As one of the greatest guitarists of all time, Billy Gibbons has truly been able to craft his own unique voice and signature sound on the guitar.
His rock chops were a force to be reckoned with, and he’d often switch between using a pick and his fingers on the fly to further manipulate his sound into exactly what he wanted.
This unique approach has left many wondering how they can achieve a similar sound for themselves.
So in this article, I’m taking an in-depth look into the guitars, pedals, amps, and amp settings Billy uses to achieve such a distinctive rock tone.
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While Billy certainly favors the Gibson Les Paul, it’s not unusual to see him playing guitars with some pretty out-there shapes including the Gretch Jupiter, or his even more bizarre-looking fur-coated guitars.
Gibson Les Paul “Pearly Gates”
Gibbons was first inspired to buy a Sunburst Les Paul after seeing Eric Clapton use one and thinking it was the coolest-looking guitar he’d ever encountered.
He was able to buy this guitar for just $250 and decided to call it Pearly Gates.
This name came about after lending his old car to a friend who needed it to go to an audition. They joked that if the car made it all the way then it must surely be divine, thus the name Pearly Gates was coined.
Despite all the hype around the guitar, it’s fundamentally a ‘59 stock Les Paul. Even the frets haven’t been touched after all this time which is quite remarkable.
Billy noted that he loves it exactly the way it is, and despite amassing a huge collection of other guitars he has a deep connection with it and wouldn’t change a single thing about it.
As iconic and unique as this guitar is, Gibson was afforded the opportunity to create a short run of 350 replicas based on this guitar. But these are extremely rare, even on launch back in 2009 they retailed for $8000 apiece.
So if you’re on a tighter budget, the Epiphone Les Paul Standard makes an amazing value-for-money alternative!
Most of the time you’ll find Billy in good old E standard (E, A, D, G, B, E).
However, for a lot of his slide guitar playing he’ll detune his guitar or use open tunings such as open E and A which enables him to play a chord by just barring a single fret.
As a classic rock and blues guitarist, Billy uses all those wonderful vintage amplifiers we love seeing nowadays. This includes amps such as the Fender Tweed Deluxe, the Marshall Bluesbreakers, and Magnatone Super 59 Amp.
But out of all of those, the one that saw the most frequent use is the Marshall 1968 Super Lead.
Marshall 1968 Super Lead
As one of the most popular rock amplifiers of all time, it’s no surprise to see Gibbons using this as his amplifier of choice.
It does a fantastic job of producing that thick, saturated gain and really helped to coin the idea of the Marshall Crunch sound. Despite being updated numerous times throughout the years, there is an enigmatic quality about the 1968 Super Lead which makes it still highly sought after today.
As you might expect they’re pretty hard to come by, but due to their popularity plenty of other amp manufacturers have taken a stab at their own super-lead models including the Soldano SLO super lead or even the Marshall JCM800 can achieve a very comparable sound.
Billy Gibbons Amp Settings
Getting a comparable Gibbons guitar tone is not that hard, but if you really want to sound like him you need to pay careful attention to both how he picks and when he swaps between using his fingers and a guitar pick.
Gain: 5 – While Billy uses a decent amount of distortion, there are still heavy dynamics present in his playing and you still need enough headroom to have the tone break up as you pick harder.
Bass: 5 – Putting the bass at 5 achieves a nice balance between having the guitar sounding thick and rich without sacrificing too much pick articulation.
Mids: 7 – A pretty generous boost of the mids helps a bit of that crunch and bite come through. It will also help the tone respond more dynamically the harder you pick.
Treble: 6 – A small top-end boost also helps to bring out that crunchy attack, although you want to be fairly measured with this as it’s easy to cross that line and make the sound thin or fizzy.
Gimme All Your Lovin’
The verse riff needs a bit of a gain boost to help those long guitar chords sustain and ring out. There’s also a slight roll-off on the top end to get the guitars sounding smoother and rounder.
Everyone’s favorite ZZ Top song! This one puts a heavier emphasis on using the fingers and there’s a lot of saturation, so here more of a classic smiley face EQ shape works great!
Rough Boy (lead)
Released in 1985, this one has a quintessential 80s mix. The guitar is super smooth on the top and is using heavy chorus to give it that synth-like quality.
Despite Gibbons’s tone having such great fundamental support with the Les Paul and his Marshall Super lead, he wasn’t against using a lot of pedals to further enhance or augment his sound.
While his exact pedal setup is constantly changing, there are a few particular pedals that are used repeatedly.
MXR Carbon Copy
One of the most popular delay pedals of all time, the Carbon Copy is exceptionally easy to control and sounds incredible.
Billy would use this more for a slapback style of delay rather than for a long, modulated signal.
So if you need a pedal for that specific purpose the Slap-Back Echo from Electro-Harmonix makes a great alternative.
MXR Bass Octave Deluxe
Another classic MXR pedal that helps to thicken up, or as MXR will say, add Growl and Girth to your tone.
The Bass Octave Deluxe works great as both a lead enhancer and to thicken up rhythms.
Despite forming in 1969, ZZ Tops’ influence is still felt strongly today. From their stellar songwriting, classic lead playing, and iconic guitar tone, Billy Gibbons has helped keep the fun and attitude in rock guitar.
I hope the information provided in this article will help you achieve some of the legendary tones that made ZZ Tops’ guitar work so popular!