Graham Coxon has been hailed as one of the greatest British guitarists of the 90s. With his band Blur he became one of the driving forces of the Britpop genre.
Although this fantastic little era of music more or less vanished (at least in terms of new chart toppers being explicitly called ‘Britpop’ – which was always a marketing gimmick), it did produce some of the most fascinating riffs and creative uses of equipment ever heard.
Coxon stood right at the center of this maelstrom of music. But it wasn’t the man alone creating those sounds.
Although he freely admits to the fact that once upon a time he had literally no idea how to choose his equipment, he quickly learned to select the bits and pieces that best worked for him.
Either that, or he was just really good at making random bits stick together, held by the glue of his irresistible playing style.
Which Guitars Did Coxon Use?
The Fender Telecaster was key to the cheeky, chirpy upbeat riffs Coxon produced. The legendary Telecaster has an unassuming tone which elevates in a way that’s harder to do with more aggressive guitars.
Coxon was absolutely enamored with Telecasters and has owned many different through his career.
The 1952 Tele
Arguably the most well known of Coxon’s guitars is the 1952 Tele.
Authentic vintage Tele’s have a knack for turning up in the hands of the greatest musicians, and there’s a reason for that.
These guitars, made in the 50s, have an immense range, thanks to the tone controls and pickups. They were also mass-produced in a manner that had never been done before by rivals such as Gibson or Rickenbacker.
Vintage Tele’s are affordable, easy to repair and have the right combination of pickups and tone controls to create the type of sound you need. They are very capable of going from light and melodic to having a powerful ‘cut’ through other musicians, ensuring that the guitar sound is never drowned out.
The 1968 Tele
Coxon eventually grew to favor the 1968 model he owned – although even Coxon wasn’t entirely sure whether it was a ‘68 or ‘69.
The debate still hasn’t been officially settled as far as we can tell. In either case, there were some differences between this and his ‘52.
Unlike the earlier model, this one featured a humbucker pickup in the bridge position. This allowed for a slightly thicker and warmer sound, whilst still enabling a lot of the brighter tones that would be produced by an all single coil guitar.
The Graham Coxon Telecaster
Before we take a look at Coxon’s non-Telecaster guitars, there’s one more that it would be impossible to ignore – his very own signature model.
The design is built on the foundations of the 1969 Tele that he owned, but the pickups have a unique configuration.
In the neck position, we have a Seymour Duncan SH-1 Humbucker, and in the bridge are retro-sounding single-coil pickups. This combination enables a lot of versatility.
The guitar possesses the clarity that you’d expect from an instrument with Coxon’s name on it, and it gives his style of playing a great boost. This versatility is what makes the guitar so excellent, and you’d be hard pressed to find one that manages to perform so well in so many situations.
Coxon’s Gibson Guitars
Coxon’s also been known to make use of a few Gibson guitars, although he’s never given them quite the same level of praise as his beloved Telecasters. Despite that, he has chosen some of the greatest Gibson guitars around – including a personal favorite of mine, the SG Special.
Coxon’s was a 1962 model. These vintage versions are less budget-friendly than the newer versions and include some stylings which are now absent.
Overall, they have a much darker and heavier tone, influenced in part by the use of P-90 pickups, which lack the same level of brightness that can be seen in the single-coil designs used in the Telecasters.
Coxon’s soft spot for P90 pickups is probably why he never got stuck with the “jangly” descriptor like his contemporary Johnny Marr.
One of the most recent developments was his custom made ‘Grayling’ by Gray Guitars.
It takes inspiration from a few different sources, but in terms of structure, its biggest influence is going to be the Gibson ES-335 due to the solid central area and hollow sides – although the Grayling lacks the f-holes.
This guitar has a punchy, almost raw sound with strong sustain, but amazingly holds the clarity of each individual note quite well.
Coxon has been known to play a Gibson ES-335 as well, so if you’re looking for something that approaches the sound of the Grayling, that’s worth a try.
Which Strings Did Coxon Use?
With his electric guitars, Coxon was a fan of using heavy top/skinny bottom Ernie Ball strings. These, as the name suggests, give you an interesting mix of the qualities of light and heavy gauge strings.
You’ll need a decent bit of finger strength for barre chords, but this allows for a much warmer and thicker aspect of your guitar playing to come through, whilst still allowing for the delicate and intricate work that comes with a good lead line.
When stringing his acoustic guitars, Coxon opts for a copper/zinc set (like these Elixir Light Nanoweb 80/20 strings) to provide a punchy sound.
This is unusual but not unheard of, and you’ll find many fingerstyle guitarists out who choose the same type of strings to suit their style of playing.
Coxon’s Acoustic Guitars
Now, it’s time to give Coxon’s acoustic guitars their moment in the spotlight.
Although their use is rather sparse in comparison, featuring rather standard chord strumming in his work with Blur, Coxon did have a special affinity for acoustics and particularly enjoyed developing his ability as a fingerstyle guitarist.
His acoustic guitars have featured more heavily in his solo work, and you can see the time and effort he put into mastering a new skill set, showing that he wasn’t only creative, but also a hard worker who would dedicate the time to mastering his technical proficiency.
The Ralph Brown OM
Coxon predominantly uses a custom made Ralph Brown OM.
Ralph Brown’s guitars have built up a reputation for being excellent quality – although they aren’t the easiest things to get hold of, due to the fact that he doesn’t have much of an online presence. Getting your hands on one is likely to require a trip to New York to visit his workshop.
If you’re looking for something a little bit more mainstream, but one that is equally good, you could take a look at the Martin OM-28.
