Some guitar players are riff monsters, some play a million notes throughout a couple of minutes, while others use effects and minimalist playing to fill out an entire song. The last group of players are the players we’re going to talk about today — texture players.
Slightly different than effects-y players, like Tom Morello from Rage Against the Machine or Nels Cline from Wilco, texture players employ time-based effects like delays, loopers, choruses, reverbs and more to make their playing shine.
I want to go over some players and songs you can check out, what effects you can use to better get a grip on the style of texture playing, and what makes these players tick. Let’s jump right into effects.
Texture player effects
While playing sparse chords, arpeggios, patterns and other texture-esque riffs, you have to keep in mind that you’re trying to fill out an entire song with only so many notes. Whether that be single notes, chord stabs, or other playing, effects play a big role in filling out the sound. Less is certainly more, when it comes to this type of playing.
What are the most popular effects when it comes to texture playing? Time based effects, like delay (in all its forms, like tape delay, digital delay and more), reverb, chorus, phasers, filters and many other modulation effects.
There are a couple of things to keep in mind when trying to purchase time based effects. They’re essentially doing the most “math” when it comes to how they work, so they’re typically pricier than something like a distortion pedal or an EQ. Also, if you’re using a plugin form of a delay/reverb, they take up the most processing power. The best bet when using a delay or reverb plugin, is to try and share the effect by sending to it, rather than having 20+ time based effects on one track.
I’m going to have a number of posts on how to use a DAW (Digital Audio Workstation), such as Pro Tools or Logic to record your guitar. We’ll get more into digital routing when it comes to those posts, but for now, know that most recording programs come with these effects built right in. If you have a computer built within the last 5 years, you’re more than likely able to get some great guitar recording done on it, without any hiccups.
There are so many delay, reverb and chorus pedals out there, and a number of plugins as well, but I’d like to run down a few of my favorite boxes to use.
Boss DD line - Where can I even start when it comes to Boss pedals? They’ve been around forever, are built like little tanks, and sound pretty great for their price point. Check out this link to check out more of their delays and reverb pedals. Any of the DD line would be a great place to start when it comes to delay. I’ve personally used a DD-6, and it still holds a spot on my pedalboard.
MXR pedals - MXR is another brand that’s been around forever (owned by Dunlop). They make lots of great pedals. Check out this page to go right to their modulation section. You have great pedals like the MXR Phase 90 which is a classic, their amazing Carbon Copy delay, and many more.
Earthquaker Devices pedals - If you want to weird up your sound a bit while playing texture riffs, check out Earthquaker Devices pedals. They have everything from the bounce all over the room Rainbow Machine, to the envelope filter Spatial Delivery pedal. These pedals are unique, and you can get a lot of interesting sounds out of them.
Line 6 Stompbox Modelers - If you want a wide variety of effects in one pedal, you should check out the Line 6 Stompbox Modelers. They model famous effects pedals, and allow you to grow your effects arsenal very quickly. Check out the DL4 and MM4 for Delay and Modulation effects, and the FM4 (one of my favorites) for Filter Modeling.
Positive Grid’s BIAS FX - I love what Positive Grid has done over the last couple of years when it comes to amp modeling. They also do a great job of FX modeling. Check out BIAS FX for the desktop or on your iOS device. You can come up with great presets, download artist presets from ToneCloud, and lots more. This is a great place to start if you’re recording guitar yourself (which you should be!)
These are just a couple of big brands and boutique manufacturers, but there are lots of people out there making great effects. Make it a point to find out what your favorite player is using, and try and incorporate that into your playing! You can get stuck in a rabbit hole on YouTube when checking out effects, but it’s a great resource when trying to listen to a pedal or plugin before you buy it.
Texture players to check out
We’ve talked a lot about the effects that you can use when it comes to filling out a song while texture playing, but effects are only part of the battle. If you want this style of playing to work, you have to carefully choose notes and chords to play. Here are some of the greatest texture players to listen to for inspiration.
