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What's a Cover Guitar and Why do I need one?

Gretsch Double Jet and Fender Nashville Telecasters are great platforms for Cover Guitars

Gretsch Double Jets and Fender Nashville Telecasters are great platforms for Cover Guitars

If you have been playing a while, you know that it’s not easy to replicate the sound of The Allman brothers, Metalica and Garth Brookes on the same guitar. If you need to cover a wide range of tones with one guitar, Cover Guitars are designed to help you reproduce the specific styles and sounds of the popular songs that your audience knows.

Of course, your set list may not cover metal to country and you may have many guitars that cover many styles.

However, due to the economics and challenges of managing multiple stage guitars, you are probably better off with one or two Cover Guitars that have the flexibility to reproduce the songs that your band covers.

And by limiting the number of guitars that you perform with, you increase the knowledge of your Cover Guitar, increasing its versatility over time.

A well designed Cover Guitar has many advantages:

  • Cover band musicians need to cover many sounds within a set or even a single song. Think about More Than a Feeling- someone has to play the acoustic introduction while two electrics tones are necessary 30 seconds later for the leads into the chorus- It’s absolutely clear that cover guitars need to support extremely rapid ‘gear shifting’.

  • The care and feeding of a large collection of specialized guitars is expensive– And taking a variety of great guitars out in public is ultimately a sad day waiting to happen. Guitars get knocked off of stands, they get stolen and wear and tear is expected. Cover guitars are usually designed to be tough and replaceable.

  • Of course, there’s always some compromise with a cover guitar- i.e., Strat controls and pickups favor Strat sounds- However, by balancing a wide variety of options, a modified Strat can easily cover Tele, Les Paul and acoustic territory and this is essentially true starting with any solid body. The bottom line is that Cover Guitars do a good job sounding like other guitars.

So how do we come up with your perfect Cover Guitar?

The first step is choosing the underlying platform; a guitar that feels good, sounds good and is as close as we can get to your requirements:

  • If you prefer shorter scales, PRS, Gretsch, Ibanez, Yamaha and Gibson produce a wide range of dual humbucker designs that are easily modded.

  • If you are more comfortable with long scale guitars, Telecasters and Strat style guitars are easily expanded to cover practically any tone.

  • And thanks to our strong partnership with Born Again Guitars, we can design and build a Cover Guitar from scratch- a custom guitar that maximizes your sound and feels like the Guitar You Dream About.

Most guitars that work well as Cover Guitar platforms tend to be flexible and affordable- Examples include:

  • Nashville Telecaster- Integrates the best of a Telecaster and Strat in the same guitar and early models included a Piezo pickup for acoustic tones. To move into humbucker sounds, pickup replacement and tone modifying circuits are required.

  • Ibanez RG Series HSS (Humbucker, Single, Single)- A humbucker bridge can be used to emulate most cutting, warm and fat humbucker sounds, while the single sized pickups can support more traditional Fenderish sounds. Many RGs come with high quality trem/vibrato/whammy bars necessary for many styles of music.

  • If you prefer the short scale, dual humbucker feel, Gretsch Jet’s are relatively inexpensive and highly modable- With the Jet, you are starting with mini-bucker size pickups and that can be an advantage when we need a variety of single and humbucker sounds.

Of course Les Pauls, SGs, Flying Vs and Explorers, Jazzmasters and Jaguars (essentially any solid body electric that is stable and feels good), all have Cover Guitar potential.

So after we’ve identified a guitar that’s rugged, feels and sounds good

  • If acoustic sounds are necessary, adding piezo elements is a great place to start

  • Combining individual coils for humbucker sounds (the PRS approach) is an effective way to get thin and thick tones

  • Splitting and parallel coils are another way to make humbuckers sound more like single coils

  • Series, Out of Phase, Bass Roll off, Blenders, and Tone switches are additional options that increase a guitars ‘bandwidth’ and we cover them in more detail below.

Noise reduction is almost always necessary with a Cover Guitar because you never know when you will perform in a buzzy room. As a result, most Cover Guitar combinations are humbucking and we have a lot of experience getting extremely usable single coil sounds while fighting the noise.

At the same time, controls need to be intuitive. Understanding your ‘workflow’, the way you like to make changes and what feels good, is one of the most important aspects of Cover Guitar design.

  • Switches that move from ‘Thicker’ to ‘Thinner” is one approach for logical fast moves- If you miss a position, you’re still close to a similar sound.

  • Or the “Rhythm in the Middle” approach, where alternate lead tones live at opposite ends of the switch, is another logical approach for the same reason.

  • And we usually say that a performance guitar is never finished, because it is likely that you will find a few more tricks as you become more comfortable with switching patterns- so it’s not unusual to add more options over time that might overwhelm a newbie.

As mentioned above, unless you are covering a single style of music, it’s likely that you will need a combination of thicker and thinner sounds and there are many ways to obtain those tones:

  • Single coils can be combined for humbucking tones

  • Humbuckers can be wired parallel to self for thinner, ‘Fenderish’ Tones- (this is a great alternative to split coils.)

  • Spin-a- split options can provide alternative ‘Fenderish’ sounds

  • Combining spin-a-split with our ‘Hyperquack’ mod provides extreme tonal variety on HSS guitars

  • Half Out Of Phase wiring can provide additional ‘Stratish’ tones

  • Bass roll off is a wonderful way to reduce thickness on a fat guitar- surfacing more articulate rhythms and ornamentation

  • Blower switches (control bypass) can add overtones and brightness to a dark pickup and may provide a slight volume boost.

  • Series and variable series pickups can provide powerful, thick and dark tones similar to many of Brain May’s (Queen) timbres. One of the best ways to beef up a single coil

  • Out of phase pickups can really thin out a thick guitar or provide the distinctive blues sound made famous by B.B. King and Peter Green of Fleetwood Mac

  • Combining Series and Out of Phase, can create a thin, searing cutting tone- a Jimmy Page favorite.

  • Blender mods, that provide unusual pickup or series /parallel combinations, can provide a wide variety of tones on any guitar.

  • Switchable and variable tone capacitors (including the classic Gibson Varitone) are underused approaches that increase Cover Guitar flexibility.

And once we have a really good idea of the sounds and required mods, we dig into pickups and components- the differences in 250, 350 and 500k pots are significant and the differences in pickups are immense.

Assuming you need a humbucker in the bridge, does a Seymour Duncan Pearly Gates, A Dimarzio Super Distortion, Gibson Burstbucker 3 or a Joe Barden Two Tone make sense? Clearly, pickups are one one of the biggest variables and we address this question in context after we define goals and the overarching design.

We didn’t have room to get into the effects, modeling and flexible amps that can be central to a Cover Guitar discussion, so feel free to contact me at the to dig into details.

And take a look at a great Cover Guitar example with video clips! Turning a Parker Nitefly into a great Cover Guitar.

Thanks for reading the Guitar You Dream About Blog!

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As you can see, there are many, many variables when we help you discover your perfect Cover Guitar. The challenge, and opportunity, is helping you find the right combination of tones and controls and the good news is that we have the experience to help you discover your best sound...

  • Want ‘fatter’ options for your Strat? Or options to sound more like a Les Paul or a Tele? Blenders, series and most pickup mods are easily reversible.

  • Need your Les Paul, SG or other humbucking guitar to cover a broader spectrum? Custom pickups and easily reversed modification can make your guitar scream or snap with lots of new ground in between!

  • Looking for thicker Tele tones? A HOOP modification is easy and reversible- Routing for a Firebird neck pickup is a bigger option.

Contact ModManMike at The Guitar You Dream About for the pickups, wiring and controls that make your guitar sound like you!

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