Tool is arguably one of the most unique and innovative rock groups that the ’90s produced. Though their sound is characterized primarily by Danny Carey’s complex time signatures and Maynard Keenan’s aggressive vocals, the band’s tone is largely a result of Adam Jones’ guitar playing.
We'll seek to capture that tone.
Let's first take a wistful look at the gear he commonly uses.
You can checkout a graphic of everything on our rig diagram page for Adam Jones.
Adam Jones Typical Gear (most responsible for his tone)
Gibson Les Paul Custom
Diezel VH4 Amp Head
Mesa Boogie Triple Rectifier Amp Head
More Affordable Alternatives
Epiphone Les Paul Custom
Blackstar HT20R Amp Head
Jones, a graphic artist having contributed work to Jurrasic Park, Terminator 2 and almost all of Tool’s bizarre music videos, crafts a penetrating distortion that drops plenty of low end and punchy half mutes.
Emulating it may seem simple.
Just use distortion, right?
Well, yes - do that - but we should also go a step further by trying to capture the aggressiveness of Tool’s sound and the rhythmic energy of Jones’ guitar.
The Les Paul Factor
Jones uses Gibson Les Paul Customs almost exclusively on Tool’s albums. At least some of that extra “bite” you hear in an otherwise bottomed out tone, is simply due to the Les Paul sound. If you don’t have one, you’ll have to improvise a bit with whatever guitar you own.
- Make sure your pickup selector is switched to the bridge position.
- Cut your tone knob back, somewhere around seven or eight.
- Keep volume all the way up.
You’re looking for heavy saturation but you also want a high, penetrating tone that’s going to make your chord changes distinct. If you do happen to have a Gibson or Epiphone Les Paul, you might have a little more room to experiment with the tone knob and pickup selector.
Otherwise, I’d keep them steady just to make sure you’ve got that extra bite.
Amp Settings for Adam Jones
To encourage the upper end of your tone, you’ll want to keep your mids pretty high.
Possibly the most crucial component to Adam’s sound, your mid knob should dial in around eight or higher.
Keep bass at eight and treble at seven.
Adam uses a Diezel amplifier and you can see his settings pictured here on the third channel.
Your settings should look pretty similar, though you can make adjustments depending on the tendencies of your own rig.
General rules are to keep the bass and mid high.
Here are a couple configurations to experiment with. Images are courtesy of the Positive Grid.
Adam’s Multiple Amp Setup
For example, a different amp for high end, mids and low end.
I’ve always played with two or three amps: one for high end, one that’s good with midrange and one that kicks in with the low; or I use one that’s got that good solid-state Metallica crunch and one that’s got that warm Marshall tube sound. - Adam Jones
Since most of us don’t have multiple amps, we’ll need to do our best to get that combination of lows and highs out of the same amplifier.
Even if you’re working with a small practice amp, you can still get close.
The distortion is what makes a bigger difference.
If you do have the luxury of two different amps, set one at an optimal low end configuration, with the other at a high end configuration.
I haven’t seen what I would consider a reliable shot of Adam’s pedalboard (if you’ve got any information on that let me know over at Twitter), but his tone is almost always distorted, which comes from either the Diezel or Mesa Boogie amplifier.
High gain on a Marshall amp will come close, and I’ve found that the “insane” setting on most Line 6 Spider amps will sound close as well.
If you use a distortion pedal instead of your amp, go with something modern with heavy saturation.
Keep in mind, light or bluesy overdrives won’t capture Adam’s sound.
Adam’s amps alone are likely a five figure investment.
If you can put that kind of money into your rig, then you’re lucky and the exception to the norm. Otherwise, you’ll want to strike a balance between the low and high end tones of your amplifier.
The key is to have a direction to go in and be willing to experiment.
Even Adam is never really done crafting his tone.
As you can tell, there's a lot of experimenting that goes on. - Adam Jones
So push the mids and bass up and do some tinkering.
Maybe you’ll fall into some money and be able to afford two different top-of-the-line amplifiers.
Do you have your own settings to contribute or other thoughts about replicating Adam’s tone?
Share it with us in the comments section below.