How To Get an Indie Guitar Tone (Ultimate Guide)


Do you want to encompass your sound similar to bands like The Kinks, Arctic Monkeys, The Smiths, The Killers, etc.? Luckily, I have you covered right here!

This post will unwrap the usual guitars, amps, effects and playing styles for a supreme indie guitar tone. So let’s dive in…

How to Sound Indie

While it’s not easy to define the exact boundaries of indie rock, there are some distinctions when it comes to the guitar tone.

As this movement was inspired by completely different styles of music, like pop and hardcore punk, you’ll find many different elements in guitar sound. Clean tones, both in rhythm and lead, are usually bright and “jangly.”

At the same time, it’s not hard to find those high gain razor-sharp fuzz-filled tones that cut through the mix.

These can be used for lead sections or some riffing parts. But when it comes to the distortion, it’s usually mildly crisp and very “buzzing.”

Both clean and distorted tones are usually drenched in vintage-sounding reverb or delay.

How to Play Indie

Like most of the rock subgenres, indie songs are often based on power chords.

However, there are a few other elements in there, including different chords and chord inversions. But overall, indie rock balances between mellow melodic parts and heavy grunge-style riffs.

How to Write Indie Melodies and Riffs

While chord progressions usually take roots in standard pop and softer rock stuff, there are some unusual additions in there.

In some cases, indie rock songs can be inspired by grunge or even heavy metal.

The same thing can be said about the lead sections. However, both chord progressions and solos are rather simple compared to other guitar-centric genres.

What’s more, many indie rock songs avoid solos altogether. To put it simply, guitar parts in indie rock songs mix punk, classic pop, new wave, and hard rock elements.

How to Write Indie Chord Progressions

While indie rock players are far from the standard virtuoso guitar heroes who emerged in the 1980s, there are still some technical peculiarities involved in the process.

While we have the standard strumming, there are some additions of unusual rhythmic patterns, all combined with ghost notes. You’ll definitely need tight strumming and picking techniques.

Best Electric Guitars for Indie

Overall, there are no strict rules about which guitars should be used to play this genre. After all, indie rock is a relatively loose term and you’re free to experiment as you wish.

However, if you want to have that recognizable “twangy” bright tone, there are some rules to follow.

In most cases, you’re advised to have single-coil pickups. However, there are examples of guitars with humbuckers as well. In a lot of cases, you’ll also see semi hollow-body and hollow-body guitars.

Solid-Body Guitars

While it all comes to personal preferences, solid-body guitars are still pretty popular among indie rock players.

As already mentioned, a lot of the choices include guitars with single-coil pickups.

Popular Indie Guitars

  • Fender/ Squire Telecaster
  • Fender / Squire Jazzmaster
  • Fender / Squire Jaguar
  • Fender / Squire Mustang
  • Fender / Squire Stratocaster
  • Gibson/ Epiphone Les Paul
  • Gibson / Epiphone SG
  • Gretsch Electromatic Jet
  • Danelectro 59

The obvious choice here is Fender Telecaster, as it provides that bright tone and a great-sounding middle pickup position.

But while speaking of indie rock, it’s impossible not to mention those “offset” Fender guitars. Jazzmaster, Jaguar, Mustang, and even Jag-Stang are quite popular solid-body choices among the players of this genre.

Fender or Squire Jaguar guitars are especially interesting due to their unique controls and unusual tones.

Among other popular choices, we also have many Gibson or Epiphone guitars, like different Les Paul or SG models.

But aside from the usual humbucker versions, many indie players would prefer P-90 pickups instead. This is why Les Paul and SG Junior are very common within the genre.

Looking into some less “mainstream” guitars, it’s not unusual to see indie players holding Gretsch guitars, especially models like Electromatic Jet.

And those who are especially keen on having 1960s-inspired instruments might pick a guitar like Danelectro 59.

Semi Hollow-Body Guitars

We already know that indie musicians will always look for ways to sound like they’re from the 1960s, while also implementing some more modern elements. This is why many of them opt for semi hollow-body guitars.

