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How to Capture Joe Walsh's Guitar Tone

The Next in a Series of Step-by-Step Guides to Home Recording

Jim Dalrymple

“My Maserati does 185 ... ”

That’s all you need to say and people know exactly what song you’re referring to. Many times it will lead to a spontaneous rendition of “Life’s Been Good” from 20 or 30 people ― whether you know them or not.

That’s what happens when you write a classic rock song, and that’s exactly what Joe Walsh did.

Joe Walsh with Les PaulDespite the funny faces he makes on-stage, I love Joe Walsh. Most people know him from his time with the Eagles, but I actually like his solo stuff much better. That’s not to say his days with the Eagles didn’t produce good music. I just prefer the edgier side of Walsh’s playing, and I don’t think the Eagles really let him do enough of it.

Of course, “Life’s Been Good” is a cult classic, but he’s done some other great work too. “Rocky Mountain Way” is another great song where Walsh really got to show his blues chops.

Before all of his commercial success as a solo artist and member of the Eagles, Walsh was the guitar player for the James Gang, a popular power trio. Although Walsh was the main attraction of the band, he didn’t see the kind of success he would following the band’s breakup.

Joe Walsh is the epitome of classic rock guitar ― from the guitars and amps he used, to the sound he managed to get from his gear. In his own way, Walsh helped form that hard rock sound we enjoy today.

As you might imagine, Walsh has an extensive collection of guitars that include a Gibson J-200, a Les Paul Goldtop and a Les Paul Standard. His amps are just as plentiful and include Hiwatt and Marshalls, among others.

Of course, any classic rocker was outfitted with as many Boss pedals as they could get his hands on and Walsh was no different. I don’t mean that in a bad way ― guitarists of the ’70s didn’t have the digital alternatives that we enjoy today, so they had to use a heavy combination of pedals to experiment with.

I’ll be using Native Instruments’ Guitar Rig 3 to build Walsh’s tone on my computer. I’ve chosen “Rocky Mountain Way” from the album The Smoker You Drink, the Player You Get as the basis for the tone.

Joe Walsh tone

I’m also using a guitar with active pickups, which makes a difference in the tone you’ll get. If you’re using passive pickups, you may need to jack up the gain a little bit.

I was going to use the Plexi model for this tone, but it didn’t have enough punch for my liking, so I used the Lead 800 instead. Settings for the amp are Master 9; Pre-Amp 9; Bass 5; Mid 8; Treble 10; and Presence 8.

I used the matching Marshall cabinet with the mic setting at 56% toward mic A, the Dry/Air setting at 6.32 Air and the Volume at -15.8db. Those settings alone bring us pretty close to where we want to be for a Joe Walsh tone, but it’s not quite there yet.

I tried a number of distortion and screamer pedals, but everything I did put the tone way over the edge. Even when I dialed the settings back to almost nothing, it was still too gritty.

What I opted to do was use a Tube Compressor. I put the settings at Input -10db; Threshold -19db; Ratio 25:1; Attack 0; Release 1.22; and Gain 16db.

The last thing I added to the tone is a bit of Reverb. Using settings of Mix 31.2% Wet; Bright 6.56; and Room Size 3.75, you can add some depth to the tone without adding too much echo.

I really enjoyed making this tone and playing some old Joe Walsh songs again. It’s been far too long.

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