The Guitarists & Gear of Post-Rock


Over the last few decades, no new genre has centered electric guitar more than post-rock. Emerging in the '90s amid the plethora of new indie labels and alternative music, post-rock is mostly instrumental music usually created with traditional rock arrangement: drum, bass, and guitar. It can be cinematic, heavy, experimental, or ambient. Like symphonic music, post-rock is often built around movements and themes rather than verses and choruses. Songs can vary widely in length and frequently feature more dynamics than other rock subgenres.

Post-rock evolved from some of the genres we’ve covered already in this series, such as shoegaze and space rock, as well as prog, post-punk, and ambient. Early guitarists in post-rock often used affordable and practical gear, focusing on bespoke tone and interesting technique. Bands like The Velvet Underground, Sonic Youth and Swans are examples of punk-adjacent acts who influenced post-rock, directly and indirectly. Songs like "Heroin" and "Teenage Riot" exemplify the transition from punk to moody instrumental rock.

Like these bands and their peers, instrumentation and style vary from song to song and band to band. Dirty Three, Do Make Say Think and Stars Of Lid added more classical string instruments like violin. Acts like Stereolab and Talk Talk added synth and other electronic instruments. In this feature, we’re going to focus on the guitarists who helped shape and popularize post-rock and the gear they’ve used to do it.

David Pajo & Brian McMahan

A major innovator of dramatic, experimental guitar music was Louisville, Kentucky’s Slint. The band’s final album, Spiderland, was released in 1991 and is considered one of the founding works of post-rock and its cousin, math rock.

On the album, guitarists David Pajo and Brian McMahan use distorted chords, raw arpeggios, ambient harmonics and seering solos to craft the dramatic production, making Spiderland sound like a horror film made for college radio. The Boss HM-2 and DOD American Metal were used for some of the higher gain sounds.

Pajo has also released music under the moniker Papa M and played with post-punk pioneers Gang Of Four. Over the past couple decades, Slint reunited for shows and to record new music. During that tour and in the past, the band often played through Fender and Music Man amps.

David Pajo uses Strats, each in a different tuning. On some of their newer music, he plays a black Gibson SG. McMahan plays Teles and Strats, with both guitarists often upgrading pickups to produce the clarity their compositions demand.

Doug McCombs & Jeff Parker

Shortly after the demise of Slint in the early '90s, Pajo went on to record and perform with one of the creators of post-rock, Tortoise. Tortoise are known for a less common variety of post rock that’s more influenced by jazz than punk and classic rock. They often utilize unconventional arrangements, including horns, multiple percussionists, and a vibraphone player (or three).

When it comes to electric stringed instruments, most of Tortoise’s songs feature guitar and bass, with member Doug McCombs sometimes playing a Fender Bass VI—an instrument that fills the gap between guitar and bass. McCombs also plays a Fender Jazzmaster guitar.

Guitarist Jeff Parker joined in the late '90s and continues to record and perform with the band. His favorite ax is a vintage Gibson ES-355, the iconic semi-hollow double-cut electric guitar with dual humbuckers. He usually plays through a Fender Twin Reverb.

Although Tortoise aren’t known for layers of effects like many post-rock bands, they do strategically implement guitar pedals, such as the Boss RV-3 and the respected Crowther Hot Cake overdrive. For modulation, Parker’s recent rig included the EHX Small Stone phaser and Moog MF-102 Ring Modulator, a versatile pedal that can make synth-like and tremolo tones.

Stuart Braithwaite & Barry Burns

Beginning in the late '90s in Scotland, Mogwai quickly became one of the monsters of post-rock, playing festivals and headlining concerts around the globe to this day. Members of Mogwai have collaborated with artists such as Belle and Sebastian, Arab Strap, Minor Victories, The Reindeer Section and Snow Patrol.

Mogwai's tracks are often built around huge guitar riffs and building arpeggios, but they also implement keys, vocals and other instruments. Mogwai helped establish some of the hallmarks of post-rock music, including striking dynamics, recurring phrases, and swelling tremolo picking. When combined with gain, delay, and reverb, rapid picking of single notes and slides up and down the fretboard can create epic glissando.

To help craft these tones, guitarist Stuart Braithwaite and multi-instrumentalist Barry Burns often utilize Fender, Marshall, and Orange amps and cabs, including the Rockerverb 100 and Fender Twin Reverb. Braithwaite has also used the Fender Tone Master Super Reverb, a solid-state recreation of the classic 4x10 silverface combo. They also sling classic rock axes, such as Burns’ Gibson SG and Braithwaite's collection of Telecasters and Les Pauls, often all setup in different tunings. Braithwaite also plays Jazzmasters, including the American Professional II and a 1967 Fender Coronado.

