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Music

Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine explains his guitar technique

@TylerGolsen

Nobody on earth plays the guitar like Kevin Shields. Largely thanks to the massive impact of 1991’s Loveless, the My Bloody Valentine leader carved out a unique place as an almost irreplaceable guitar god. Anyone could grab a Fender Jazzmaster, crank up the distortion, and play around with the vibrato bar, but when it comes to creating the sonic onslaught of MBV’s signature sound, Shields is the only man in the world who knows the exact way to do it.

Part of the trick is that, unlike other shoegaze artists, Shields doesn’t actually rely all that heavily on pedals. Instead, a Yamaha SPX90 reverse reverb rack and pure amp distortion are the essential tools that Shields wields in crafting his tone. Maximum gain at maximum volume, paired with his unique use of the vibrato bar and just the right amount of reverb, does the work that hundreds of pedals could never do.

In a video with Fender chronicling the 60th anniversary of the Jazzmaster, Shields also revealed another essential element to his sound that can’t be culled from simply looking at pictures: his wild variations in tuning. “Every time I have new songs with different tunings… It’s hard to tune live, like go from one extreme tuning to another.” During the video, certain guitars are labelled with specific tunings for each song, revealing ‘I Only Said’ as being in E-A-B-G-G-E.

Shields explains what happened when he first got his hands on a Jazzmaster. “Literally the first song I ever did using it was a song from the You Made Me Realise EP called ‘Thorn’. That was the first hour I discovered it, and then two hours later I did a song called ‘Slow’. That was the first time I did that kind of melted effect. I put it through a reverse reverb, and then I thought ‘That sounds good,’ and then thought ‘Ah, turn the tone down.’ I thought ‘Wow, that sounds it sounds totally like some weird tape. Sort of a copy of a copy of a copy.'” Thus the glide guitar technique was born.

Shields also reveals that he adds tape to the vibrato arm in order to prevent it from truly being screwed in. He doesn’t actually waver up and down as post guitarists use the bar, but rather he constantly comes up into tune, creating the kind of glide that Shields is known for. “Your brain hears where it should be, and it kind of ignores the fact that, 50 per cent of the time, everything I do is out of tune.”

Check out Shields explaining his guitar technique down below.