Gather round as we demystify Kevin Shields’ pedalboard (it’s a behemoth). The My Bloody Valentine guitar sound is synonymous with shoegaze guitar (heck, he basically invented it!).
It’s completely otherworldly. A crunchy wall of sound, yet incredibly dreamy and beautiful. It’s in that push and pull between aggression and beauty that we find what makes shoegaze such an incredible genre.
The way Kevin Shields bends his whammy bar as he strums chords creates this warped, almost moaning sound. It feels very human, but alien at the same time. It’s incredibly expressive, full of feeling and emotion.
I remember when I first discovered My Bloody Valentine. It was like my brain couldn’t comprehend what I was hearing. There was no previous reference points to latch onto. I found myself returning back to Loveless until it all clicked, and now they’re one of my favourite bands ever. They’ve influenced my music in so many different ways.
I’m going to run you through exactly what you need to get the My Bloody Valentine guitar sound, straight from Kevin Shields’ pedalboard. This is a great place to start if you want to collect some shoegaze pedals, if you’ve been chasing the MBV tone for a while now, or even if you’re just starting to explore guitar pedals.
If you’ve come here looking for shoes to gaze at, then you’ve hit the wrong link, friend – head to this article instead 😉
If you want to immediately sound like MBV with just 1 pedal, then I have good news for you – there is a pedal that does everything I’m about to talk about. All of this in just 1 pedal! Pretty amazing.
If you can’t wait and just want to jump straight to that section then CLICK HERE, but be sure to read the rest of the article for some killer tips and tricks to becoming a shoegaze wizard.
Here’s a quick and easy guide for your convenience with some alternative pedal suggestions. Read the full article for the low-down on each step:
|Roger Mayer Axis Fuzz
Vox Tone Bender
ALT 1: Death By Audio Fuzz War
ALT 2: Keeley Electronic Fuzz Bender
ALT: Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai
|Guitar w/ Glide Guitar Technique
|Fender Jazzmaster Guitar
|ALL OF THE ABOVE
|Keeley Loomer Fuzz & Reverb Pedal
I’ll start by showing you exactly what Kevin Shields has sitting on his pedalboards (yes, he has multiple!). Then I’ll simplify this for you so you know exactly what you need to buy (instead of buying about 50 individual pedals)…
The Complete Kevin Shields Pedalboard
Take a deep breath, this is gonna make your head spin. Here is a complete list of one iteration of Kevin Shields’ pedalboard if you want the nitty-gritty details of his setup. All the pedals are numbered so you can easily find what you’re looking for.
Now obviously pedalboards change (especially in the case of someone like Shields who is always chasing the holy grail and trying new things), but this is what he used at one time and it’s a great overview of his taste in shoegaze pedals (e.g. there’s no chorus pedals here!).
If you just want to know what the important elements are then keep scrolling or CLICK HERE to get the info you need to start making dreamy shoegaze guitar pedal soundscapes.
Kevin Shields Pedalboard #1
Kevin Shields Pedalboard #2
|1. MIDI Control Box
|2. DigiTech Whammy
|3. ZVex Lo-Fi Loop Junky
|4. MG That's Echo Folks Delay
|5. Lovetone Meatball Envelope Filter
|6. Death By Audio Octave Clang Octave Fuzz
Kevin Shields Pedalboard #3
This pedalboard is primarily used for the noisy “holocaust section” of You Made Me Realise. Use these bad boys to create some chaos.
|1. Morley Boost Wah
|2. Roger Mayer Octavia Fuzz
|3. DigiTech Whammy
|4. September Sound Envelope Filter Wah Fuzz
|5. Devi Ever Truly Beautiful Torn's Peaker Fuzz
|6. Catalinbread Ottava Magus Octave Fuzz
|7. Devi Ever Godzilla Fuzz
|8. Devi Ever Dream Mangler Bit-Crushing Fuzz
The 4 Basic Ingredients of the My Bloody Valentine Guitar Sound
Now that that’s out of the way, obviously Kevin Shields’ pedalboard is insane. He has multiple pedalboards crammed full.