This was one of Coxon’s first acoustic guitars and was the one that he developed his fingerpicking technique on, so you’re in good hands.
The Gibson J-160E
Coxon was also spotted playing a Gibson J-160E, and performed acoustic versions of one of Blur’s most well-known songs, ‘Parklife’ using it on an MTV performance back in the early 90s.
let’s take a listen…
Which Amps Did Coxon Use?
Of course, Coxon has used many other guitars during his time, but the ones we’ve discussed so far represent the major pieces. But no matter which guitar he used, it was only part of the story. It’d be impossible to talk about his music without also taking a look at the backline, so let’s dive into his choice of amps.
The Marshall 1959
During Blur’s heyday, Coxon wasn’t particularly adventurous with amps. He mostly went with the same setup in every gig: a pair of Marshall 1959 Super Line reissues. These aren’t the best amps ever made, but you can sometimes get the Marshall 1959 HW model for a more reasonable price without sacrificing the raw vintage tone that’s powered British rock for decades.
In terms of speakers, Coxon would normally have these connected to Marshall 1969 speakers – the 4×12 version. Marshall also produced a column version of these speakers, but they are far less practical.
If you’re looking to replicate the tone of these, there’s no need to go for this exact head/speaker combo – there are many good Marshall amps out there that still have the same capabilities and you don’t need to go for vintage models each time. In fact, a good combo amp with modeling capabilities will do just as well.
The 1962 Bluesbreaker
Coxon has recently been known to use combo amps himself. Of particular note was the 1962 Bluesbreaker, also by Marshall.
This amp has quite a history, first shooting to fame in the capable hands of Eric Clapton, and it quickly carved out a spot for itself in the annals of rock and roll history. Since then, it’s been used by countless musicians, and it speaks volumes that Coxon is included among them.
A reissue version of these amps has made them more accessible, although they’re still not cheap.
Which Effects Pedals Did Coxon Use?
Since the Blur reunion tour and in his solo work, we’ve seen that Coxon hasn’t lost his touch. In fact, he’s become more assertive and that comes through in his creative use of effects.
His footwork on the pedals is on par with his playing ability. Like any Britpop lad worth his salt, he’d have made a decent football player. His extensive use of different effects carries the torch that the 1980s shoegazer music once held – although not to quite the same degree, as Coxon doesn’t spend his entire time performing with his head down watching his pedals.
His custom pedalboard stands out, as it’s not the sort of thing that every guitarist would consider being worth that level of expense. But, when you think about it, the pedalboard itself can be the whole foundation for your effects line up.
When we take a look at Coxon’s range of effects, there are a few that stand out. It would be impossible to ignore his DOD FX76 Punkifier, which featured heavily in ‘Song 2’.
The transition is probably one of the least subtle use of effects I’ve ever heard – but it’s all the more brilliant for that. With this pedal (in conjunction with a few others of course), he transforms his guitar into… some sort of weird buzz? I don’t know how to describe it exactly, but it’s so lo-fi sounding that it made Black Metal musicians jealous.
Let’s indulge ourselves and take a listen to Song 2:
Alongside the Punkifier, Coxon makes frequent use of a ProCo RAT II Distortion pedal – which just further adds to that filthy guitar tone. Although it’s often associated with metal, Coxon’s playing style puts his own stamp on the RAT.
Coxon also uses a lot of effects which wouldn’t be out of place in a beginners line-up, which just goes to show that you don’t need to spend a fortune on boutique pedals in order to sound good.
Like many other guitarists, Coxon’s preferred brand is Boss.
There’s one very good reason why Coxon uses so many Boss pedals: they get the job done and they do it reliably. They tend to be built like a tank.
The other thing that makes them great is that they use the stomp-box style footswitch, rather than the more delicate buttons that you’d find on other brands such as Electro-Harmonix.
Granted, Coxon does use a few of their pedals as well, but it’s just so much easier to hit a Boss Pedal and not have to worry about anything.
The Electro-Harmonix pedals that Coxon uses are the Holy Grail reverb and HOG2 Octave. Although I can’t claim to know the man’s thoughts, I can take a guess as to why he has two different reverb pedals.
The Boss RV-5 has a much larger range of reverb styles to choose from as a digital pedal, and this fits well with an experimental guitarist like Coxon.
The Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail on the other is analog, and although it has a far more limited selection of reverbs to choose from, the tone of those has been fine-tuned to a greater degree.
Coxon has a few pedals in both an analog and digital form. This gives him more options for what kind of sounds he can create, rather than being limited to one or the other.
One of his more interesting pedals is the Shin-Ei FY-2 Companion Fuzz, which is nigh impossible to find for sale these days, as it was discontinued a long time ago.
Even more frustrating, there are two different versions of the pedal which sounded wildly different to each other – so if you ever do find one, you’ll definitely want to play it first to see which one you’ve got.
It’s most likely that you’ll come across the silicon transistor variety – but if you wish upon a shooting star, sell your soul to the devil and find a genie in a lamp, you might just get hold of one of FY-2 pedals that used the Germanium transistors instead.
Since there’s almost no chance of that actually happening, you might want to look into the various FY-2 clones out there instead. It’ll save you a lot of time and money.
Line 6 Pedals
Each of these pedals, as the names suggest, model the unique characteristics of dozens of other effects pedals in their category.
This will save you a ton and give you access to a wide variety of creative options.
Of course, it’s slightly less limited than actually having a huge collection of pedals you can chain together in any weird and wonderful combination. It’s also never going to be exactly the same as having an authentic analog pedal, but they are well worth the money compared to what each of the original pedals would cost individually.
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.