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How to play the guitar like The Stone Roses' John Squire


John Squire is the ultimate example of doing a lot with very little. Growing up in the north of England, Squire had relatively little culture to keep his mind placated, so he picked up two habits: painting and playing the guitar. Without any training in either, Squire managed to develop a signature style that reflected his personality; free form, minimalist, and occasionally psychedelic — just don’t tell him that.

While The Stone Roses gained prominence in the late 1980s thanks to their endless bravado and braggadocio, Squire was always the most taciturn and enigmatic band member. Giving him a compliment will lead to quite a bit of modesty. “Yeah, it’s flattering, but I don’t think I’m a very good guitar player, or a very good painter,” Squire told The Guardian in 2019. “I listen to my guitar playing, my songs, I look at my paintings, I tend to focus on the faults, things that I could’ve done slightly better”.

Squire was doing for the British indie scene what Peter Buck was doing with R.E.M in America: using an economical set of notes that favoured arpeggios, restraint, and technique over full strums, bombastic runs, or theatricality. Unlike R.E.M, however, The Stone Roses went supernova almost immediately, laying the groundwork for what would eventually become Madchester, Baggy, and Britpop with largely one album. After that kind of seismic impact, it shouldn’t really be a surprise that the band burned out almost immediately, throwing up only one more album before calling it a day.

And yet it’s hard to think how he could improve on The Stone Roses’ relatively brief but storied output: two albums filled with either jangly guitar riffs or monster Zeppelin-like blues lines, both of which are adorned by his signature Pollock-esque front covers. For sculpting the sound, the image, and the style of The Stone Roses, nobody should get more credit than John Squire.

Despite his small discography, with two Stone Roses albums, two solo albums, and a single LP from his subsequent band The Seahorses, Squire has already ascended to the level of a legendary guitar player. That’s because brief output represents some of the best guitar work of the 1980s and ’90s: the gorgeous splendour of ‘Waterfall’, the mighty riffage of ‘Love Spreads’, the joyous chime of ‘She Bangs the Drums’ and the slinky funk of ‘Straight to the Man’.

With such an eclectic taste, it’s not surprising that Squire had a small arsenal at his disposal with which to create riffs, melodies, tones, and effects. However, those largely came after The Stone Roses success. While the band were making a name for themselves during the run up to their first album, Squire kept his setup relatively simple: one guitar, a few pedals, and some creativity were the essential elements. If you want to sound like John Squire, these are the tools you’ll need.

First off, when it comes to guitars, Squire was initially a monogamous player. If you go back and view any of the videos, live performances, or press photos from The Stone Roses late ’80s heyday, you’ll more likely than not see Squire playing a Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman. George Harrison had brought British music to the masses using this same brand of guitar during the early days of Beatlemania, and Squire similarly revolutionised British indie with the semi-hollow body electric.

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The guitar’s open body, along with the humbucking Supertron pickups, allowed Squire to play with noise and feedback throughout the band’s recordings and especially through their live performances. You can hear it at the beginning of ‘Waterfall’ and during live jams like ‘Fool’s Gold’ and ‘I Am the Resurrection’, tracks in which Squire shapes the sound, owing more to his background as a painter than any explicit musical inspiration.

When he wasn’t using the Gretsch, Squire would occasionally pick up a custom painted Hofner T42 that largely replicated what the Gretsch did. When he needed a bit more body, Squire reached for a 1960 Fender Stratocaster, which brought more chime to the band’s early sound and more bluesy twang to the group’s second record. As he continued throughout his career, occasionally a Fender Jaguar or a Gibson Les Paul could be spotted, the latter, especially for the more Zeppelin-like riffs of ‘Love, Spreads’ and ‘Driving South’. But if you can only have one guitar for the Squire sound, it would be the Gretsch.

But it wasn’t just the Gretsch that held the key to Squire’s sound. A good set of amps and the right pedals are also necessary for replicating the sonics of The Stone Roses. A Mesa Boogie Mark IIC is the ideal amp you’ll want to grab, as this was the amp favoured by Squire during the late ’80s. He was also known to play Fender Twin Reverbs, but he stayed loyal to the Mesa Boogies all the way through the band’s reunion gigs in the 2010s.

Despite his ability to conjure up radical sheets of sound, Squire’s pedal train during the band’s heyday was relatively simple. That means there’s a solid foundation that every guitar player should start with when trying to replicate Squire’s sound, and it can be condensed down to just three pedals. A Fuzz Face and an Ibanez Tube Screamer were used for boost, distortion, fuzz, and volume while on stage, and the effects can be heard throughout the breakdown sections of ‘I Am the Resurrection’ and the bright buzzsaw lines of ‘Good Times’. That leaves the Ibanez Chorus pedal, which can be heard on everything from ‘Bye Bye Bad Man’ to ‘Made of Stone’.

Later on, Squire would add a few more pedals to his line, although only the Boss Bf-2 Flanger had any real change on his sound, and that was mostly for live gigs. In the studio, plate reverse and additional effects were often added after the recording, but especially during the live days, Squire kept it simple by his feet. A Crybaby Wah-Wah pedal, most likely a knockoff by an Italian company called Jen, was also used on occasion by Squire.

But to truly replicate John Squire’s sound, it’s all about feel. The Stone Roses created most of their signature sonic touches through the interplay between the musicians: a pedal effect from Squire was just as important as an octave jump from Mani’s bass or a rudiment from Reni on his hi hat. It was them playing together that made The Stone Roses sound so unique, and the chemistry was still intact when the band reunited years later. But if you’re looking for a foundation to start walking in the shoes of John Squire, this is the equipment that he used throughout his career.

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