Kevin Shields is one of the most notoriously perfectionist musicians of all-time, so he goes to great lengths to replicate this live.
Why So Many Pedals?
Looking at the pictures, you would think that he must be playing through a million effects at once, but his actual setup is surprisingly simple. The main reason for all these pedals is that he uses different combinations of them for different songs.
He switches between entire pedalboards and amp combinations with a simple footswitch, only activating a few at one time. That means there’s no need to have a panic attack about the amount of cash you need to spend on pedals to get the My Bloody Valentine guitar sound!
Shields himself has said: “People think it’s all pedals, but all my pedals are graphic equalizers and tone controls. It’s all in the tone.”
Now that’s a little bit of an oversimplification because his main “tone control” is through different textures of fuzzes. But Shields is placing emphasis on the fact that he doesn’t use a bunch of delays and modulation effects, like a lot of bands inspired by him do.
For example, “there’s no chorusing or anything like that” are words that came out of Shields’ mouth in 1992.
So really, his core sound boils down to just a few ingredients that he tweaks in different ways. And those ingredients are…
This is the main source of that crunchy MBV wall of sound that we all love. One look at Kevin Shields pedalboard will show you that he has used many many different fuzzes over the years.
He’s relentless in chasing unique fuzz tones that work in just the right way with whatever song he’s working on.
Fuzz is possibly the most unique of all the pedals, in that every one of them sounds different. Even just a slightly different circuit will produce an entirely different fuzz sound. It’s much more wild and unpredictable than standard distortion or overdrive, so it makes sense to collect different ones to get different textures.
Shields gets such a massive sound out of a simple fuzz pedal due to the chords that he strums. He uses open tunings and has unisons of the same note ringing out on different strings, which naturally have slight pitch differences. These have little frequency clashes that react in a gritty way with the fuzz.
There’s plenty of normal minor and major triads in there, but there’s also plenty of chords with extensions added to them, like major 7s, minor 9ths etc etc.
Because those chords have more notes and harmonic information, the notes rub up against each other and create these beautiful dissonances when they get slammed with the fuzz.
It’s as though the fuzz can’t handle all the frequency information being fed into it and it creates these huge growling tones in response.
Combine that with his “glide guitar” technique (details on that coming up!) and the other shoegaze pedals and you have an absolutely humungous guitar tone.
Roger Mayer Axis Fuzz – The ‘Loveless’ Fuzz
There is one fuzz in particular that seems to stand out for Shields, and that’s the Roger Mayer Axis Fuzz (and variations thereof).
Firstly, a moment of appreciation for how damn cool this thing looks! It looks like a spaceship, and that design is fitting because as soon as you stomp on it, you get blasted off into outer space.
The Axis Fuzz was used all over Loveless, so pairing it with all the points I’m about to touch on will get you that towering, fuzzy My Bloody Valentine guitar sound.
Vox Tonebender Fuzz – The Other ‘Loveless’ Fuzz
The Vox Tone Bender fuzz was also used a lot on Loveless and it’s one of the best shoegaze pedals for that fuzzy wall-of-sound guitar tone. It’s still seen on his pedalboard today, and man, it’s easy to see why.
Both of these things are the absolute holy grail of fuzz tones! I’ve never heard anything quite like these, so that means they aren’t cheap these days. They have jaw-dropping sounds, but they’re not manufactured anymore and are a rarity. Luckily, you can find other pedals that do a good job of replicating them.
Alternative Fuzz Pedal Options
The pedals above are amazing, but cheap they are NOT. They’re also really hard to come by because they were manufactured in the 1960s and are now discontinued.
This isn’t a problem though, because there are some amazing re-creations out there that use similar circuit designs to get you really close to the original sound.
There are amazing fuzz pedal companies everywhere these days, so you’ll have no issue getting authentic MBV tones with different pedals.
Here are a couple of great options, specifically for getting fuzzy Kevin Shields shoegaze guitar sounds:
1. Death By Audio Fuzz War
The Death By Audio Fuzz War is an EPIC fuzz pedal! It’s not your usual run-of-the-mill fuzz, and that’s why it’s so good for MBV fuzz tones.
