Today is October 21st, 2015 the fateful day in movie history where in Back to the Future II Doc Brown and Marty McFly travel to the “future” and are completely surprised by what welcomes them. Today is that day which means the future is now! In honor of the date, today’s Pedals And Effects Song Dissection focuses on Marty McFly’s err…Chuck Berry’s Johnny B. Goode! As always our disclaimer: some bands/artists are very protective about their sonic secrets so some of these dissections are based solely on our own knowledge of the capabilities of effects pedals, a little internet research and of course the songs themselves. So let’s take a look back (or forward?) in time and see how to get those sweet 50’s surf tones.
A little anachronistic fact! While commonly mistaken as a Gibson ES-335, in the film McFly is actually playing a Gibson ES-345. The ES-345 wasn’t produced and readily available to the public until 1958 despite the film taking place in 1955. Chuck Berry has always had a very close and storied career with various Gibson semi-hollow guitars hence the misconception.
It’s important to keep in mind that Johnny B. Goode was produced and recorded at a time when musical recording techniques were at their infancy. While recording has advanced considerably since the 50’s, this song is a testament to the power of simplicity and excellent songwriting.
In the film McFly appears to be playing out of a Fender Blues deluxe, an amp with two 12 inch speakers and the Fender tweed enclosure of the period. McFly runs straight into the amp from the guitar and cranks it for that sweet natural distortion. (In reality, Marty McFly was played by actor Michael J. Fox who “mimed” all the guitar playing, with the actual guitar audio having been done by famous session guitarist Tim May.)
The original writer of the song, Chuck Berry (and not a time traveling teenager) is a big fan and purveyor of Fender Dual Showman reverb amps as well as Fender Bassman amps. Fender amps are what Berry is mostly known for playing live and recording with throughout his career. Berry ran his guitar straight into the amplifier’s clean channel with some slight gain, a little reverb, and a whole lot of volume to get the amp to breakup. In order to achieve the reverb he did, the reverb was usually a setting or function built into whichever vintage amp Berry used. However, spring reverbs such as the Danelectro Spring King Spring Reverb or the Subdecay Super Spring Theory are perfect in nailing that 50’s rock and roll reverb tone. Pair them with some light overdrive like from an Ibanez Tube screamer or a Fulltone OCD and you got the sound of rock and roll history. Be sure to place the reverb after the overdrive! Also, check out our first ever entry of Pedals And Effects: Reverb Wars for some other great reverbs from Mantic, Digitech and Earthquaker Devices!
Photo credit: musiciansfriend
There’s a lot of movie magic that happens when a film tries to portray a live band, however its always good to have different outlets that might have sounds worth emulating! You can then apply those sounds to your own playing and find yourself playing something completely new. That is the impetus for innovation, which we here at Pedals And Effects are all about.
If there’s a song you can’t quite figure the effect out and want us to try dissecting what pedals are being used, feel free to email us at firstname.lastname@example.org Until next time!
Words by Max Kane