Dark Tones: Recreating the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ Sound
by Phil Taylor
Here’s my take on the 1974 studio version of the ‘Bridge of Sighs’ sound using a Tube-Vibe and Tube Drive. To get close to Robin Trower’s smooth, thick tone the Tube Drive is fitted with a 12AV7 in the top right-hand position (the first gain stage) to create a mellow break-up characteristic. I’m using a stock Strat (fitted with 10 gauge strings) -> Tube-Vibe -> Tube Drive -> Deluxe Reverb amp. The amp is close-miked, off-axis (to further mellow the tone) and the middle pickup is selected on the Strat with the volume knob rolled off a little to about 8 o’clock.
Passion over Technique and Gear
Trower achieves a very thick and forboding Strat tone on the Bridge of Sighs album. At this time he’s using relatively light 10 gauge strings in standard tuning (or thereabouts! – later he began using heavier gauges and tuning down a semitone or tone so that he could still do the bends), backs off the guitar volume a little and rolls the treble almost right off at the amp. He’d replaced his 10 x 12″ speaker cabs with Marshall 4 x 12″s for more ‘oomph’ and was using a custom built booster/overdrive, wah-wah and Uni-Vibe. The Uni-Vibe may be first in the signal chain which would further load the guitar pickup to reduce high frequency content, creating a darker tone. But the gear is only details within a grander and more beautiful picture, as his tone comes primarily from his playing technique, attitude and from the message he’s communicating with passion.
Quest for Self-Expression is not Science
His playing is a story steeped heavily in blues influences and draws inpsiration from his hereos, Albert King, B.B. King and Otis Rush who all possessed a masterful vibrato technique. Only later did he begin incorporating the more progressive vocabulary of Hendrix into his playing technique – his roots were firmly in blues. By Bridge of Sighs, Trower had woven these inluences into a relaxed and soulful style based on deep, sustaining bends and fluid legato lines. His gear was a moving target, constantly being modified and tweaked to suit the nuances and feel in his evolving playing style. Many of the sounds heard on studio albums were the result of meticulous construction. Both Hendrix and Trower went through many interations of custom designed electronics to achieve their unique signature sounds as heard on studio albums to find the ‘right’ tonal balance that worked for them at the time. These guys had a voracious appetite for gear, continuously experimenting in their quest for a better vehicle for self-expression. For this reason, I’m convinced you can’t reduce someones tone to terms of the gear they use – there are too many other variables. Great tone is not an exact science, making it difficult, if not impossible to quantify a great players tone, design a circuit, put it a box and sell it. It doesn’t work like that. Put simply, let your ears and fingers tell you what gear works best for you.