It gets some crazy, gnarly slabs of fuzz, and running it with reverse reverb (like in the video above – more on reverse reverb coming up!) will conjure up those dreamy shoegaze soundwaves.
I love the sound of this pedal, and so do a lot of musicians, including John Dwyer of Thee Oh Sees who gets hands-down some of the greatest fuzz tones going around at the moment.
Give the Fuzz War a shot and you’ll be mindblown (maybe even literally, as the onslaught of fuzz rattles your brain).Check Current Price!
2. Keeley Electronics Fuzz Bender
Remember that Tone Bender pedal I was talking about earlier? The one Kevin Shields used on Loveless? Well, it’s back!
The Keeley Electronics Fuzz Bender is the successor to the original Tone Bender. This one is a souped-up version of the original with many more fuzz tones achievable.
You’ll get the My Bloody Valentine guitar sound and also have the versatility to take it a step further and start concocting your own original shoegaze textures.
It’s a fantastic option for getting that wall of sound without having to sell a kidney to afford the original thing.Check Current Price!
BONUS TIP – Stack Your Fuzz with an Overdrive
This is a really handy trick you can use to coax more tones out of your fuzz pedal.
Shields runs his fuzz into really loud amps, which naturally creates overdrive from the tubes starting to break up from the sheer volume. This adds extra texture and pushes the fuzz even further. They really go hand-in-hand with each other.
You can do this at lower volumes with an overdrive pedal, and you can manipulate the tone knob on the overdrive pedal to get different tones (e.g. a brighter/ripped speaker fuzz, or a darker/thicker fuzz).
I use the Boss BD-2 Blues Driver for this purpose. Don’t be put off by the name – it’s not just for blues. This thing can create thick waves of crunchiness, and I (and others) actually often use this pedal ALONE to create shoegaze sounds.
You crank the Gain knob up to max, play those dreamy shoegaze guitar chords and you get some otherworldly textures. It’s also a vital component to another dreamy band inspired by MBV – Tame Impala – and their fuzz sound.
Incredibly versatile pedal and it should be on everyone’s wishlist of shoegaze pedals (it’ll be your fuzz’s new best friend).Check Current Price!
Check this demo out below if you don’t believe me when I say that in a pinch you can just use this pedal alone for all your shoegaze guitar purposes:
2. Reverse Reverb – Yamaha SPX90 Digital Multi-Effects Processor
This one is awe-inspiring. It’ll get you that hypnotic, melting guitar sound that My Bloody Valentine are iconic for.
For his reverse reverb sounds, Kevin Shields uses a Yamaha SPX90 Digital Multi-Effects Processor, which he refers to as a “totally melted, sort of liquid sound”.
When people think of shoegaze pedals, they instantly think that you just get reverb and delay and crank them to the maximum. While a lot of modern shoegaze will do that, this is the wrong approach with My Bloody Valentine.
It may come as a surprise to you that Kevin Shields’ guitars are generally fairly dry (particularly on Loveless), with the exception of when he uses reverse reverb. Listen to To Here Knows When & Blown a Wish to hear this in action (loads of it is on the pre-Loveless material as well).
Reverse reverb is exactly what the name suggests. Reverb in reverse.
You lose a lot of the pick attack and you don’t have a big reverb tail that decays after. Chords and notes swell and bloom upwards and then chop off when you stop strumming. It creates a blurry, hazy, cloud-like texture.
Shields has said he uses this effect at 100% wetness, so it’s just the pure reverse reverb signal.
As a result, you’ll often find you have to learn to play things slightly ahead of the beat because the sound begins a bit after your pick hits the strings (there’s no dry guitar signal, so the volume has to swell up from zero first). This sounds difficult, but it’s actually not too hard once you try it.
This effect isn’t always used (in fact, it’s only on about 2-3 songs on Loveless – it’s far more prominent on Isn’t Anything & the EPs), but this is a big ingredient to what makes MBV’s music sound so otherworldly.Check Current Price!
