What kind of guitar gear does one need to sound like Mastodon, you ask? Here’s everything you need to know (and a little bit more besides)…
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Mastodon has been dominating the metal and rock scene for over a quarter of a century. As the guys enter their 50s, they’re not showing any signs of slowing down.
Hushed & Grim was an incredible album. Arguably, the band’s most proggy to date. And that’s fine. But Bill Kelliher has officially confirmed that with the band’s next album will be A LOT HEAVIER.
And that is goddamn music to my ears. I love all of Mastodon’s records but my absolute favourite are Leviathan, Blood Mountain, and Remission.
I love Crack The Skye too, but for me its biggest hitters, riff-wise, are Leviathan and Blood Mountain. Ever since I first heard these albums, I’ve been obsessed with Brent and Bill’s guitar tone and style.
If you’re a guitarist looking to emulate their style, there are a few key elements to consider. In this guide, we’ll explore the guitars, amps, and pedals used by Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher of Mastodon.
Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher both use a variety of guitars in their playing. Some of the most commonly used models include:
- Gibson Les Paul Custom (Bill)
- Gibson Explorer (Bill)
- ESP LTE Sparrowhawk (Bill)
- Gibson Firebird (Bill)
- Fender Telecaster (Brent)
- Fender Stratocaster (Brent)
- Gibson Flying V (Brent)
- Gibson SG (Brent)
Mastodon Guitar Tone
In general, Mastodon’s guitar tone is characterized by thick, heavy distortion with plenty of midrange.
To achieve this sound, you’ll want to use humbucker pickups with high output.
The Gibson models listed above all come equipped with humbuckers, making them great choices for achieving Mastodon’s signature sound.
But if you cannot afford Gibson prices, like most people, you plenty of other Les Paul-style alternatives.
You don’t have to spend thousands on guitars these days, plenty of brands like Epiphone and Schecter produce excellent models for way less than $500 in most cases.
Hell, one of our all-time favorite guitars, the Epiphone SG, retails for around $399.99 and is an absolute beast when it comes to creating a thick, heavy metal guitar tone.
Mastodon Guitar Tuning
In order to properly dial-in Mastodon’s trademark sound, you’ll need to tune your guitar down. Plenty of Mastodon is in D Standard (DGCFAD) which is a whole step down from Standard Tuning (EADGBE).
Mastodon also uses Drop B tuning, so BGCFAD, whereby you run the guitar in D Standard but drop the bottom string down two whole steps to B and, for really special occasions, they’ll drop the lowest string down another step to A for a tuning that looks like this: AGCFAD.
Keep in mind, if you want to use these lowered tunings you will need to use strings designed for lower tunings.
For the most part, though, Mastodon likes to play in D Standard. The vast majority of its most popular songs are in this tuning, so if you want to learn some iconic Mastodon riffs, dropping your guitar down to D Standard is the place to start.
Mastodon’s guitar tone is also heavily influenced by their choice of amplifiers. Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher both use Orange amps in their setups.
Specifically, they favor the Orange Rockerverb 100 MKIII head paired with Orange PPC412 cabinets.
If you’re looking to emulate Mastodon’s sound on a budget, there are plenty of affordable options available that can get you close. Look for high-gain amps with plenty of midrange and bass response.
Finally, let’s take a look at the pedals used by Brent Hinds and Bill Kelliher. This isn’t a definitive list, more of a guide. Bill and Brent don’t tend to talk about pedals all that much. And neither of them is what you’d consider hardcore pedal users.
They do use pedals, of course, but just a more spartan setup compared to some of their peers.
I’ve seen Mastodon numerous times over the years. My old band even supported them once, so I managed to get a good look at both Bill and Brent’s pedal boards.
I’ve listed all the main-stays used by Bill and Brent below:
- Electro-Harmonix POG2 Polyphonic Octave Generator
- Boss TU-2 Chromatic Tuner
- MXR Phase 90 Phaser
- Dunlop Cry Baby Wah Pedal
- Electro-Harmonix Holy Grail Reverb
Hinds relies on two very simple pedalboards to help him achieve his crushing tone. The main board starts with an Ernie Ball VP Junior volume pedal that connects to an Ibanez Tube Screamer.
From there, the signal runs through two MXR pedals—a GT-OD and a Phase 90. His delay of choice is the Boss DD-6, which then runs to an ISP Decimator and a Dunlop Cry Baby 105Q Bass Wah.
A TC Electronic PolyTune Mini keeps Hinds on track, and an MXR Custom Audio Systems Buffer helps with any signal loss due to long cable runs on big stages.
To eliminate a cluttered pedalboard, Kelliher embraces digital technology and uses a Fractal Axe-Fx II to generate his delay, chorus, rotary speaker, and octave effects.
He operates the processor with a Fractal MFC-101 MIDI foot controller, and also keeps a DigiTech JamMan next to it. This looper pedal provides sonic segues between songs to keep the show moving.
An Audiotech Guitar Products Source Selector 1X6 switcher sits above his wireless unit and allows Kelliher to easily move between amps.
Pedals are used to add depth and texture to your guitar tone, as well as create unique sounds not possible with just an amp and guitar alone. Mastodon aren’t a pedal-heavy band. They have a few that they use to devastating effect. And that’s exactly what you should aim to do.
Bill’s pedalboard has now been replaced by the Fractal Axe-Fx II. These are very pricey but as noted inside our review of Fractal Axe-Fx II, if you have the money or are a professional player, this is about as good as it gets right now for sound quality and reliability.
But if you do fancy dialling in some deep, dark, and dirty Mastodon-style tone, you really cannot go wrong with the pedals listed above.