The Evolution of Trey’s Tone – Part II
This is the second part in The Evolution of Trey’s Tone, for the first part, CLICK HERE. On Friday, we left off with phase 3, ending in 1993, today we will explore right up until 2009.
Phase 4 (1994-1996)
The next phase in the evolution of Trey’s tone was probably the most crucial in developing his sound. Prior to ’94 he was using very few effects, and the ones he was using were only for distortion and compression. In 1994, Trey had Bob Bradshaw (guitar effect guru made famous through his work with Eddie Van Halen) build him a bypass switching system. With this new piece of equipment, he could switch effects without having his signal to his amp interrupted. And, as we all know, the introduction of effects into Trey’s life changed Phish’s music, in particular their jams. In a ’94 interview with Guitar Player magazine, Trey said the following:
“I got this Bradshaw system that is just amazing. My signal goes straight to my amp 80 percent of the night. It’s hardwired through. For years all I used was two Tube Screamers. I didn’t use any effects because I didn’t want my signal going through my effects all night. I had all these effects lying around from when I first started playing guitar – an Electro-Harmonix Micro Synth, some really crappy effects. Now that I have this switching system I can take them all on the road. I also have an Ibanez DM-2000, one of the first digital delays they ever made. It’s got this bug in it. If you have the flange going and you hit the infinite hold button, it totally freaks out. It makes all these awful sounds. That’s all I use it for.”
With the Bradshaw system, Trey could experiment with new sounds that previously would have affected the quality of his sound. In this phase, which is the phase that most fans love Trey for, his tone is crispy clean. Even when distorted, its a very light distortion (aside from BBFCFM). With both Tube Screamers turned on, his tone is still clean, it never reaches a point where it is actually distorted in the typical sense. For example listen to the solo at the end of Bowie.
What is interesting is that even though his tone is so clean and “normal” (compared to now), it is still so unique. His sustain, as a result of the feedback from his Languedoc, gives his cleanliness a bit of an edge. Suiting for the more rock-based songs. Trey’s tone in this phase is the tone that distinguished him from the rest, from his influences.
Listen to the Stash from Orlando 1995-11-14, one of the greatest versions ever:
Phase 5 (1997-2000)
The change from phase 4 to phase 5 tone is very subtle, and as a result is not noticeable to many people. As a guitarist, I note this as the first stage in the change toward where Trey is today. In ’97, perhaps to suit the funky direction the band was heading in, Trey added a bit more edge to his sound. The noticeable “crunch” in his current tone first appeared in ’97. No longer was his sound immaculately clean.
In ’97, Trey switched to a Fender Deluxe Reverb amplifier, which has a loud vintage tone. Compared with the Mesa’s, Groove Tubes, and Custom Audio Electronic amplifiers that he had used in the past, the Fenders gave him more of a rockish sound. Abandoning the jazz influence that had dominated his tone up to this point, Trey stepped into a more rock-based playing style to suit the tone. I am unsure of which change took place first, the change in playing or the change in tone. This progression toward rock was highlighted when the band chose to cover the Velvet Underground’s “Loaded” on Halloween ’98. The heavy lead lines by Lou Reed, and the standard barre chord format provided the perfect platform for Trey to launch into his new style.
Listen to the Reba from 1998-04-03. Notice the subtle “crunch” that has been added to his tone:
Phase 6 (2003-Present)
The final phase in Trey’s playing has seen a complete overhaul in tone. What started in ’97 with the move toward a more rock-based, edgier tone, continued post-hiatus. In 2000, Trey dropped the Ross compressor from his rig loosening up his sound. The following is an excerpt from a conversation Tom Marshall had with Trey about the Ross:
“Basically, he used the compressor differently than people normally do — often people will place it early in the effects chain to smooth the sound going into the other effects. Trey did it backwards, and had the Ross last — AFTER his two tube screamers. The Ross was always on. Always. His signature Squirming Coil “playable sustain” was the result of full volume pedal and both screamers on and pumping that signal into the Ross.
Me: and so you got rid of it?
Trey: I started playing without it after Phish and found that I could get an “edgier” sound that I can’t get with it.”
In 2003, Trey emerged from the hiatus completely changed. His ’03 tone is the first step towards where he is now marking the change toward the unique sound we hear from him today. Noticeably thinner, and with significantly more treble, his tone has a new edge that was not present before. It has a new piercing sound that he seems to be controlling with a pitch shifter (guitar junkie note: you will notice that he has moved the Digitech Wham to the other side of his mic for greater accessibility. Check HERE for a very in-depth discussion of his new rig etc). Trey’s new tone is far more outside than his previous tones, and somewhat resembles John McLaughlin’s tone on some of the Miles Davis albums (Tribute to Jack Johnson in particular).
Earlier this year, fans convinced Trey to bring back his Ross compressor, and even went to the extent of buying him one. In March at Hampton Coliseum, he brought back his Mesa Boogie Mark III amp as well as the Ross, along with his old speaker cabinets to the delight of many fans. His tone sounds much better than in ’03, which was marked by odd squawks and squeals. We are clearly in the process of transition, as Trey is apparently working very hard on the details behind his new sound. The word is that he has been trying out many different combos of amps and preamps, even taking a few pieces of equipment from Jerry’s rig (an SMS preamp).
It is one of the great mysteries of Phish as to what has driven this most recent tonal change. The new sound seems to accompany the new direction the band’s songwriting is headed. Most of the new songs seem to have a greater focus on rock, and Trey’s new gritty tone seems to suit that. His style of playing has changed significantly, and again, it is hard to tell whether the style or the tone changed first. We can only wait and see what new developments will unfold in the evolution of Trey’s guitar tone.
Listen to the Stealing Time from the Faulty Plan from Red Rocks night 2 (2009-07-31):
What is your favorite phase in the evolution of Trey’s tone? Post your opinions in the comments section below.