It's probably not surprising that Mogwai often employ giant pedalboards. For much of the band’s discography, the Danelectro Fab Tone—a kind of Marshall in a box—is essential to their sound. The band is one of many associated with the Muff fuzz, and some version of it is on most of their boards. They even had a promotional Big Muff released with the band’s name in the iconic typeface.

Recently, Braithwaite collaborated with Denmark builder Reuss Effects and Arab Strap’s Aidan Moffat on a variation of the op-amp Muff with a dual tone control and mix adjustment, called the Plasmatron. Braithwaite has also been known to use RAK clones of the Boss DM-1 analog delay and the RAK Super Distortion.

During the studio session for their 2021 album As The Love Continues, the available pedals included the RV-5, OC-2, RE-20, DD-200, and VD-1 by Boss; the Darkstar and Procession from Old Blood Noise; an EHX Superego; a Devi Ever Ruiner and Rainger FX Drone Rainger.

The band has used lots of vintage fuzz pedals, including the Fuzz Face, Fender Blender, and Ibanez Standard Fuzz. Both guitarists also use Rat distortions. Braithwaite has championed the AC Noise Respira, a tremolo and reverb combo pedal. He also uses the Sonuus Wahoo expression-based filter and the Eventide H9 multi-effect.

David Bryant, Efrim Menuck & Mike Moya

Perhaps the most interesting of the popular post-rock bands, Godspeed You! Black Emperor emerged from the Montreal artist community in the mid 1990s. Later in the decade, the group solidified following the release of their debut studio album, F# A# ∞. A third of the lineup—Efrim Menuck, Mike Moya, and David Bryant—play guitar. Other musicians in the band include two bassists, two drummers, and violinist Sophie Trudeau.

Godspeed You! Black Emperor blend samples, orchestral-like movements, repeated and building phrases, and dramatic dynamics into a sound that is strikingly unique and affecting. Godspeed are perhaps the most consistent among their peers in positive critical reception and a cult-like following among their fans.

After releasing Lift Your Skinny Fists Like Antennas to Heaven and Yanqui U.X.O., the band went on hiatus through much of the early aughts. But the band reunited in the early 2010s, releasing four LPs and touring the globe through the next decade.

Efrim Menuck often plays a Gibson Les Paul. Mike Moya prefers a Telecaster, which he often manipulates with nontraditional tools, such as a screwdriver, sometimes used like a bow. David Bryant plays a Travis Bean guitar.

GYBE are known for including copious pedals in their rigs, with all three guitarists usually sitting in front of two pedalboards each during performances. Efrim’s ambient tones often utilize delays, such as the Gurus Echosex 2, Maxon AD-999, Boss RV-3, Strymon El Capistan, and Catalinbread Belle Epoch. Tremolo is also essential to his sound, including the Demeter Tremulator, Fulltone Supa Trem, Zvex Seek Trem, and Empress Tremolo 2. For utility pedals, he’s used the JHS Colour Box and Empress ParaEQ, and the Hilton volume pedal.

Other pedals in the guitarists’ arsenals include the MXR Carbon Copy, Boss GE-7, Boss compressor, and the Zvex Lo-Fi Loop Junky. The band has also used Ampeg, Marshall, and Hiwatt 100 amps.


One of the most popular bands through post-rock’s course is Iceland’s Sigur Ros. While their songs often feature vocals, most of them are in Icelandic and for most listeners, they become a part of the emotional soundscape the band crafts.

Sigur Ros uses a variety of instrumentation, but their guitar elements are recognized by dirty, reverb-soaked swells and screeches, led by frontman and vocalist Jónsi Birgisson.

The most unique piece of Jónsi’s rig is a custom single-cutaway guitar made by Dan Johnson, which Jónsi plays with a rosined cello bow. The radius is low, and the bridge is custom, with a gap behind the saddles so he can bow on both sides. He uses thicker strings (.12s) in standard tuning. The electronics feature a built in treble boost. His backup is an Ibanez PF200. Jónsi has also been known to play Les Pauls.

Other than making or ordering your own custom guitar, guitarists wanting to experiment with bowing should try Les Paul-style guitars or vintage-style fenders with TOM bridges. In both cases, an element is missing. Most single-cut guitars have a falter radius for the strings, while many Fender-style guitars have a body that’s too flat or wide to allow for comfortable bowing. Helpful techniques include lowering the guitar when using a strap or holding the guitar sideways, as Johnny Marr does when bowing his Fender Starcaster.