The Edge / U2
You have to include the Edge when it comes to texture guitar playing. Not only is his playing interesting, but he’s sold a lot of records with U2 as well. The Edge isn’t only a texture guitar player (as witnessed on songs like When Love Comes to Town with B.B. King and U2), but many of U2’s songs have ethereal guitar tones.
Listen to 2000’s Beautiful Day, where he incorporates pitch shifting, delay and more. Check out the verse where he has tape delays, filters and other effects all going at the same time. Or listen to classics like I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and Pride (In the Name of Love), which are both master classes in delay.
The Edge’s effects rig is oftentimes controlled by his guitar tech under the stage, and looks like an enormous fridge of rack effects, pedals and more. It’s truly a site to behold, and amazes me that it works at all. Edge is usually playing a 70’s Gibson Explorer or a 70’s Fender Strat, into a Vox AC30.
In addition to using the effects in his arsenal, he uses chord stabs, harmonics, EBow sustained notes, and shimmering open strings. If you only listened to one player for texture guitar playing, you’d be great listening to the Edge. I plan to take an even deeper dive on the effects and ways he uses notes to make his playing sound like more than 1 guitarist playing in a future post. If you’d like to get an inside look at the Edge, check out the movie It Might Get Loud, which features three very different guitar players - The Edge, Jimmy Page of Zeppelin and Jack White.
Jonny Greenwood / Radiohead
Whether it’s noise, filtered delays, or some pitch shifted heavenly notes, Jonny Greenwood’s playing is a force to be reckoned with. Like the Edge, his playing is minimal, but effective.
Greenwood is known to use looper pedals, envelope filters, the Digitech Whammy and more. He also popularized the use of Korg’s Kaoss Pad, using it for guitar and voice. To watch Jonny onstage messing with effects, keyboards, and walls of patch cables, is truly a sight to behold.
If you want to get an idea of what Jonny can do, look no further than Radiohead’s seminal album OK Computer. There are absolutely beautiful filtered delays on everything from songs like Airbag to Subterranean Homesick Alien. Truly incredible sounds. And if you wants to listen to weird effects, take a listen to Paranoid Android and Karma Police, which later influenced albums liked Kid A and others.
Jonny’s texture playing is in a class of its own. His use of effects is tasteful, and make his riffs something to study for years. You’ll always hear something different each time.
Andy Summers / The Police
Similar to U2, Andy Summers is known for his chime-y sound in the Police. Andy is another wizard of delay and chorus. Just listen to classics like Message In A Bottle, Walking on the Moon or So Lonely.
It’s totally worth it to dip further into the Police’s catalog too. With great songs like the reggae stylings of Man In A Suitcase, the cool rolling lines of Mrs. Gradenko or Murder By Numbers, and the upbeat Canary In A Coalmine, there’s so much to take from Andy’s playing.
Andy is known to use a Fender Strat as his main guitar of choice, and utilizes pedals like an MXR Phase 90, an Echoplex, loopers, delays and lots more. He’s always been known as the less is more player throughout guitar history, and it’s worked in a major way for the Police.
Study some of Andy’s angular lines, and see how they can fit into your playing. If you want to improve your clean playing at all, Andy Summers is a great guitar player to listen to.
There are so many great texture players out there, and I want to reiterate that while gear is cool, it’s really about what you do with it and what notes you’re playing that makes this type of music magical. You could have all the peals that the Edge or Jonny Greenwood has, but without the creativity it’d be worth nothing.
If you’re looking to check out even more players, take a listen to David Gilmour from Pink Floyd, Alex Lifeson from Rush, Robert Fripp and Adrian Belew of King Crimson, and newer artists like Minus the Bear, who are using technology, pedals, and smart playing to create really great songs that stand out.
Who would you like me to cover?
I’d love to know who your favorite texture player is. Let me know by reaching out on Twitter or Facebook. If there’s someone you’d like me to cover more in depth, with riffs and audio examples, I’d be happy to.
We’re going to dive deeper into effects, recording, and the riffs behind these players throughout the months here at Chasing Sound, so stay tuned.