Potent Pairings: How to Sound Like The Smiths

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.

Whether you’re a musician or just a music fan, when someone says “The Smiths” you instantly have audial imagery. Much like Pink Floyd, The Byrds, or The Beach Boys, The Smiths were so influential because they had a distinct and infective sound.

For The Smiths’ lead guitarist Johnny Marr, that sound centered on an inventive, arpeggiated playing style run through cutting edge effects of the time. And since The Queen Is Dead was released 30 years ago today, we figured we'd take the chance to dig deep into Marr's classic '80s tones.

Marr made the most of the chorus on his Roland JC–120, Boss pedals like the OD–1, OD–2, and CE–2, and rack gear from Korg and Bel. Couple that with Marr’s studio technique of layering acoustic guitars alongside short bursts of melodic guitar interplay and you have one of the most iconic guitar styles of the 1980s, the sonic signature of The Smiths.

It was a fun challenge pretending to be Johnny Marr for a day, trying to replicate his parts with a combination of effects harkening back to the 1980s and some newer options. Use these as suggestions for your own material, or as a guide for putting together a pedalboard for your next Smiths Tribute Night.


"This Charming Man"

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"Panic"

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"Big Mouth Strikes Again"

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"The Boy With the Thorn in His Side"

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"Heaven Knows I'm Miserable Now"

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"Shoplifters of the World Unite"

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"The Headmaster Ritual"

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"How Soon is Now?"

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