Yamaha SPX90 Reverse Reverb Settings
The SPX90 is a bit of a beast with a lot of different effects and settings, so you’re gonna need to know what to look for to get the My Bloody Valentine reverse reverb sound. Here’s a quick rundown:
- mode – early reflection
- type – reverse or random (he uses them interchangeably, depending on the song)
- room size – max
- low-pass filtering – off
- pre-delay – minimum
- liveness setting – can vary, but about 7/10 is a good guide
Alternative Reverse Reverb – Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai
The SPX90 can be a little harder to come by and is not pedalboard-friendly at all (it’s rack gear, not a guitar pedal), so you might be more in the market for a guitar pedal that does reverse reverb instead.
The Electro-Harmonix Stereo Memory Man with Hazarai is the go-to for this because it has a reverse setting. There’s a great demonstration/tutorial of it here in this video:
- Cool sidenote: the use of this pedal for the My Bloody Valentine guitar sound has also been influential on Deafheaven guitarist Kerry McCoy. He now uses it because he was searching “how to do Kevin Shields” in YouTube one time and came across the video above (and so did I!).
I’ve also personally seen multiple shoegaze bands live using this pedal, who most likely got it for the same exact reason (yeah, I’m the nerd in the front row looking at the guitarist’s pedals after the show!).
Fantastic, fantastic, fantastic pedal for not just reverse reverb, but delay & reverb in general.Check Current Price!
- another good option for people hunting reverse reverb shoegaze pedals is the Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Max. I have the regular Holy Grail Reverb, and that’s hands-down my favourite reverb pedal ever. But I wish I just grabbed the Max from the get-go, because it has extra knobs and modes to explore. The reverse reverb in this thing is awesome, so it’s also another option to consider.
3. Ear-Splittingly Loud Guitar Amp(s)
My Bloody Valentine are famously one of the loudest bands of all-time. The live mid-section of You Made Me Realise (somewhat questionably dubbed the “holocaust section”) is just an all-out assault of noise.
Without earplugs, hearing damage is basically guaranteed. This section often lasts for 20-30 minutes, without breaks, and reaches up to 130dB (the equivalent of a damn jet engine taking off 100m away).
People that have experienced this effect live talk about how anxious they felt from the sheer brutality of the volume. But they also talk about a moment halfway in where they go into a trance. They describe it as a spiritual experience.
I achieve a similar state when I play shows and my amp is cranked right up. The physicality of all the soundwaves blasting at your body from the stacks of cranked amps will do that to you. Something about the sound being overwhelmingly sensory-stimulating sends you into a natural high.
Stepping away from Kevin Shields’ pedalboard for a minute, he uses a lot of different amps. When he plays live, he uses different combinations of them in unison depending on the song. In the studio, most of the guitars are a combination of two amps with different mic setups.
- It’s also important that the amp/s you use are tube amps. The tone you get from a real tube amp far surpasses a digital version. You won’t be able to get quite the same roar and rumble that MBV get otherwise.
The main two amps he uses are:
Marshall JCM800 – “Grunge and Roar”
Shields has been said to use the Marshall JCM800 for “overall grunge and roar“. Marshalls are the kind of amps that do distortion really well. It’ll get that molten, broken-up guitar sound that My Bloody Valentine is known for.
There’s often a rumbly sound to the My Bloody Valentine guitars, and the source of that beautiful rumble is the Marshall JCM800.Check Current Price!
Vox AC30 – “Punch and Definition”
Shields uses the Vox AC30 for “punch and definition” because, according to him, it brings out “all the harmonics of all the notes in a way that the Marshall doesn’t”.
Essentially, this amp is to add some clarity back into the mix after the growly, cloudy distortion of the Marshall amp.
The Vox AC30 is the perfect amp for this purpose because they’re famous for their bright, chimey tone that cuts through a mix. I love AC30’s and they’re iconic for a reason.
Personally, I favour Vox amps, and I use one myself for making shoegaze. People might recommend the Marshall for the My Bloody Valentine guitar sound, but I would actually recommend the Vox AC30 over it. Just my personal opinion, and you do you!
You’re going to want the clarity and crispness that the Vox AC30 brings to the table, and it can get nice and rumbly like a Marshall as well if you dial in the EQ right.
In an ideal world, you’d get both to be really authentic, but that’s not always the most practical option.
