How To Sound Like Syd Barrett
All this talk about the Danelectro DC ’59 prompted us to (finally) write something about Syd Barrett, who died July 7th 2006, aged 60. He was the genius behind Pink Floyd in their early years, and wrote most of their debut album, “The Piper At The Gates Of Dawn”. He was also a very innovative guitarist.
The brilliant, eccentric and highly influential singer/songwriter/guitarist founded Pink Floyd in the mid-1960s. His guitar-playing style inspired many, putting creativity before technical hability.
Syd Barrett’s first choice for guitar was the black Danelectro 59. A cool, cheapo guitar with a great, bright single coil tone. Recently reissued by Danelectro.
This guitar was used through his time in Pink Floyd and afterwards, during his solo career. Barrett was constantly changing the guitar: experimenting with pickup combinations and alternate tunings. The guitar was black with a white pickguard and a rosewood fretboard. There are filmed appearances of Barrett with the guitar on the Pink Floyd video London 1966-67: at the UFO Club in 1966 and the band’s first recording session at Sound Techniques Studios, London on January 11-12, 1967. The guitar is also appears in a televised performance of “Interstellar Overdrive” from the UFO Club on January 21, 1967. (watch it on You Tube)
Syd’s second choice of guitar, almost as photographed as the Dano, is the Fender Squire (Rosewood Fretboard). The main difference between the Fender Esquire and a Telecaster is that the Esquire only has one pickup, at the bridge. In a televised appearance on BBC-TV’s Look Of The Week on May 14, 1967, Barrett is playing a Fender Esquire guitar with plastic sheeting with mirrored silver discs. The film “London 66-67” shows Syd using the Dano and the Esquire.
Apart from those guitars, Syd has also been seen using Telecasters (rosewood and maple) and a white Stratocaster.
In a photograph taken at Alexandria Palace in 1967 Barrett is playing a white Fender Stratocaster. On a November 6, 1967 appearance on US television’s American Bandstand Barrett is miming to “Apples And Oranges” with a white Fender Telecaster with a rosewood fretboard. That’s the guitar he also used for their second Top Of The Pops appearance, promoting “See Emily Play” on July 6, 1967.
For Syd Barrett, wannabes, the best choice is a Fender ’60s Telecaster. Which is quite affordable, too!
Below – Syd with his white Strat (click to enlarge).
Amps & Effects:
Barrett’s amplifiers included a Selmer Piggyback amplifier and a 100-watt Selmer stereo amplifier. His use of sound effects began with a Binson Echorec (see below) that he used in Pink Floyd from 1965-67. He can be seen experimenting with the devise during the Sound Techniques, January 11-12, 1967 sessions.
Barrett also owned a home made fuzz box and used various slide techniques with everything from a conventional bottleneck slide to a Zippo lighter and ball bearings. An example of these unique effect combinations can be heard at the end of “See Emily Play” where, in the studio, he used a bottleneck through an echo for the Hawaiian slide effect at the end of the song.
A Saucerful Of Secrets:
Gibson has recently published an article about the classic Pink Floyd album which was the last to feature Syd Barrett. It’s quite interesting – read it here.
Getting the Syd Barrett sound:
The Binson Echorec, if not impossible to find, is also VERY expensive. To get a Syd sound, then, you should look for other alternatives…but tape echo fx sound is definitely a must. The best options are:
Amp-wise…we’d suggest just go for any Vox amp, purely for the 60’s rock vibes…
About Syd Barrett:
Born Roger Keith Barrett in 1946, he adopted the nickname “Syd” during his teens and founded the Pink Floyd Sound, later shortened to Pink Floyd, in 1965 with Cambridge schoolmates Roger Waters, Nick Mason and Richard Wright. He reverted back to his birth name in his later years.
Barrett, considered by many a pioneer of psychedelic music, wrote most of Pink Floyd’s early singles and most of the group’s first album, 1967’s The Piper at the Gates of Dawn. His cleverly angular minimalist and chromatic guitar style remains an influence on psychedelic, post-punk and avant-garde rock music. His natural songwriting ability and childlike lyrical sense provided the group’s first hits, including “Arnold Lane” and “See Emily Play.”
Barrett’s increasingly bizarre behavior led to his replacement in Pink Floyd in 1968 by his friend and schoolmate, guitarist David Gilmour, and much has been made ever since of his struggles with mental illness, possibly exacerbated by his ’60s drug use. He subsequently released two acclaimed solo albums in 1970, The Madcap Laughs and Barrett, before retiring from music altogether to live a life of relative quiet and anonymity in Cambridgeshire, where he enjoyed painting and gardening.
Pink Floyd’s 1975 hit “Wish You Were Here,” from the album of the same name, was dedicated to Barrett, and that album’s “Shine On You Crazy Diamond” was reportedly written about him.
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