The signature Motown guitar tone

Discussion in 'Bad Dog Cafe' started by T_red7882, Jan 1, 2008.

  1. T_red7882

    T_red7882 Tele-Afflicted

    Dec 2, 2006
    San Francisco
    Does anyone know whothe big session player was back in the vintage motown days? I recently heard the song "clumsy" by Fergie, and while i don't particularly love the song, the guitar on the track really nails the motown sound. I've always assumed it was a tele bridge or p90 bridge with the tone rolled back out of a champ or something. Anyhow, i got to listening to some motown stuff and realized how much i love that tone. Anyone have any info on this?
  2. KokoTele

    KokoTele Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Mar 17, 2003
    albany, ny [not chicago]
    There were actually 3 big session players who all played on every track (or nearly every track): Eddie Willis, Joe Messina, and Robert White.

    I thought the same thing about that signature tone; so many tracks sound just like a Telecaster at its finest. It turns out that wasn't always the case. Joe Messina did play a Tele a lot (with a Jazzmaster neck), but it was strung with flatwound strings. He also used a Gibson L-5.

    In the documentary "Standing In The Shadows Of Motown" there's a clip of the band performing "Ain't Too Proud To Beg" and Eddie Willis playing that real trebly, staccato downbeat thing that he did so much, but he's doing it on a Firebird.

    The opening riff of "My Girl" sounds an awful lot like a Tele, maybe in the middle position with the pickups out of phase. Guess what? Robert White played that on a big Gibson humbucker archtop, picking with this thumb.

    Barry Gordy also infamously tried demanding that his session players use the really fancy Gibsons because he thought they were status symbols. He thought that the Gibson student models and Fenders were not guitars to be used by pros.

    I'm not sure what amps they used. My guess is that they used the bigger amps that were available so there would be enough clean headroom. I sure don't hear much tube overdrive on their tracks.
  3. pbenn

    pbenn Tele-Afflicted

    Apr 6, 2007
    eryque, thank you for that. I too am a fan of the Funk Brothers' guitar choir. I've often had a mental vision of what the guitar arsenal was, on any given song.

    In my dreams, it was always, high to low, Tele, Firebird/Strat, Gibson jazz box. And the positions were:

    Front beat, lots of whole notes, whole chords, also 1st position;
    Back beat, usually the Tele, and often in octave position;
    Baritone line, single string work, sometimes in opposition to the bass part, sometimes in Booker T-like concert, witness the Originals' "Why When Love Is Gone" in C or C sharp.

    When the Funks (with Babbitt) played Toronto the first time, they used SF Twins through the non-reverb channel and perhaps a JC-120 or even a Yamaha. Sort of pedal steel amps.

    The following article talks about the "B" level rare songs:

    There are about 48 new A-level tunes here, on perhaps B-level singers, but maybe only in promotion.
    Last edited: Jan 1, 2008
  4. olewichita

    olewichita Friend of Leo's

    Mar 16, 2003
    austin, tx
    the snake pit...

    the guitars and bass went straight into the board... no amplifiers were used at motown... the three guitar parts of joe messina, robert white and eddie willis were pre-mixed onto one track through a pre-amp and directly injected from there... james jamerson's bass went straight into the 8 track board... even dennis coffey rarely got to use an amp for his wild guitar parts when he joined the funk brothers during the psychedelic era... most motown recordings feature at least three guitar players excluding bass... tj

    Attached Files:

  5. casterway

    casterway Friend of Leo's

    Get, and watch. 'Standing in the Shadows of Motown' and learn. Lots. And lots.

  6. Ringo

    Ringo Poster Extraordinaire

    Mar 16, 2003
    Memphis TN
    re straight into the board

    I've read that too , that they recorded straight into the board, but the board was an analog tube powered board, must have used some compression too, listen to the guitar on My Girl.
    Can't argue with sucess, they got a great signature tone.
    Definately recommend seeing Standing in the Shadows of Motown, all those guys should have gotten more recognition.
  7. Oster

    Oster Friend of Leo's

    May 18, 2003
    Muddy York
    For me the signature Motown guitar sound was courtesy of Mr. Marv Tarplin, Smokey Robinson's collaborator and the man responsible for those really dreamy, catchy intros to The Miracles' best known songs (ie, 'Tracks Of My Tears'). I think he was a Les Paul Custom man.
  8. olewichita

    olewichita Friend of Leo's

    Mar 16, 2003
    austin, tx
    other than the regulares, white, messina willis and coffey and the aforementioned marv tarplin - wah wah watson and cornelius grant come to mind... grant played a telecaster also... tj
  9. bowman

    bowman Friend of Leo's

    Sep 15, 2006
    Years ago I saw a much larger, color photo of that weird 5-channel box that is behind the guitar players in olewichita's attached pic. I don't know what it is, some kind of preamp probably, but that's the gizmo that the guitarists all played into on every Motown recording.
  10. Roli

    Roli Banned

    Jun 28, 2005
    ¤ Hungary ¤
  11. kludge

    kludge Tele-Afflicted

    Aug 30, 2006
    Thanks for that link! I've been working really hard to get the vocals on a track to sound exciting AND be dynamic, and this may just be the trick.
  12. Charlie Bernstein

    Charlie Bernstein Poster Extraordinaire

    Apr 26, 2003
    Augusta, Maine
  13. KokoTele

    KokoTele Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Mar 17, 2003
    albany, ny [not chicago]
    Actually, you should buy it. :) My grocery store has been selling it for $10 for the last couple of years.
  14. BritishBluesBoy

    BritishBluesBoy Former Member

    Oct 19, 2006
    Brooklyn, NY
    On the recommendation of you guys I just watched Standing in the shadows of Motown. All I can say is WOW. Absolutely amazing. All of it.

    If you haven't seen it. Get it. See it now.
  15. Unseen

    Unseen Former Member

    Dec 18, 2007
    Portland, Oregon
    I have two dual humbucker guitars, and I sometimes get some tones which resemble tele tones more than you might think possible.
  16. KokoTele

    KokoTele Doctor of Teleocity Vendor Member

    Mar 17, 2003
    albany, ny [not chicago]
    Me too :) I always thought that "Drift Away" was the epitome of every aspect of a Telecaster. There are licks in there that sounded just like a Tele in the neck position, in the bridge position, and in the middle. It turns out that Reggie Young played those parts on a Les Paul Deluxe.
  17. Doug Ferguson

    Doug Ferguson Friend of Leo's

    Jan 3, 2008
    Indianapolis, IN

    +1. The second disc has some fantistic "teaching moments". It's remarkable how well White, Willis, and Messina worked so well together. Like 3 guitars becoming one.
  18. stantheman

    stantheman Doctor of Teleocity

    Jun 10, 2003
    White Mountains
    FWIW - Johnny "Guitar" Watson was a straight into the board guy too.
    I still think that he had THE BEST TONE ON STUDIO RECORDINGS that I've ever heard especially during the "Its A Real Motherforya" period.
    You'd SWEAR it was Tele - but it wasn't!:cool:
  19. Telarkaster

    Telarkaster Friend of Leo's

    Aug 25, 2007
    Yes, that's the dirty secret about Les Pauls: fiddle with the knobs and you can get a HUGE variety of sounds. :eek:

    Of course it means nothing if you don't have a dedicated tambourine player in your band!:twisted:
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