I’d recommend getting the AC30 first and then looking into the Marshall amp if you want to take it that step further to chase that holy grail of tone.
Get both and you can start building a pretty sweet home music studio – invite bands around to record through your amps and build a business out of your gear!Check Current Price!
BONUS TIP – Get an EQ Pedal
You can use your amp EQ to dial in your tone, or you can have a convenient EQ pedal right at your feet. Kevin Shields’ pedalboard contains multiple EQ pedals, and they’re way more powerful than an amp EQ.
The EQ on your amp is generally limited to just Bass, Mid & Treble knobs to represent the entire frequency spectrum (that’s about 20,000 audible frequencies to cover with just 3 knobs!).
A pedal will let you get into the nitty-gritty of your tone, and it often will be necessary to really nail those MBV textures.
It doesn’t matter too much which EQ pedal you decide to get as they’re quite simple and do the same things. Just grab one that has a decent amount of EQ sliders, so you can really fine-tune your sound.
A great option would be the MXR Ten Band EQ as it covers a wide range of frequencies and lets you get into more detail than some other EQ pedals.
Shields uses MXR EQ pedals himself.
Once you play with the EQ sliders while dialling in your fuzz tone, you’ll realise you can get WAY more sounds out of all of your pedals. It will seriously shock you. Grab one to dial in all your favourite My Bloody Valentine guitar tones.Check Current Price!
4. Fender Jazzmaster Guitar w/ “Glide Guitar” Technique
Fender Jazzmasters have always been Kevin Shields’ guitars of choice (a close runner-up is the Fender Jaguar). As he said in the video above, Kevin Shields’ Jazzmaster collection is “not that many”, “maybe 25, but 12 good ones” (yeah that’s definitely not many at all, Kevin!).
These things have such a unique tone to them. They have a certain chime or glassiness that fits perfectly with indie/alternative styles of music.
They somehow have a thicker, rounded tone, while also having the clarity of single-coil pickups (like a Stratocaster). Best of both worlds and it just has an essence of “cool” in the sound. No better way to describe it.
They also look cool as hell too. I love these guitars.Check Current Price!
A Jazzmaster is going to be pretty much the best shoegaze guitar you could get for the following reason…
The Shoegaze “Glide Guitar” Technique
Beyond just the tone, the Jazzmaster became the ideal guitar for Kevin Shields due to its whammy bar system.
He discovered a technique that he calls “glide guitar” when working on the 1988 EP You Made Me Realise. He would strum chords while holding the whammy bar, which lead to subtle dips and dives to make the guitar warp in and out of tune.
Shields had been wanting to create a similar effect to what he had heard a band called D.A.F. doing on a song with synthesizers, where the pitch was going in and out of tune.
He was doing this manually by warping cassette tape until he discovered he could do this with the tremolo arm on the Jazzmaster:
“It’s a Fender Jaguar- or Jazzmaster-type of tremolo arm that I’ve got taped up so that the base of the arm barely goes into the body. It’s very loose and you can only bend down with it. I’ve got it in my hand so that I don’t actually feel it. I just bend subconsciously, really. It’s reached a point where I no longer think of it as an ‘effect.’ It feels weird not to have it in my hand.”– Kevin Shields, 1992
The Jazzmaster has a really long whammy bar and the bridge is set up in a way that allows for smoother manipulation than it does on something like a Stratocaster.
As he said above, an important thing to achieve that Kevin Shields Jazzmaster glide guitar technique is that he always pushes DOWN. Pulling up on the whammy is an entirely different vibe to pushing down and it’s actually really difficult to strum whilst pulling up anyway. He also doesn’t go diving the whammy really deep.
Again, he mentions that he’s not very consciously manipulating it, so a lot of it just comes from your hands naturally pushing down on it with each strum.
See the technique in action in this video:
- Shields also uses a lot of alternative guitar tunings, where open strings are ringing out in the chords, or the same note is ringing out on multiple strings.
When he dips the whammy, each string goes out of tune by varying amounts, so you get this nice dissonance of the notes rubbing against each other.
There’s an emotional effect you get by pushing down and all of the strings are going out of tune by varying amounts, and then all of them come back in tune when you release the pressure on the bar.
