In this article we study Elliott Smiths guitars and the gear he used.
In his short life (he died in 2003 at the age of 34) Elliott Smith made some truly great music – songs that will live on for a long time.
In the 5 albums he released while alive (2 were released posthumously) he covered a lot of ground – from the moody ‘Needle in the Hay‘ (Johnny Depp reportedly used this song to get into character for his role in Secret Garden) to the joyful and buoyant ‘Waltz #2 (XO)’ he played with a lot of sounds.
Elliott Smith’s last show in NYC
So here’s a break down of the equipment he used. This is by no means an exhaustive list of Elliott Smiths guitars and gear – if you’ve anything to add (or if we’ve got anything wrong) shoot us a comment at the bottom of the article.
Elliott Smiths Guitars – Electric Guitars
Elliott Smith mainly played 2 Gibson ES-330’s
– a pre-1969 red one in standard tuning
– a 1969 or later sunburst one in open d (dadf#ad)
The difference between the pre and post 1969 ES-330 is the fret at which the neck joins the body – the post at the 19th fret and the pre at the 16th.
Elliott Smiths Amps
Elliott used a King Royale K-35 head from Top Hat Amplification. The King Royale has two channels featuring high and low inputs – The first channel, with simple volume and tone controls, is derived from a classic Vox AC-30. The second channel comes from the classic Vox AC-30 “Top Boost” and features: Volume, Treble, Mid, Bass, Master Volume (source)
Classy bit of kit, and with a classy price tag to boot (over $2500 new).
Elliott evidently had a thing about the Vox AC-30 sound – he was also seen playing a Vox AC-30 on the Conan O’ Brian show (playing his song ‘Son Of Sam’) – check it out below.
Elliott Smith’s best known for his acoustic songs, so let’s take a look at what he played.
Elliott Smiths Acoustic Guitars
As for acoustic guitars, Elliott’s choice was pretty eclectic! He played a top end Gibson J-45, a (relatively) cheap 1970’s Yamaha FG180 and on odd occasions the Yamaha FG402.
Talking about the Yamaha FG180, over to Elliott… “it’s a real standard-looking guitar,” he says. “it’s big and loud and made out of light wood. i don’t use a pick when i play most of the time, and i chew my fingernails, so it’s a good guitar for me because it’s really loud.”
Acoustic Guitar Pick Ups
Rare Earth Magnetic Soundhole Pickup
For his acoustic pick up, he used a ‘Rare Earth Magnetic Soundhole Pickup’ with the Gibson J-45.
For his Yamaha, he preferred to use a metal soundhole pick up. “I go direct,” he said. “I have one of those pickups that fits in the soundhole, a lawrence. it was real cheap, like 40 bucks. it’s the only one of those i’ve seen that has a metal cover instead of wood or plastic. i like it a lot better than a bridge pickup. it doesn’t sound glassy or slick.”
Elliott Smiths Pedals
Elliott used a Line 6 DL-4 delay modeller on some of his electric songs – the array of delay effects is mind boggling. From gritty and psychedelic to pristine and heavenly.
Budda Phatman Tube Overdrive Pedal
He also used the Budda Phatman tube overdrive. Traditional stompboxes sometimes add unwanted colour to your sound (when applied to the front end of your amp). The Phatman circuit lets you hear the true tone of your amp and guitar.
Other Elliott Smith Gear
I don’t honestly know how important cables are to Elliott’s sound, but he supposedly favoured Monster cables.
Ready to play?
So that should have given you some ideas about how to create the Elliott Smith sound. We’d love to hear from you if you’ve got info about his gear – we’d like to make this page the de facto place for Elliott Smiths guitars and gear on the web.
In case you had any doubt to the man’s talents, check out this footage from The Jon Brion show. Sheer magic.
Ged is Founder and Editor-in-chief at Zing Instruments. He’s a guitarist for London based gypsy jazz band ‘Django Mango’ and a lover of all things music. When he’s not ripping up and down the fretboard, he’s tinkering with his ’79 Campervan.