This way, their tone gets just a little “jazzier” and smoother compared to more common solid-body options.

This is especially important for rhythm sections in the genre, as these guitars might add a mellower vibe.

In addition, many indie guitarists prefer that classic surf rock tone, as well as some other features like Bigsby-styled tremolo bridges.

Popular Semi-Hollow Guitars

  • Gretsch Streamliner Series
  • Gretsch Electromatic Series
  • Epiphone Dot
  • Epiphone Casino
  • Epiphone Riviera
  • Ibanez Artcore Series
  • Fender / Squire Telecaster Thinline

When it comes to brands and models, Gretsch is very popular in this category.

Their Streamliner and Electromatic series have some desirable traits, including specific pickups and the vintage-style tremolo bridges.

While we’re at it, Epiphone has some great semi hollow-body guitars to offer, like their Dot series.

But if you don’t want humbuckers, you can go with the company’s Casino guitars which bear the classic P-90 pickups.

The same can be said about Epiphone’s Riviera guitars, which often feature three P-90s and a Bigsby tremolo, all for a very reasonable price.

Other than these, the Fender Thinline series also comes to mind, as well as Ibanez’s Artcore.

Best Guitar Amps for Indie

Of course, the right amplifier is as important as the right guitar if you are looking to get that indie tone.

And just like with the guitars, it’s preferable that you go with vintage-oriented stuff. But while we have the standard tube-driven amps, it’s also not unusual to see solid-states and hybrids in indie rock players’ rigs.

Popular Indie Guitar Amps

  • Fender Blues Junior
  • Fender Bassbreaker
  • Fender Hot Rod Deluxe
  • Fender Mustang
  • Fender Champion
  • Vox AC30/15
  • Marshall DSL
  • Marshall Studio
  • Boss Katana
  • Roland Jazz Chorus

In most cases, they’re oriented towards Fender and Vox. When it comes to Fender, some low-wattage bluesy stuff comes to mind, like the Bassbreaker, Blues Junior, Hot Rod Deluxe, or even Mustang.

These are usually able to reproduce those “ice pick” tones, yet somehow deliver the much-needed warmth. The old Fender Champs is another great example as well.

In the end, you just can’t go wrong with Vox amps. The classic AC15 or AC30 are pretty common as well. If you’re looking for something more affordable, AC15C2 and AC30C2 will also do the job.

But if you need something universal, Marshall’s DSL series have some great models to check out. This would be a great solution if you’re the “heavier” kind of indie player. The same could be said about their Studio series.

If you’re more into solid-state amps, any of the Roland Jazz Chorus amps are able to pull out some great tones.

But if all this seems too expensive for you, then go with the standard mid-level solid-state amp, like any of the models from Boss’ Katana series.

Pedal Platform Amps

Since indie rock is often pedal-driven, it’s important to have a good amp that will make the best out of your pedals. Some standard amps may not be as good for the purpose, so you might want to go with the so-called “pedal platform” amps.

These are usually one-channel amps with just the clean tone, offering somewhat of a “flatter” response that lets your pedals shine.

This is especially interesting if you’re using tube-driven platform amps, as they add just a little bit of that “natural” drive and warmth, as well as dynamic response.

Good old Marshall JTM45 or Fender Super Reverb are great choices in this department.

Best Guitar Pedals for Indie

Distortion

As far as distortion and overdrives go, the standard “classics” are the simplest and most effective pedals for indie rock.

Although it seems like a cliché at this point, Boss DS-1 is good in almost any setting.

The same could be said about Ibanez Tube Screamer or any of its clones, although it might make the tone a little bit too muffled for indie rock in some cases.

The Fulltone’s OCD overdrive is another great overdrive to look into. But, in the end, you’re free to play with distortion the way it suits your needs as the genre allows some variations in this regard.

Fuzz

Fuzz is also a type of distortion, but its harsh clipping process makes the effect sound unique.

