Michael Schenker Amp Settings – Get that UFO Guitar Tone!

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

Just like Rick Nielsen from Cheap Trick owns the checkered Explorer look, Michael Schenker is the unmistakable king of the Flying V. Yes, I know, there are a million players out there that rock a Flying V from Kirk Hammett to Lenny Kravitz. Still, nobody does it like Michael.

Back in the day, I was following Scorpions, UFO, and the Michael Schenker Group (MSG) and doing my best to replicate his leads and ferocious riffs. My fingers did OK, but my ear was spot-on.

So, to make a long story short, I worked very hard and was finally able to nail Michael’s tone (sans the playing, of course). Here’s what I found and how to do it at home for a fraction of the price.

Michael Schenker Guitars

As I said at the beginning of this piece, Michael is a Flying V guy. He has been playing them for a very long time, in fact, since he rose to notoriety in the early ‘70s. Moreover, it was his brother Rudolph, co-founder of Scorpions, who gave him his first Flying V.

The guitar he inherited was a cherry one and he didn’t fancy that color. He took a hammer and a chisel to it and stripped all paint leaving the guitar’s wood at sight. Several years later, he painted his first Flying V half black and half white and that’s where the legend truly started.

But let’s rewind a little. What is a Flying V? Well, it’s a guitar that’s as thick as a Les Paul but with no maple cap. In other words, it’s the closest you get to a big slab of mahogany. Moreover, just like a Les Paul, the neck is also made of mahogany.

In other words, Michael Schenker’s guitar is a dual-humbucker, low-end-rich plank of wood shaped into a futuristic vessel capable of visiting Mars (don’t forget it came out in 1958 originally).

So, that bottom end is a lot of Michael’s tone. But that’s not all because what Michael is known (and loved) for is his razor-like midrange capable of slicing reality in two. Well, that came from the amps (more on that in a bit) but also from the guitar’s ceramic-magnet pickups.

I don’t know if you’re familiar with ceramic pickups but they tend to have a higher output and also be on the treble side. Well, playing with a guitar that features no maple whatsoever in its construction, these pickups do a lot to enhance the guitar’s upper mid-range.

Since 2004, Michael Schenker has been playing Dean guitars as an endorsed artist. You can see him in countless videos and pictures online with a black and white guitar featuring the same split headstock Dimebag’s guitars had. Furthermore, Michael’s signature Dean features an ebony fretboard, giving the tone an extra dose of snap that rosewood just doesn’t have.

Rumor has it that Michael is making a move to go back to Gibson, and he has been seen playing a Gibson Flying V on recent dates in Europe. So, if you want to replicate his tone, what you need to get is a V-style guitar made of mahogany with mighty humbuckers.

If your budget allows, the Gibson Custom Shop Flying V Custom is your best bet with the mahogany body and ebony fingerboard. You should include a pair of DiMarzio Super Distortion ceramic pickups for a closer tone. Also, the Gibson Dave Mustaine Flying V is another mahogany-made metal ax ready to conquer the world.

For a more modest budget, the Epiphone Kirk Hammett 1979 Flying V, the Epiphone Dave Mustaine Flying V Custom, and the regular Epiphone Flying V can do the job as well.

I know what you’re thinking… isn’t he a Dean artist? Well, although he has a signature guitar with Dean, UFO tones are closer to his Gibson axes. Just try to contact a professional for the paint job, it’s not easy painting a guitar black and white!

Michael Schenker Effects Pedals

Michael Schenker relies mostly on his amps (more on that in a bit) and his hands to get his signature sound. That said, there are a couple of pedals at his feet to cover some extra sonic ground.

  • Overdrive – Just to push the input of his amps and go into a full-on glare for the solos, Michael steps on a TS-10, an old version of the Tube Screamer.

  • Chorus – A chorus pedal is something no guitarist who survived the eighties can live without. Michael carries that torch as well with his simple Boss Super Chorus.
  • Delay – Speaking of simplicity, all delay duties are handled by a Boss DD-3, now renamed DD-3T.
  • Wah – Playing Wah-driven guitar solos is a must for any self-respecting hard rock or metal guitarist. Michael is no exception, and he chooses the Dunlop Cry Baby From Hell

The Michael Schenker Sweet-Spot Wah Pedal Myth

One of the many myths about Michael Schenker’s uncanny tone is that he played through a Wah pedal stuck in the sweet spot to emphasize the midrange of his tone. Furthermore, the myth goes that he had two Wah pedals in his live setup, one for normal use, and the other on and stuck in a definite position all the time.

Although this was never confirmed, I gave it a try at home, and that extra push in the mids, that nasal quality in the tone, can be a plus for Michael Schenker tunes.

Michael Schenker Amplifiers

Michael Schenker is a Gibson-into-Marshall kind of player. Indeed, most of his guitar’s dirty tone comes from pushed Marshall JCM800 heads into Greenback-equipped Marshall cabinets. Furthermore, you won’t see pictures of him playing any other amplifier brand live.

If you have the budget, get a JCM800 or its studio-size version.

If you can’t afford a JCM800, then a Marshall Origins or a Marshall DSL20HR can do the job too.

How to Dial Michael Schenker UFO Guitar Tone

As I’ve been saying throughout this piece, there’s a big bump in the midrange in Michael’s tone. Moreover, he plays guitars with ceramic magnets, which means you must cut the high-end from the amp’s EQ section. Also, you need to crank the low end to get the chunky tone from the mahogany body and neck.

Michael Schenker Amp Settings

  • Volume – 10
  • Gain – 8
  • Bass – 8
  • Middle – 7
  • Treble – 3
  • Presence – 6

The Bottom End

Michael’s tone isn’t all that hard to dial if you have the right tools. That said, playing like Michael does take years of practice and a lot of passion.

Follow the advice above, dust off that Flying V, and become an alien playing your favorite UFO songs, Schenker-style.

Happy (Flying V) 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.

1 thought on “Michael Schenker Amp Settings – Get that UFO Guitar Tone!”

  1. Yup. Great time he has and a Dimarzio Super Distortion into Marshall amp such as the DSL series or even a Marshall in a box pedal thru any clean amp will get you mostly there as long as you have enough mids and bottom end I think .
    Great songs and great tone for sure.
    He’s a great guitar player absolutely.
    Good article..
    Tim.

    Reply

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