The Scotty Moore sound
Epiphone L5CES Custom with "Alnico V's"
I've made one of my all time dream guitars, an Epiphone L5CES Custom, based on Scotty Moores '54 Gibson L5CESN. Ever since I heard "Mystery Train" and "My Baby Left Me" with Elvis Presley, I wanted that guitar sound.
Many years should pass before I found out what exact gear was used on those sessions (Yes, it's the same gear on both songs). Though the songs were not recorded in the same studio, the essential setup is the same: 1954 Gibson L5CESN with "Alnico V" pickups -> EchoSonic amplifier -> Ribbon microphones.
I call my version of the guitar Custom, because I'm not looking to make a copy, even though the essential parts are identical or very close. I just wanna take what I can use and inject some of my own ideas, like the master volume, resistance of the pots, the Bigsby and the N-tune tuner.
What do you need to get the Scotty Moore sound?
The fact that they were recorded on tape is IMO not an essential part of the sound, and the guitar strings used is also not (They were a common string at the time). The actual playing itself has much influence on the sound. As the video (the sound recording) proves, you also don't need one of the great EchoSonic amplifiers by Ray Butts. I used a standard vintage Fender Showman and two digital echoes from my PC. The fact that you have two echoes is important to get that full sound of delay and reverb. One of the digital echoes was a so-called "tape-delay". That is also important, because it emulates the deteriation of the repeated echoes that real tape echo has.
I recorded most of our latest album "Travel On" with my band The Jime, playing this guitar and had a long time to experiment with the sound. I've reached the conclusion that the Staple pickups have a quite serious frequency boost at 3.18 kHz that I don't want. I don't think others would want it too and I certainly don't hear it on Scotty Moore's recordings. It was the main reason for making a new customized (old style) circuit and it worked! The tone pots are much more usable now, and I turn them up a bit and the volume down a bit and that cures the problem. It's my impression - after seeing Scotty Moore playing live that he often turns down guitar volume to get a more mellow jazz sound.
The sound of the big-bodied Epiphone comes through also, so don't expect to get this exact sound with a Fender Telecaster for instance. However, I have read about people modding their Teles with these pups and I'm sure they're right when they say they sound great. The general perception - which I agree with - is that Alnico V's sound like a mix between a vintage P-90 and a Dynasonic, and then again; it's all its own.
Here's a list of what I used:
- Epiphone L5CES Custom
- Fender Showman amp
- 2 digital delays - one of them a "Tape delay"
- Thomastik Blues Sliders strings
- Standard pick - hybrid picking. Scotty Moore probably used a thumb pick on these two songs.
- T-Bone RB-500 Ribbon Microphone - great value (Europe: Thomann USA: Nady RSM-2). Used in my so-called nowhere-near-close-miking.
Scotty Moore tabs
Unfortunately I have no Scotty Moore tabs to offer you as they're subject to copyright, but as far as "Mystery Train" goes, I can recommend Hal Leonards "Great Rockabilly Guitar Solos" transcribed by Fred Sokolow. It has many of the cool subtleties, rather than the simplistic tabs you normally find. In the video I add some of my own improvisations to both songs (but I'm sure you noticed that yourself), as the point of the recording is the sound, not the playing itself. As far as My Baby Left Me goes I have never seen a correct tab, so I can't help you there.
The Scotty Moore sound live vs. on recordings
What Scotty Moore sounded like live in the fifties and what he sounded like on records from Sun and RCA is not the same. There’s actually a big difference. If you’re a recording artist you know from experience how hard it can be to make those two sounds meet (If that’s what you want).
The simple reason is that the equation is different. It’s got many more variables in the studio. Live you have a guitar (The Gibson L5CESN), the amp incl. echo (The EchoSonic from Ray Butts) and the .012 flatwounds with the wound third. That all makes for a rather dark sound with tons of bass. That’s not how he sounds on record because when you’re talking about the studio, you have to add the following to the equation: The ribbon microphones (which simply can’t reproduce the deep bass), the preamps, the mixing board, the placement of the microphones, the volume of the instruments and the acoustics of the place plus effects added by the producer(s).
I was aiming to recreate the recorded sound. Had I wanted to recreate the live sound, I would probably have used .012 flatwounds and something similar to an EchoSonic (They’re not easy to come by, ya know J). FYI: Something similar to an EchoSonic could be a tube amp with a University speaker and the Danelectro Reel Echo for instance.
Had I used that setup for my attempt to recreate the recorded sound, I would only have ended up cutting tons of bass in the mix, and I always try to avoid equalising too much because it makes the sound “flat”. The Fender Bassman proved to be perfect to control the bass.
Some people who just happen to own EchoSonic amps or replica’s of them have taken great offense to the conclusion of my experiment, this article and video (As expected). They claim you can’t sound like Scotty Moore without an EchoSonic even tough some A/B listening with the original Elvis records shows I nailed the sound. Maybe you can think of a reason why they would say that? Still, in all these years I haven’t heard anyone with an EchoSonic offer a recording that sounds right. Anyway, the point is noted, so if you’re one of them, don’t waste my time emailing me. Instead you might do some A/B testing with the soundtrack from my video and the original Elvis Presley recordings. Unfortunately I can’t offer that here on this page due to copyright.