As a result, you get that “buzzsaw” tone with harmonically rich content. Although some would argue that it sounds like a broken amplifier, many indie rock players prefer this type of tone. It serves its purpose for both rhythm and solo sections.

The first fuzz that comes to mind, or at least a fuzz-like distortion, is the legendary Big Muff Pi by Electro-Harmonix. There are many variations of this particular model, but you can’t go wrong with the classic standard one.

While we’re at it, Dunlop’s Fuzz Face sounds almost the same as those old Dallas Arbiter models from the 1960s. It has that bright-sounding and harsh tone that you can hear on many Jimi Hendrix’s songs.

In case you want to make it super vintage, then you can try Maestro Fuzz-Tone clones. The originals are pretty rare and expensive, but some of the more affordable copies can do the job well.

Chorus

When it comes to the chorus, it’s mostly the clean sections that implement this effect in indie rock music.

But compared to some other genres, it usually shouldn’t be that bright-sounding.

This is why indie guitarists often prefer analog circuitry. Some of the best examples are Boss CE-2W, MXR M234, and Walrus Audio Julia, just to name a few.

In many cases, indie rock players like to push the rate control on the chorus high. And sometimes, they even like to play around with the depth control and bring it into those wacky-sounding territories.

Spring Reverb

One thing’s for sure – indie guitarists love their tone drenched. That dry-sounding tone just won’t cut it, especially when playing clean.

This is why the use of atmospheric effects is so important. However, they mostly prefer reverb over the delay, as it adds a more drenched and “ethereal” feel to the tone. And they’re especially fond of the spring reverb, the one you can hear on those old vintage amps.

But in case your amp doesn’t have the spring-based effect, there are still plenty of pedals out there that emulate this classic effect.

JHS Spring Tank is a pretty versatile one that lets you blend two types of spring-inspired reverbs to your tone.

Electro-Harmonix’s Holy Grail Neo pedal is a straightforward one that has three types of reverbs to choose from.

Other examples that come to mind are Danelectro Spring King, Catalinbread Topanga, and TC Electronic Hall of Fame 2.

Analog delay

Although not as popular as reverb in indie rock, delay finds its use as well. However, many argue that analog delays do the job much better than digital ones.

This is due to its warm and mellower tone caused by the so-called “bucket brigade devices.” MXR’s M169 Carbon Copy is a pretty simple one, although it offers some versatility.

On the other hand, many digital delays today have additional controls that can make the tone of your repeated signal more “muffled.” The best way is to try out a few different pedals and make the decision yourself.

EQ Pedal

Equalizer pedals are important for pretty much any genre. They allow you to completely shift your tone for a certain section of the song, or even entire part of your live set.

They’re pretty simple to use and often feature 5 to 10 sliders, each representing a specific frequency range.

Since there’s a lot of experimentation and versatility in indie rock, some songs may require completely different tones, with more mids or highs in the mix. If you need a detailed EQ, MXR M108S is the perfect solution for you.

Best Guitar Strings for Indie Rock

Guitar strings are a bit of a touchy subject, mostly because the “right” choice of strings comes down to personal preferences.

Some guitarists are more inclined to go with heavier gauge strings, while others prefer lighter options.

In the end, it’s best that you try what works best with your guitar and your preferred tuning.

In some cases, heavier strings may help you sound thicker, although they require more strength for the fretting hand.

If you’re in the standard tuning, then regular .009 or .010 strings will work well for you.

With this said, you might also want to check out some strings that offer a brighter tone and stronger attack for your tone.

Gibson Brite Wires or any of the Elixir strings are great options for such a tone. But like we already said – try different strings and go with what works best for you.

Thanks for Reading

If you enjoyed this post, then be sure to check out my related post,

“How to get a Funk Guitar Tone.”

It’s my ultimate guide to the gear and effects required to produce the usual funky guitar sound.

Adam

Adam is the founder and author of Tone Topics and dedicated to providing the best guitar content for like-minded gear nerds. Please enjoy all the content on the site and support us by sharing these posts with other people. It would really help us out!

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