Jónsi plays through a Marshall JCM 2000 with a standard 4x12 cab. Fans might be surprised to learn that the rest of Jónsi’s signal chain is minimalist compared to many of the other guitar heroes of post rock. He uses a Keeley boost, volume pedal, and the EBS Valve Drive into a Boss RC-20XL looper. Live, Jonsi uses a TC Electronic rack unit for huge reverb.

Partially thanks to Sigur Ros, post-rock became one of the genres pushing guitar gear forward, often influencing and promoting steps forward in DSP-based pedals and rarely used effects, such as shimmer reverb and granular synthesis. TC Electronic’s Hall of Fame pedal offers a downloadable algorithm similar to Jónsi’s sound. In the studio, Jonsi’s also uses the Eventide Space, which has a Sigur Ros mode, a feature included in the original marketing for the pedal.

Takaakira Goto & Hideki “Yoda” Suematsu

Founded in 1999 by Takaakira Goto, Mono emerged from Tokyo shortly before the release of their first LP, Under The Pipal Tree, which was sponsored by legendary experimental musician John Zorn. Mono later worked with seminal producer Steve Albini, Chicago-based post-rockers Pelican, and vocalist A.A. Williams. Over two decades, Mono produced almost a dozen studio albums.

Like many of their peers, Mono crafts symphonic movements with cinematic pathos using the traditional rock quartet as their foundation. Taka plays a 1966 Fender Jazzmaster, while Yoda usually plays a Stratocaster. Taka plays through a Fender Twin Reverb and Marshall JCM2000.

Both guitarists are EarthQuaker Devices artists and use the Afterneath reverb. Suematsu has also endorsed the Hoof fuzz. Both have used the Free The Tone Flight Time, a complex DSP-based delay pedal. They’ve also both used various Boss digital delays, the Strymon Flint reverb and tremolo, and the Maxon Dual Booster. They’re also both fans of Mad Professor pedals, and have used the Sweet Honey Overdrive and Mighty Red Distortion.

Taka utilizes the SIB Mr. Echo, an analog delay pedal that was one of the first to include a second footswitch for instigating oscillation. His boards also often include Boss and TC Electronic loopers and the Boss PS-2, a vintage digital delay and pitch shifter, often associated with the shoegaze band Slowdive. Like Mogwai, Taka has also used the DanElectro Fab Tone distortion.

Yoda, who also plays his rig through a Twin Reverb, heavily favors the classic ProCo Rat distortion pedal. His board also features a heavily worn Creation Audio Labs MK.4.23 boost pedal.

Michael James, Munaf Rayani & Mark Smith

While Mogwai, Godspeed You! Black Emperor, Mono, and Sigur Ros gained acclaim for their original sounds on an international level, a band from Texas is perhaps the American group most-associated with the genre of post-rock. Forming as Breaker Morant in Austin in 1999, the band’s first recording session on the Fourth of July inspired the moniker Explosions in the Sky.

Guitarists Munaf Rayani and Mark Smith and bassist Michael James were inspired by the quiet darkness of the landscape surrounding their boring hometown of Midland, Texas. With drummer Chris Hrasky, who was looking for a “sad, triumphant rock band” before giving up on Texas, the quartet have released three Billboard-charting studio albums. They’re also known for solid film scores, including Prince Avalanche with David Wingo and Friday Night Lights with Brian Reitzell.

Michael James usually plays a Fender Precision bass, switching to an Ibanez Talman T630 for certain songs. Fellow champion of obscure offset guitars from the '90s, Mark Smith often plays a Fender Toronado, a model which Fender and Squier have recently revived. Munaf Rayani plays various Strats, including a custom model made by Austin luthier Chris Forshage. Explosions was also one of many contemporary bands to make use of the Heet EBow, an electronic device that rapidly vibrates guitar strings.

Explosions in the Sky’s guitarists use Fender amps, including Twin Reverb combos and Dual Showman heads. Rayani plays through a 2x15” cab. The band’s airy sound and compressed, mostly clean guitar melodies is heavily associated with the Boss RV-3—a delay and reverb pedal the company produced from the mid 1990s to early '00s. They also use other classic delay pedals, including the Line 6 DL4 and Ibanez DE7.

Rayani and Smith both use the Tech 21 SansAmp GT2 for boost and dirt, with other drives for bigger moments, such as the Walrus Audio Voyager and Zvex Distortron. James uses the MXR Bass DI for distortion and the CAE Custom Boost to help the mellow Ibanez Talman pickups be heard. The band has also used Electro-Harmonix 9-series pedals, the Eventide Space and EarthQuaker Devices Afterneath.

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