Cascade & Fine Art of Guitar

Cascade seminar has been very inspiring. The fluid and melodic pentatonic shifting and bounced arpeggio approach is a strong counterpoint and complement to the Volcano seminar - that covers 3 nps speed scales and arpeggio sweeps. The points of overlap in mechanics to Yngwie + EJ are also connected (even with wildly contrasting musical styles). Combining the 2 systems is liberating and powerful. Culminating in Anti-Gravity to master 2WPS for Scales and Cross Picking Arpeggios, unlocks the ultimate speed technique toolkit.

It led me to watching EJ’s Fine Art of Guitar - amazing improv and lesson in tone production. Eric is rumored as being a gear head, but really his sound is from the care he takes to make his voice expressive through his technique - not expensive gear. His rig isn’t even exotic - Strat into a Marshall. It is incredible how creative Eric is with rhythmic nuance, dynamic expression, and infinite harmonic genius.

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I can’t even put into words how profound an impact Eric’s guitar playing, and his music in general, has had upon me. Not just my playing, but my life as a whole.

I agree with all of this, but:

This is an incredible oversimplification of what goes into Eric’s sound. The gear matters a lot, and there’s much more to it than just a Strat into a Marshall.

Eric’s rig is really three rigs. His guitars (usually Strats and ES-335s) are plugged into A/B boxes, to select which of the three rigs he uses. The first A/B box switches between his “Lead” and “Rhythm” chain.

In the lead chain, the guitar signal runs through a solid state Echoplex and a B.K. Butler Tube Driver before going to a 100W Marshall plexi (no master volume), usually a 1959 SLP. The Echoplex and the Tube Driver are crucial to achieving the “Violin tone” that Eric is famous for.

The rhythm chain goes through a second A/B box, selecting between “Clean” and “Dirty.”

The clean chain is a wet, stereo clean. First the guitar runs into two delay units and then to a stereo chorus which sends to two vintage Fender Twins. One delay and the chorus are (almost) always on. The always on delay is a Deluxe Memory Man, the chorus is a TC SCF. The second delay has been a Boss DD-2 or DD-3 or an Echoplex type delay. Sometimes a compressor is also in the chain.

The dirty chain has changed a lot over the course of Eric’s career. Typically, the guitar runs into an Ibanez TS-9 (in a true bypass loop) and then into a vintage silicon Fuzz Face. The amp in the Ah Via Musicom era was a 150W Dumble Steel String Singer. The Dumble with the Fuzz Face is the “Beautiful Buzzsaw” tone from Desert Rose and High Landrons. Later the Dumble was replaced by 50W or 100W Marshall plexis (no master volume) or Fulton-Webb amplifiers. There is delay on this chain also, historically coming via an MXR 1500.

Eric is very particular about his speakers also, Celestion Greenbacks for the lead and dirty chains, and I believe Jensens in the Twins. Reverbs are added at the desk.

It’s the best live sound I have ever heard. If Eric didn’t feel like all of that was necessary to achieve his sound, he wouldn’t use it.

The Strats ard Marshalls are a staple of his lead sound to be sure, but any guitar on the bridge pickup with the tone rolled off, played into an EP-3 with about 416 ms of delay, a Tube Driver, and any amp gets you a much, much closer imitation of Eric’s lead sound than just a Strat into a Marshall will.


I appreciate this technical breakdown of the sophisticated tone chain Eric uses as part of his tonal palette - and I agree that he wouldn’t use the gear if his ear didn’t guide him to do so. My only point in simplifying (grossly) is to point out that the basic elements are very simple: good guitar + amp & effects + technical system + genius is all anybody should need to sound good.


Hey Tom,

Thanks for this very interesting breakdown, you have done some proper research into EJ :slight_smile:

Do you use amp simulators at all? And if so, have you tried to recreate these signal chains in a virtual environment, and how did it go?

At the moment my go-to software is Overloud TH-U. They have many amp/pedals/cabs models that work reasonably well, and it would be interesting to see how close one can get to the EJ sound with it.

I’ve been using the Bias FX and Headrush for modeling - and I like both very much. Bias FX, as a plugin, offers near infinite ‘layerability’ of rigs and re-amping in the DAW. The Headrush is great live and for practicing, and has a simple A/B split path for stacked dirty+clean tones.

I’m not aiming to re-create EJ’s sound, so I can’t comment on how accurate modelling can get - I suspect purists might object :wink:

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I use S Gear by Scuffham Amps. A few years ago I moved into an apartment with my girlfriend. She worked night shifts at the time, so I couldn’t use my amplifiers. I bought S Gear, an audio interface and some high quality headphones.

S Gear is excellent. The range of amplifiers you can choose from is small, but they all sound great. Effects are limited to delays, reverbs, chorus and flangers, but they all in stereo, they all sound great and there’s a lot of flexibility in how they’re chained.

Eric Johnson and Allan Holdsworth are my favourite players. I bought S Gear because of this video (listen with headphones):

I’ve programmed presets that give me pretty good imitations of some of Eric’s sounds. The clean sounds in particular are quite convincing. There are a few specific difficulties with imitating the lead and the dirty rhythm tones.