I also remember a video of Jimi Hendrix at Monterey Pop when he’s doing “Wild Thing” quite a few times on TV, and the tape transfer would be wobbling in and out of tune at various spots. At the end it seemed like the tape was about to be eaten. That was the sound of danger, that something wasn’t right. So it was something I was conscious of and slightly fascinated by. When I discovered the Jazzmaster, I could do that and other stuff with it. It was a “eureka” moment.
This emotional effect translates really well to shoegaze music where there are a lot of polarizing sonic and emotional contrasts. E.g. really aggressive guitar tones paired with really beautiful chords and melodies. It’s a bittersweet genre of music.
Bending the whammy so that your beautiful chords go out of tune and things get dissonant for a bit, and then releasing that so it comes back up to the beautiful chord again is a really rich method of emotional expression in your music. It tells a nuanced story.
Kevin Shields is a master of this and it gets you hooked on his music. Thank god he picked up a Jazzmaster and not a Gibson Les Paul!
Glide Guitar in a Pedal – DigiTech Whammy Ricochet
If your guitar doesn’t have a whammy bar (or you find it a bit awkward to hold the whammy while strumming), then you can actually do this with a pedal.
Check out the video above and watch what the guy does with the red pedal.
The DigiTech Whammy Ricochet pedal will allow you to do whammy dives just by stepping on the switch.
Kevin Shields’ pedalboard actually features multiple of the original DigiTech Whammy pedal for more traditional pitch-shifting. This pedal has the same quirky sonic artifacts that pedal has, but we’re using it in a different way here.
Combine it with reverse reverb and fuzz and you have a pretty legit-sounding shoegaze glide guitar right at your feet.Check Current Price!
Shoegaze in 1 Pedal! Keeley Loomer Fuzz & Reverb
It was a truly full-circle moment when this pedal was made. The Keeley Loomer Fuzz & Reverb is named after the track Loomer from the Loveless album, so this pedal is purpose-built for making shoegaze.
The full-circle moment came when people spotted this pedal on Kevin Shields’ pedalboard recently! The man himself approves.
This pedal does everything that I’ve mentioned above, and more…
- Fuzz – it has multiple types of fuzz to get all the different textures that you’d need multiple fuzzes to achieve
- Reverse reverb – it models the exact Yamaha SPX90 preset that Shields uses
- Glide guitar – this pedal even imitates the whammy dives with the Depth knob! Incredible attention to detail there
- Choose whether fuzz is before or after reverb – each has a different sound and Shields has used them in both configurations depending on the song. All you need to do here is flip a switch – no need to switch pedals around!
Keeley Electronics have done an amazing job here to make one of the best shoegaze pedals of all-time. It’s an incredibly convenient all-in-one solution and a great place to start on your shoegaze journey.Check Current Price!
All the My Bloody Valentine guitar sounds that you dream of are right here in this pedal – check out this guy playing Soon with just the Loomer pedal:
Well Kevin Shields’ pedalboard doesn’t look so daunting now! When I first looked at his pedalboard, I just about wanted to give up – there was no way I was buying 50 pedals just to get the My Bloody Valentine guitar sound!
Luckily I figured out that you only need a few things, because he’s just an endless holy grail tone-chaser that likes to have one of everything at his disposal. And he’s done a damn good job of chasing that holy grail, because he has some of the best guitar tones of all-time.
On our music journeys, it pays to model yourself after someone who’s doing a great job at what you want to do. Shields is a great guitarist to model yourself on. We don’t want to straight-up rip him off, but finding the tools that have worked so well for him allows us to do our own unique thing with them.
Kevin Shields is one of the most innovative, original, and expressive guitarists of all-time, so go out and innovate!
This was a fun article to write, so feel free to drop a comment down below! Let me know what shoegaze pedals you’re excited to explore, or if there’s anything you’d like me to cover in future articles. If you have any recommendations for some new or obscure shoegaze bands that are doing My Bloody Valentine proud (maybe this is you!), then you’re welcome to drop that down below too, or feel free to shoot me an email if you’d prefer.