Potent Pairings: How to Sound Like Sonic Youth

Disclaimer: Our Potent Pairing series aims to get you in the ballpark of the sounds on your favorite recordings using affordable, accessible pedals. The pedals featured are not the exact pieces of gear used on the recordings.

Formed by Thurston Moore, Kim Gordon, and Lee Ranaldo in 1981 (with longstanding drummer Steve Shelley joining in ‘85), Sonic Youth emerged from New York City’s underground no wave art and music scene, rising steadily over the years that followed into one of the biggest rock bands of all time.

The group mixed their experimental, avant-garde sensibilities into more traditional pop song structures, often interspersing songs with repetitive, degenerating noise-based sections and playing with guitars in odd alternate tunings.

In fact, as you'll see from the video above, a lot of the signature Sonic Youth guitar tone comes from these strangely tuned and layered guitar parts, rather than from a slew of perfectly coordinated effects units. Despite many of the songs featuring multiple guitar parts, our recipes often include between one and three pedals, with some of the guitar parts going entirely unaffected.

In the episode of Potent Pairings above, Joe Darnaby breaks down the guitar parts of a variety of classic Sonic Youth tunes, like "Teen Age Riot," "The Diamond Sea," "Karen Revisited," and "100%." Be sure to check it out in full above, and to pick up any of the pedals used in the episode for yourself, click on the name of the pedal listed below.

So, Sonic Youth fans, do you think Joe nailed it? Let us know in the comments.

Pedals Used In This Video
"Teen Age Riot"

Guitar 1
Guitar 2
Guitar 3

"Wish Fulfillment"

Guitar 1
Guitar 2

"100%"

Guitar 1
Guitar 2

"The Diamond Sea"

Guitar 1
Guitar 2

"Bull in the Heather"

Guitar 1

"'Cross the Breeze"

Guitar 1

"Karen Revisited"

Guitar 1
Guitar 2
Guitar 3


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