The EP-3 preamp and the Tube Driver both have their own character, and the combination of the two is a big part of the “violin” lead tone. I have a Tube Driver and I use a Catalinbread Belle Epoch to imitate the EP-3.

The dirty rhythm tone has changed so much over the course of Eric’s career that it’s hard to match in a general sense. To my ears, his dirty rhythm tone with the Steel String Singer is not similar to his dirty rhythm tone with the Marshalls or the Fulton-Webbs. S Gear models the Marshalls quite well, but nothing really sounds like the Steel String Singer. Then, there’s the fuzz. S Gear doesn’t model fuzzes. Even with actual pedals, fuzzes with different transistors sound and respond very differently.

People often scoff when they’re told that Eric can tell what kind of battery is in a fuzz pedal, but anybody who has A/Bed different batteries in a Fuzz Face can tell you that it’s not a subtle difference at all; zinc carbon sounds nothing like alkaline. For those reasons, you just can’t really imitate the Beautiful Buzzsaw with S Gear. Decent imitations might be possible with other modelers, but I really doubt it.

We’re moving into a new house this weekend. My girlfriend doesn’t work nights anymore. I have two Cornford amps and I have thousands of Euros worth of pedals. I still use S Gear almost exclusively, it’s just more convenient, and it doesn’t bother anybody else. I’ve also become very fond of the stereo enhanced lead sounds that I can get so easily from S Gear.


Yeah, the battery thing is totally true. The difference is in the internal resistance of the batteries, which is most obvious when the battery starts to die. Dying carbon zinc sounds noticeably more interesting than dying alkaline.

Also, Fuzz Faces respond very strongly to source impedance (aka volume knob setting), which is difficult to model accurately.

Unlike most pedals, FF’s have low input impedance and are thus essentially unbuffered from the guitar itself. So the pickups and volume knob become part of th FF circuit instead of a separate stage. I’ve never heard a digital FF model that was able to capture this responsiveness, which is one of the main reasons so many people love such a primitive circuit. The gain of the circuit specifically depends on the source impedance, so a small reduction in volume knob setting creates a big drop in fuzz. With the pedal first in the chain, you can generally go from over-the-top fuzz to nearly clean with a fairly small volume knob adjustment. This behavior disappears if the source impedance is not captured.

This matters less to EJ tone if he’s going through a Tube Screamer first, since that will act as a buffer. The net result will be higher gain from the FF itself in addition to any boost from the TS, and less volume knob responsiveness. (I.e. it will act more like Tonebender MkII.) But I wouldn’t expect a digital model to capture this tone accurately either, since it’s still so strongly dependent on source impedance.

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I agree with everything you’ve said here.

One thing I remember finding very interesting when I first learned it, was that you can’t consider any component of RLC circuits in isolation. For example, it’s naive to say that a tone control acts as a low pass filter (or a high pass to ground). It may seem that way at first, but as you turn down a tone control, you actually shift the resonant frequency peak of the total RLC circuit downward; the circuit actually begins to boost a different range in the frequencies.

Since the capacitance of the cables are proportional to the length, the length of first cable in your chain is an important factor in tone also; it’s part of the RLC circuit. You’ll definitely notice the difference in a long or short cable from the guitar if you plug into a fuzz face, or directly into the amp. After any buffered effects, the cable lengths are much less relevant.

It’s also worth mentioning that in my experience, pairing A with B is often very different from pairing a model of A with a model of B, even when the models themselves are very accurate.


For the lead, I think you should try to emulate the Clapton sound in Cream/John Mayalls bluesbreakers as the basic amp sound and then have some sort overdrive or fuzz to push it over the edge.

Here is a good attempt; although this is not using an amp sim.

I am watching this Fine art of the guitar again, trying to get a better muting happening for me when I play with a lot of gain. Something that I really notice when I compare my sound to EJ’s, is that he has not only the chops but also, a really clean tone, thanks to his dampening technique. I do find it a bit tricky.

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It’s worth experimenting with getting the tone you want with as little gain as you can get away with.


Good advice, Prlgrmnr. I am not using a 100 watt vintage marshall, since everyone around me would hate that, even though I live in a house. I am fascinated, that Eric can get away with the volume require to make a plexi break and use a fuzz or tubedriver in front - and still sound so clean. Even though it isn’t death metal like distortion, there is still lots of gain when you cascade a pedal into an already overdriven amp.

Before Troys masterful work in uncovering the mechanics involved in EJ’s signature riffs, I thought the right hand was my big problem and of course, it was. But since I’ve gotten some chops down, I’ve noticed that I must have my muting in place or else there will be ringing strings. Even at moderate volume (in front of my studie monitors with S-gear and other software to acts as the pedal in my DAW).

It should be said, that I’ve done a lot of practice on acoustic guitars or with my electric unplugged - I’ve realised now, that I also need to practice with the amp on, so that my technique actually works where it matters.

I guess that could be fairly obvious, but I like to practice unplugged so that I don’t annoy the wife and the kids sleeping :grinning:

I think Yngwie really nailed this in his debut album Rising Force!