If, like me, you were at school in the first decade of the 21st century, My Chemical Romance were inescapable.
My Chemical Romance were always staples of the pop-punk/emo black tee crowd, but the band boasted musicianship and bombast few of their contemporaries could ever hope to match.
Led by the charismatic Gerard Way and backed by the ferocious punk guitar chops of Frank Iero and Ray Toro, My Chemical Romance’s furious, histrionic anthems defined a generation.
Now, with the band enjoying a resurgence in popularity, there’s no shortage of fans old and new wondering how to capture the band’s sound.
Look no further than this article, as I’ll take you on a deep dive of the equipment and techniques the band used in their classic era. In particular, I’m going to examine Toro and Iero’s tones across The Black Parade and Danger Days.
Table of Contents
The definitive MCR guitar sound is chunky and overdriven. You’ll want a guitar equipped with humbuckers to achieve this tone.
The Epiphone Les Paul Custom was a mainstay of My Chemical Romance’s early touring, with Iero affectionately naming his favorite white Les Paul “Pansy.”
It’s worth noting that hollow guitars like the Wildkat were adopted in the Black Parade era largely for their neo-Gothic look, not their innate tone. The higher levels of gain typically deployed by both My Chemical Romance guitar players will likely cause plenty of feedback, so I’d recommend a solid-bodied electric guitar.
Since the band reunited, Iero and Toro have been seen playing various Fender guitars, but these are typically outfitted with humbuckers. For the classic MCR tone, I’d recommend Epiphone or similar.
Frank Iero also collaborated with Epiphone to produce a signature model of the Wilshire, called the Phant-O-Matic. The Phant-O-Matic has a Wilshire body, but is wired like a Les Paul, down to its full-sized humbuckers and pickup selection.
Accordingly, I’d still recommend either a Les Paul or an SG for the My Chemical Romance sound.
The band’s association with Epiphone – rather than the more expensive guitars at Gibson – is long-standing and reflects their DIY punk roots.
It’s also worth pointing out that the Epiphone stock pickups don’t sound exactly like My Chemical Romance’s recorded guitar tone.
That’s because both Iero and Toro, like many professional guitar players, swap out their pickups. My Chemical Romance has been known to use the Phat Cat P-90 style pickup and the JB SH-4 in place of the stock Epiphone pickups.
If you’re in a two-guitar band chasing the thick wall of guitars that My Chemical Romance had live, I’d recommend one guitar player using the humbuckers and the other using the Phat Cat.
That way, you don’t sound identical, even though you’ll be playing similar guitars.
Frank Iero’s choice of amp has, historically, been the Orange Rockerverb MKII 100.
Ray Toro, on the other hand, has typically used high-gain Marshall amps. He was partial to the JCM2000 until the recording of The Black Parade, which saw him switch to a more ‘80s-metal-styled Marshall JCM800.
Fortunately for your eardrums and your budget, you don’t need one hundred watts of British valve power to get close to the MCR guitar tone.
The Marshall DSL40C is an excellent combo amp with a 12-inch speaker. It’s more than loud enough to keep up with a ferocious punk drummer, and it grunts and roars like a Marshall is supposed to.
For Frank Iero’s Orange tone, it’s hard to ignore the Orange Dark Terror. It’s an all-tube head with the characteristic Orange fizz and crackle. If you want to go even smaller, you can check out the Orange Terror Stamp, which is effectively the same amplifier in a pedal-sized enclosure.
Most of the My Chemical Romance tone comes from driving a tube amp really, really hard. Crank up the volume and the gain and let your aggressive picking technique do the rest of the work for you.
However, for extra grit and for lead parts, both Iero and Toro use various guitar pedals. Frank Iero has long been a devotee of the Boss Blues Driver as his main source of overdrive.
For Ray Toro’s sound, you simply cannot go past the Ibanez TS9 Tube Screamer.
It’s the model he used for all MCR’s classic records, and it’s as affordable today as it was in the 2000s, which is more than we can say for most things.
For the classic MCR sound, Toro used the Boss Chorus Ensemble.
The Boss GE-7 graphic EQ is a very important piece of his tonal puzzle as it allows Toro to sculpt his guitar sound more closely than the amp’s EQ alone would.
Finally, Toro used the Dunlop Cry Baby as his choice of Wah, inspired by his vintage metal heroes.
Ray Toro Amp Settings
Turn up the gain for Ray Toro’s saturated, rich tone.
Assuming that you’re using a Marshall-style amp with a master volume, you want it at least at 5 to get the fat, warm tube distortion sound.
Ray Toro’s Marshall sound is a little “scooped” so you can really hear his rapidfire palm muting.
You want to run the treble a little high here to balance out the naturally darker tone of Toro’s Les Paul.
You want some warmth to this tone, but be prepared to tweak the bass knob and turn it down if your muted chords sound a little “flubby”.
Frank Iero Amp Settings
You want plenty of gain for this sound, too. Frank differentiates his sound from Ray’s with note choice and EQ.
You’ll want to run your volume at a similar level to the other guitar player, just as Frank Iero does.
Frank Iero’s tone is even more scooped than Ray Toro’s. You don’t want a nasal midrange-heavy tone.
Listen to the sweet, violin-like lead tones on “Welcome to the Black Parade.” That comes from running the treble nice and high with plenty of saturation.
Keep the bass frequencies low so you have a really articulate, pick-heavy sound.
My Chemical Romance’s guitar tones are classic turn-of-the-century pop-punk fare. They’re distorted, driven, and powerful, with plenty of articulation and character in each guitar player’s palette.
To really get in the zone, you’ll want to work on your downpicking and palm muting technique as well as your Queen-style vibrato.
Set your palm lightly on the string you’re muting near the bridge for the chunkier, more rhythmic palm mutes of MCR’s classic era.