The Gear of Indie Rock Gods J Mascis, Kevin Shields and Doug Martsch

Photo by Cara Totman / Courtesy of J Mascis

Dinosaur Jr, My Bloody Valentine and Built to Spill are responsible for creating a massive undercurrent of distinctly unique guitar-driven music. If there were an indie rock Mount Rushmore, the bands’ respective leaders: J Mascis, Kevin Shields and Doug Martsch, would almost certainly be carved into the mountainside.

Favoring an esoteric, textural approach laden with effects, this trio of axe wielders creates both dreamy and nightmarish landscapes within the context of their songs. Each has chosen a particular palette of colors to create their signature sounds.

Let’s take a look at the gear at the feet of these legends.

The Gear of Dinosaur Jr’s J Mascis

Key Gear: Fender Jazzmaster, Marshall Amps

In this video, we're looking at some basic combinations of pedals and settings you can use to achieve Mascis’ tones, even without buying his exact chain.

How To Sound Like J Mascis of Dinosaur Jr. on Guitar | Potent Pairings

The main guitar used by Mascis is a 1963 sunburst Fender Jazzmaster. The pickup covers and knobs have been swapped out and the bridge has been replaced with a Tune-O-Matic. The original frets have been replaced with jumbo frets.

Mascis also has several other Jazzmasters, including his Squier Signature model, which he uses on the road and in the studio. Speaking of Built to Spill, Mascis uses a custom pedal built by Jim Roth, singer and songwriter for that band. It is essentially a Rangemaster and Tone Bender MK1 in one box with independent controls and switches.

J Mascis’ Pedals

Mascis has a deep variety of pedals at his feet, including:

Mascis runs those into a 1968 Marshall JMP, a purple 1968 Marshall Super Bass head, and a Hiwatt Custom 100, all running through Marshall 4x12 cabs with Celestion speakers (some Vintage 30s, others unknown).

If you’re going after the Dinosaur Jr sound, or just want to try a Jazzmaster for the first time, I highly recommend the Squier J Mascis Signature Jazzmaster. It looks sharp, plays well, and sounds great. It’s one of the finest guitars available for around $400 today. I owned one for about a year, and the neck is one of the best I’ve played on any guitar. If you ask me why I sold it, I couldn’t give you a good answer other than I have a short attention span and I wanted to try something else. Pair that, or any other Jazzmaster, with a high-headroom tube amp and your favorite array of dirt boxes, some modulation and a can-do attitude, and you’re on your way to becoming Public Enemy No. 1 in the eyes of your homeowner’s association.

The Gear of My Bloody Valentine’s Kevin Shields

Key Gear: Fender Jazzmaster, Marshall Amps and Plenty of Effects

The starting point to Shields’ rig is nearly identical to J Mascis. The classic Fender offset guitar paired with Marshalls and a bevy of effects are the main ingredients for the mayhem that is My Bloody Valentine.

The Joy of the Guitar Riff - My Bloody Valentine / Kevin Shields

Kevin Shields’ Pedals

Shields also has a deep variety of pedals at his feet, including:

Shields’ rig is a moving target as it has evolved over the years, but you can’t go wrong if you have a pedalboard with nearly everything on it. If you’re in the mindset that each individual effect is an instrument, you’re on the right track.

The Gear of Built to Spill’s Doug Martsch

Key Gear: 1987 Fender Stratocaster Plus, Blackface Fender Bassman

The Built to Spill frontman has the most simple setup of the three, relying primarily on his 1987 Fender Stratocaster Plus with Lace Sensor pickups. Martsch has had the tone knob and pickup selector switch removed, and exclusively uses the middle position. To boost his signal, he uses three Dunlop Echoplex EP101 preamp pedals. One is on all the time, set for a slightly gritty sound. Another is set to a higher level for a rhythm crunch, and the last is dimed to push his solos over the top. For ambience, he uses two Electro-Harmonix delays: the Memory Boy analog delay and 16 Second Digital Delay.

Built To Spill - Full Performance (Live on KEXP)

Martsch has a way of creating beautiful melodies with his Stratocaster, occasionally employing the use of a slide. His playing is very dynamic; he weaves in and out of the sonic backdrop made by fellow guitarists Jim Roth and Brett Netson. If you want to cop his tone, get your favorite guitar, amp, a couple of simple boost pedals and a delay. For a great starting point on Built to Spill’s music, check out the 1997 masterpiece Keep It Like A Secret.

Please note that this is not meant to be an all-inclusive gear list for the aforementioned players. Legendary guitarists, like the rest of us, often change gear when it suits them, and they also have a lot of gear stored away to use if they get into a certain mood. That being said, the gear listed here provides a solid foundation, and with the guidance provided by the visceral music of Built to Spill, Dinosaur Jr and My Bloody Valentine, you can find inspiration to create your own beautiful soup of sound.

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