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We take a look at the ESP LTD Sparrowhawk Bill Kelliher Signature Series Guitar and delve into the gear the Mastodon guitarist uses alongside his signature guitars to get that ‘Emperor of Sand’ sound. It’s a Bill Kelliher gear guide!

At the time of this article going out, Mastodon are currently tearing across the country in support of their latest, and perhaps best album yet, ‘Emperor of Sand’. With the announcement of his ESP LTD Sparrowhawk Bill Kelliher Signature Series Guitar, a follow up to his very popular ESP LTD BK-600 Bill Kelliher Signature Guitar in Military Green Sunburst, we thought we’d take some time to appreciate Bills sound and offer up a quick Bill Kelliher gear guide so you can try and get that ‘Emperor of Sand’ tone.

What guitars does Bill Kelliher use?

Any fan of Mastodon and Bill in particular will know that the epic guitarist was always fond of the Gibson Les Paul model guitars and was seen for years playing either a Gibson Les Paul Custom in Black, or his Gibson Les Paul Silverburst with a Seymour Duncan Distortion SH-6 in the bridge in addition to his signature line of Gibson guitars. However, since his departure from Gibson, he has moved on to the world of ESP guitars, and according to certain interviews couldn’t be happier to be part of their team of endorsees! His collaboration with ESP has spawned two fantastic signature models, the brand-new ESP LTD Sparrowhawk Bill Kelliher Signature Series Guitar and the familiar cutaway styled ESP LTD BK-600 Bill Kelliher Signature Guitar in Military Green Sunburst. Let’s take a closer look at these epic axes that no Bill Kelliher gear guide would be complete without!

ESP LTD Sparrowhawk Bill Kelliher Signature Series Guitar

The Bill Kelliher ESP LTD Sparrowhawk signature guitar is the result of a unique collaboration between the world-renowned brand and the Mastodon guitarist, created from drawings that Bill gave to the luthiers and designers over at ESP. The end result is absolutely stunning. The Sparrowhawk is an entirely unique design, but features certain elements and comfortable contours from a selection of different guitars to make a more enjoyable playing experience. Bill wanted to design something with a classic look so scoured the internet to take the best parts out of iconic shapes. A set through neck with smooth join and satin finish allows Bill to reach the entire fretboard and fly across the neck with ease – perfect if you’re busting out the riffs on tracks such as ‘Show Yourself’ or classic tracks such as ‘Blood and Thunder’. The three piece mahogany neck and mahogany body provide all the resonance and depth you need for those huge riffs, lead lines and intricate chords. Everything you play will be heard! Speaking of being heard, each ESP LTD Sparrowhawk Bill Kelliher Signature Series Guitar features Lace Sensor Divinators which are splittable humbucking pickups. These pickups provide all the lush sonic dynamics you need whether you’re aiming for that ‘Emperor of Sand’ sound or creating your own signature riffs. Able to provide pure metal power to lush cleans, the Lace Sensor Divinators allow you to split them to single coil tones. Just pull the volume knob to split the bridge pickup and the tone knob to split the neck pickup – it’s a world of tone at your fingertips. Bill told the people over at Metal Rules a little about the recording process of ‘Emperor of Sand’ and how the Sparrowhawk played a big part: “I used my ESP LTD Sparrowhawk with the Lace Dissonant Aggressors pickups and some Les Pauls.” The Military Green Sunburst Satin finish looks stunning, especially due to the matte finish and gold hardware, which effectively looks totally metal, but totally classic too!

ESP LTD BK-600 Bill Kelliher Signature Guitar in Military Green Sunburst

Before the Sparrowhawk, the ESP LTD BK-600 Bill Kelliher Signature Guitar was created to provide Bill with the bone crushing tones he needed. The Mastodon guitarist worked with the team at ESP to create his very own signature ESP LTD BK-600 – a rugged, versatile and all-round workhorse of a guitar. This is Bill’s other go-to guitar responsible for crafting some of those iconic riffs peppered throughout the ‘Emperor of Sand’ album. Lace Sensor Humbuckers appear again, however these are slightly different to Bills latest signature model. The "Dissonant Aggressor" pickups provide a hotter output than those within the Sparrowhawk, but can still be split into a single coil via the Tone control on the neck, and the Vol control on the bridge ensuring you have a variety of different tones on offer. If you prefer a more aggressive approach, this is a great option tonally. Bill has also ensured this guitar is entirely comfortable to play – handy if you’re doing nearly 2-hour sets! A Thin U profile neck with satin finish and Set-Thru construction allows you to enjoy each part of the fret board and get to the higher registers with ease. An ebony fretboard with pearloid "ESP Flag" fretmarkers is a nice touch.

