pre going through a very percussive, loud power amp section. That’s exactly where the low end comes from; volume. Remember, this is a rig designed for the desert.

Yes, I know, what you’re thinking and I agree; nothing about Josh’s tone is regular or casual.

Well, it’s about to get even more complicated because Josh plays these heads through bass cabs and has done it for many years. His favorite is a 4×10 configuration. This gives the sounds more lows and more highs and cuts a little on the mids.

Moreover, if you pair them with, say, 4×12 cabinets, what you get is a much fuller sonic spectrum covered. The 12” speakers are very focused on the midrange (AKA, the guitar’s comfort zone) while the 10” speakers do the rest.

What I can suggest to replace the unobtainable TubeWorks amps is a Peavey Classic 20 and a Mesa/Boogie 4 x 10 or an Ampeg SVT Micro VR200 head with a 4×10 Ampeg cabinet.

Finally, let me tell you that the tone for Kyuss isn’t an expensive-sounding Bogner-like distortion but a raw sound coming straight from the desert. So, if your budget can’t allow any of the above, whichever amplifier you have around with a cranked SD-1, a cranked GE-7, and a guitar with hot pickups will be enough for Kyuss-like sounds.

Some Amp Settings

  • Volume – 8
  • Gain – 6
  • Bass – 9
  • Middle – 5
  • Treble – 7
  • Presence – 7

Using the above numbers as a guide, the GE-7 should be always on, adding level but also boosting the lows (the 200 and 400Hz.).  The SD-1 is something to add when you feel you lack distortion or to play leads.

Bear in mind that much of the low-end comes from tuning in C standard and playing with a heavy picking hand.

The Bottom End

Kyuss was the seed and QOTSA is the stellar blossoming of that revolutionary behavior that made way for a new style to emerge from the desert. Yes, stoner rock is all about freedom, jamming, and having fun.

Follow my advice above, get some friends together, and jam your way to mastery.

Happy (heavy low-end) playing!

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About Santiago Motto

Santiago is a guitar player with over 25 years of experience. A self-confessed guitar nerd, he currently tours with his band 'San Juan'. Called 'Sandel' by his friends, he has a pop palate for melodies, ballads, and world music. San especially has an immense love for telecasters and all-mahogany Martins.

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