Julien Baker’s sombre collection of songs are hard to accurately define. Her brutally honest tracks take root from her past ordeals, flickering between agonizing heartbreak, despondent reflection, and vehement catharsis in turn. Along with her old-soul lyricism, Baker relies on undulating guitar and keyboard loops, dense cascades of reverb, and her spine-tingling vocals to construct an immense, cavernous soundstage. Being a massive gearhead herself, Baker utilizes an assortment of Fender Telecasters, amplifiers, and a veritable arsenal of pedals to sculpt her angelic guitar tones. In this week’s Gear Rundown, we take a look at Julien Baker’s seriously impressive setup to see exactly how she achieves her larger-than-life sound.
FENDER STANDARD TELECASTER
Long-time fans of Julien Baker will instantly recognize her iconic Lake Placid Blue Telecaster. Baker picked this guitar up from the used section in a Guitar Center, soldered in a set of Lollar pickups, and installed a wiring mod that allows both series and parallel pickup selections.This guitar was the main driving force behind Sprained Ankle, and still sees occasional stage time on her worldwide tours today.
FENDER AMERICAN STANDARD TELECASTER
Baker's love for the Telecaster stems from their "versatility, dependability, and ease of modding." With this Butterscotch Blonde American Standard Tele, Baker has replaced the standard neck pickup in favour of a G&L ASAT neck pickup (with a soapbar cover), with a G&L MFD pickup in the bridge.
FENDER TELECASTER THINLINE
While not particularly favouring one over the other, Baker uses her semi-hollow Thinline Telecaster for a different tonal flavour. She describes the Thinline's sound as slightly thinner but more resonant, in comparison to the solid bodies' "beefy" tone. Baker runs Ernie Ball Slinky 0.10 - 0.46 strings on all her guitars, and uses a .88mm Dunlop Nylon Standard as her guitar pick of choice.
FENDER BLUES DELUXE REISSUE
On stage, Baker almost always performs with two amps - one of them being the trusty Fender 1 x 12 Blues Deluxe, set up to deliver a heavy emphasis on the midrange to complement her fingerpicked textures.
FENDER '68 CUSTOM TWIN REVERB
When Baker performs with two amps, she doesn't play in true stereo - rather preferring to "widen her stage sound". Baker uses the beautiful top-end sparkle of the Twin Reverb to complement her Blues Deluxe in pertinent moments in her songs, achieving a gorgeous blend of the two amp tones.
Baker is an absolute pedal whisperer onstage with her unrivalled tap-dancing skills. This is reflected in her astounding pedalboard setup, packed from edge to edge with boutique brands and common names alike.
The main bulk of Baker's lush tone is derived from the middle of her tetris-like board: the Electro-Harmonix MEL9, a trio of Walrus Audio Pedals - the Fathom, Bellwether and Descent, a Strymon Blue Sky, and a pair of Old Blood Noise Endeavors pedals - the Dweller and Excess. All manner of gain is handled by the Emerson Custom Paramount Overdrive and the ZVEX Fuzz Factory. Baker employs a Boss RC-3 and RC-300 loopers to construct her multi-layered tracks, and a Morley George Lynch Tripler and Morley ABC 3-Button Switcher to direct segments of loops to different destinations - including separate amplifiers at times. Last but not least, a TC Electronic PolyTune 2 Mini keeps all her axes in tune.
NORD STAGE 2 EX 76 KEY PIANO
When composing Turn Out the Lights, Baker was living in a space where she had frequent access to a piano. Understandably, her sophomore effort involved many more piano-based tracks in comparison to her debut, Sprained Ankle. For her live performances, Baker runs the Nord Stage 2 keyboard into the RC-300 to fashion piano loops on the fly.