What amps does Bill Kelliher use?

Bill Kelliher is known as a bit of an amplifier geek (aren’t we all?!) so has been known to change his live sound up regularly. Up until the announcement of Bill signature series of Friedman amps (we’ll get to that in a second), his back line consisted most notably of Marshall heads.

Marshall JCM800 2203

Bill would regularly use the 80s JCM800 2203 amplifier head and 2203KK Kerry King model heads to get his sound on stage. An original old 80s model will undoubtedly come with a hefty price tag and the Kerry King version is no longer available, so we recommend the new Marshall JCM800 2203 Vintage Series Guitar Tube Amp Head to crank out those metal tones.

Bill Kelliher Friedman Butterslax Amp Head

These days Bill relies on his signature Friedman Butterslax amp head which was used throughout the recording of ‘Emperor of Sand’ Here’s what Bill told Metal Rules about his choice of amps on ‘Emperor of Sand’: “My choices of amps for each song were unlimited during the recording process, but I mainly used my Friedman Butterslax amp head for the chunky, super heavy stuff. I used an old Silvertone Sears amp for a lot of the clean stuff. We dug in deep and applied the amp’s different sounds, effects, and keyboards to give the songs that third dimension. It’s really a good sounding record.”

What effects pedals does Bill Kelliher use?

Bill Kelliher told Loudwire that he’s been using Fractal Audio’s Axe FX for a few years, dialling in his favourite sounds via a multi FX unit rather than utilising a pedalboard. “It’s just like a gigantic toy store,” Kelliher gushes. “I believe it sounds just as good as having a whole pedal board full of pedals … A lot of writing some of these parts [for Emperor of Sand] just came from me just turning the knob on that in my home studio.” However, if this multi FX unit is out of your budget, Bill relied on a variety of products from TC Electronics to get his sound. The following image below, from TC Electronics’ site shows exactly what he used before switching out to a single unit. As you can see here, Bill utilises the following pedals as part of his live and studio setup:
  • TC Electronic Sub’N’ Up Octaver
  • TC Electronic Polytune Clip
  • TC Electronic Polytune Mini
  • TC Electronic Corona Chorus
  • TC Electronic Flashback Delay
  • TC Electronic Shaker Vibrato
  • TC Electronic Spark Booster
  • TC Electronic Rottweiler Distortion
  • TC Electronic Nova System
  • TC Electronic G-System
  • TC Electronic NDR-1 Nova Drive
He has also been known to use a selection of MXR pedals, including the following: In addition, Digitech’s official website state that Bill uses the following:
  • DigiTech Whammy (4th Gen)
  • DigiTech Hardwire Series SC-2 Valve Distortion Guitar Effects Pedal
  • DigiTech Bad Monkey Tube Overdrive
  • As well as the DigiTech JML2 JamMan Stereo Looper and Phrase Sampler
Thanks for reading our Bill Kelliher gear guide! If you’re fan of Mastodon like us, why not check out Bill’s bandmates signature guitar – the Fender Troy Sanders Signature Jaguar Bass. This is now available to special order at PMT, so make sure you call 0151 448 2089 to reserve yours! The Fender Troy Sanders Jaguar Bass Rosewood Fingerboard Silver Burst features a resonant alder body and maple neck with comfortable “C” shape profile – ideal for playing long gigs and hitting those huge riffs with ease. The lush Silverburst finish is also featured on the matching headstock and the special remission-logo neck plate includes Sanders’ signature. The American Standard split single-coil Precision Bass middle pickup and custom Noiseless single-coil Jazz Bass bridge pickup with upper-horn active/passive switch allows for a variety of different tones whether you need heavy rock or slow, clean sounds. Shop the Bill Kelliher Signature guitarsover at PMT online today or call in to your local PMT store to try it out for yourself!