Uncovering the sonic secrets of the shoegaze anti-hero.
Where would modern guitar be without Kevin Shields?
As the lead guitarist and producer of cult shoegaze band My Bloody Valentine, Shield’s unique approach to texturing guitar parts and experimenting with alternate tunings puts him right up there with some of the most influential guitarists of the modern era, and his penchant for overwhelming volumes and eardrum melting guitar sounds is well versed within the lore of alternate music.
With new material from the Irish band expected to be announced over the horizon, we take a venture down the rabbit hole to discover exactly what is going on with the guitar rig of the one and only Kevin Shields.
Revisit other Gear Rundowns from our past archives here.
As a guitarist, Shields is synonymous with the offbeat shape and tone of the Fender Jazzmaster. In fact, it’s probably fair to say he’s one of the main factors driving the recent Jazzmaster revival.
The band has been incredibly vocal about the impact the guitar has on the evolution of their music, and it’s possible that if a Jazzmaster had never fallen into the hands of Shields, shoegaze may have never existed.
Shields told Fender in an interview celebrating the 60th anniversary of the Jazzmaster that he owns around 25 different models of the guitar (albeit, “only 12 good ones”), with each featuring its own oddball tuning to help Shields nail his signature fuzz-heavy atmospheric tones.
Shields is also a known purveyor of the Fender Jaguar, which he favoured during My Bloody Valentine’s rise to popularity in the late ’80s.
Like his Jazzmasters, Shields owns multiple Jaguars, and favours the tremolo system for his infamous ‘glide guitar’ strumming technique.
Ibanez Jazzmaster Copy
In the music video for ‘Only Shallow’, the raucous opener from the band’s cult classic 1991 LP Loveless, you can see Shields wielding a knock-off Jazzmaster from Ibanez, fitted with alternate pickups and boasting different hardware to its original Fender counterpart held by Blinda Butcher throughout the clip.
In this short television clip depicting a much different, post-punk inspired My Bloody Valentine in rehearsal, you can spot Shields strumming a sunburst Yamaha SG600, known for its killer tone and sustain – with some putting it on par with that of a Gibson Les Paul.
If you’ve ever had the experience of catching My Bloody Valentine live in the flesh and your ears lived to tell the tale, you’ll be well aware of Shield’s fetish for amplifiers – and lots of them, using everything from Vox AC30s and Hiwatt heads to Fender Dual Showmans and Marshall JCM800s. Check it out.
To make it even more incredible, Shields actually uses all of these amps in unison. Every single amp is mic’d on stage to drench audiences in walls of harsh, fuzzed-out bliss, with the overwhelming volume of My Bloody Valentine’s set closer ‘You Made Me Realise’ being rumoured to have permanently damaged the hearing of audience members and even causing them to shit their pants. Insane stuff, really.
If there’s one thing Shields loves more than stacking up overwhelmingly large walls of amplifiers to terrorise his fans, it’s collecting copious amounts of effects pedals and running them in unison on stage.
If you can manage to navigate this mess, here’s a picture of Shield’s main pedalboard – the first of three, which contains everything from two variations of a Big Muff to a Keeley modded Ibanez AD-9 Delay, with just about everything else crammed in between.
You can also spot a Vorg Warp Sound, a Devi Ever Shoe Gazer Fuzz, a Roger Mayer Voodoo Vibe, two Boss wahs, and way more. If you want a full, exhaustive list of the pedals on this board, hit the link here for a handy list from the patient folks over at Effects Bay.
On this slightly more navigable board, we can see Shields employing the use of a Digitech Whammy alongside a ZVex Lo Fi Loop Junky, a Lovetone Meatball, a MG That’s Echo Folks and a Death By Audio Octave Clang.
This board, used particularly for the ‘Holocaust’ harsh noise section of ‘You Made Me Realise’, boasts a Morley Wah, a Roger Mayer Octavia, another Digitech Whammy, a September Sound Envelope Filter Fuzz Wah, a Devi Ever Truly Beautiful Torn’s Peaker, a Devi Ever Godzilla Fuzz, a Devi Ever Dream Mangler, and a Catalinbread Ottava Magus.
Learn some Kevin Shields-inspired guitar tricks with our lesson on shoegaze tones.