Synth Rock Gear Guide



Synth Rock Gear Guide - Alt-J, Foals, These New Puritans, Portishead


It's something of a curiously British tendency to bring together dissonant tones, angular rhythms and add in lush synth beds and melodies. The latest example is Alt-J who have been making all the right noises both in the UK and abroad, with a Mercury Music prize, world tour and acclaim from both mainstream and indie press.


In a recent interview with Roland the lads say they started out with a Roland Cube amp and we can clearly see a range of Boss pedals on their board at the moment. Joe Newman says that he really prefers a simple, clean and warm tone with a little enhancement from reverb and delay.

Alt-J Pedal Board

From what we can see that's:

Boss DD-20 Giga Delay
Boss Noise Suppressor
Boss GE-7 EQ
Boss Acoustic Simulator
MXR Micro Amp
Boss FDR-1 Fender '65 Deluxe Reverb
Boss TR-2 Tremolo
Boss TU-3 Tuner

This is a nice little look into the details of their guitar gear, we've previously donned our Geargoggles for a gig they did in Amsterdam. They were using some nice Vox and Fender amps along with Nord keys and a tasty Fender Precision bass. We can see from the picture at the top of the article that they're using a Nord Electro 3, a Digitech Whammy and a certain Novation synth...

Speaking to Novation Gus Unger-Hamilton spoke highly of the Ultranova that they've been using a lot on tour.

Since getting my hands on the Ultranova, it has immediately become an indispensable part of my stage set-up. It's so portable and light, but delivers really heavy bass sounds, which is what I primarily use it for - perfect for touring and playing live. Tweaking patches once you've created them is easy, as is saving them. So far, my favourite that I've made is called 'J BA$$', which I use to add a rich, juddering bottom end to songs like Fifzpleasure and Breezeblocks... I don't find I use any of the built-in patches, and haven't really explored the vocoder yet... But I wanted a small but punchy synth for live bass, and the Ultranova ticks every box in that respect. I love it!

These New Puritans

Infectious label mates with Alt-J, These New Puritans take quite a stark, unembellished guitar sound and marry it to equally abrasive synths and samples. They've recently announced that work has commenced on a new record but no details as to when it might land or how it's going to sound. Going back to the early days and an interview with Vice gave a little insight into the core elements of the Puritans sound.

We can see Sophie Sleigh-Johnson playing on an old Yamaha CS10 analogue synth. No longer in production but analogue synths are coming back into fashion, so fortunately you could grab a Korg Monotribe for a raw, analogue sound. Alternatively, the Novation Bass Station II is coming soon for classic tones. There's also an ever reliable Microkorg in the corner that does analogue sounds, effects and more.

In the video we can also hear some sample triggering courtesy of the Akai MPC500. We've still got a few of these standalone workhorses in stock but the new kid on the block is the MPC Studio. Working with your laptop it gives you all the MPC features with the expanded capabilities of your PC.

These New Puritans Practice Room


They were touted as the new Radiohead before they'd even released a record and now three records in we think it's safe to say that much of the hype was justified. Bringing together clean, picked guitar tones with lush pads and intricate poly rhythms, Foals represent perhaps the finest blend of hook laden indie and more left field art rock. Speaking to Guitar Magazine in the early days they revealed that the core of their sound was largely clean, without too many effects. Much like Alt-J and TNP, Foals rely on the sound of a (generally Single Coil) guitar such as a Tele or Les Paul junior, maybe kicking things into Foals Holy Firehigh gear every once in a while with a boost pedal. Jimmy Smith mentions the Crowther Hot Cake for boosting duties, based around a design similar to the MXR Microamp, plus maybe a little sprinkle of Boss DD-3 Delay. The golden rules according to Jimmy are:

“Get rid of all your pedals. Also get rid of your Marshall amp and get one with a clean sound. Finally, don’t go below the 12th fret – it’s easier to play up the neck and you get a better sound.”

Although its pretty safe to say that this was a rule waiting to be broken. Their latest album Holy Fire is full of big, distorted riffs while keeping the smart rhythms and signature sounds of the early days.

The xxThexx

Another hot tip in the indie press, The xx hit the ground running with Mercury Prize (just like Alt-J) and Brit Award Nominations (but no win sadly, just like Alt-J!) and big part of their sound revolves around an MPC, clean guitar tones, tape delays and analogue synths (just like Foals, Alt-J &TNP!!). Speaking to Sound On Sound engineer Rodaidh McDonald reveals a few key pieces of gear on their debut album were:


Roland Microcube: Used for clean lead parts with the built-in reverb and bit of Boss DD-3 from time to time
Fender Blues Deluxe & Hot Rod Deluxe: Used for thicker, rhythmic sounds. Recorded using SM57 & MD421 mics
Epiphone Les Paul & Gibson 335: Romy's guitars
Gibson SG: Baria's guitar for the whole session
Akai MPC: For the initial beats creation

The xx XL Studios
Pictures Courtesy Of Sound On Sound

In this shot of the gear at XL Studios where The xx recorded we can see some classic Moog, Roland & Sequential Circuits synths. Along with an Akai MPK61 and Fender Hot Rod Deluxe.

Coming up to date we've taken a little peak at their setup for a Radio 1 Live Lounge session in March 2013.

The xx Guitar Bass Decks
Looks rather like Pioneer CDJs and black Fender Precision to us.
The xx DJ
Getting to work on what appears to be a dual MPC setup, blue metal would indicate the MPC1000 but the MPC 500 does a sterling job too.
The xx Guitar
Nice Les Paul with gold hardware.
The xx Roland 909 & Keys
Classics of the past and present, vintage 909 drum machine and Roland RD-700NX Stage Piano. There's the Boss DD-3 creeping in as well, being used on the synths and samples rather than guitar.


Adrian Utley Of Portishead

More established than the other Young Turks featured in this article but arguably responsible creating for that downtempo melding of programmed beats, guitar and synth that was once known as trip hop. Quite what you might call it now we're not sure, math-indie-trip-prog rock perhaps? What we are sure of is that Adrian knows a heck of a lot about both guitar tone and synths, he's an avowed fan of the Orange AD30 for his driven twang and loves his modular synth. There's also a video of him coaxing some great sounds out of the Arturia Minibrute.

Somebody's also had a cheeky peek at Adrian's pedal board and we can see a few familiar faces, including a Boss Tuner, Boss Delay & Crowther Hotcake (remember a quality boost/OD will help thicken your tone). We also spy a Line 6 DL4, Boss RV-5 and an Ibanez Tubescreamer.

Adrian Utley Pedal Board

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