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Radiohead – Recreating the Sounds of "Paranoid Android"

If you’re a rock fan, then you know Radiohead is. One thing that you may not know is how they got the unique sound that you hear on the track “Paranoid Android”. I want to take a moment to help you understand how this unique sound was achieved so that you can recreate it at home, and hopefully get some good ideas about new things you can do with your amp and effects.

The song kicks off with an acoustic guitar playing rhythm. Shortly after we hear a light guitar part join in to create an interesting ambiance. The two guitarists of the band, Jon Greenwood and Ed O’Brien continue to play dueling guitar effects, drawing the listener in until finally reverting to an all out rock section starting around 2:42. This is the tone that I want to focus on. To get this sound, you’re going to need a vintage or grunge style fuzzbox.

This same fuzzbox will be used to good effect all throughout the solo that starts around 3:10. The whole distorted section has a very “lo-fi” sound that’s typical of the music made at that time. Shortly after the solo, there’s a bridge where all distortion disappears, followed shortly by the return of the distorted sound, with an added pitch-shifting effect. To achieve this, you’ll need a pitch shift pedal, which isn’t hard to come by.

I want to return quickly to the beginning to touch on how they got the light electric sound that accompanied the acoustic guitar. To get the sound that they used, you’re going to need a tremolo, some reverb and a compressor. On your amp, you want to get a nice fat sound, with a good bit of bass and middle, and reduced treble. I think about 3/4 bass, 2/3 mid and 1/3 treble is about the right mixture (the fractions are of the total amount of each bass middle and treble and not how they relate to each other). Turn your reverb knob about halfway up, keep the tremolo on the slow side, with a good bit of gain & as for the compressor, turn the attack and sustain up about 3/4 the way up and the level should go up about 1/2 way. This should be pretty easy to achieve, just use a little finesse and you should be there.

Using this guide, you should be able to achieve about 75% of the sounds they got in the studio with your home setup. The sounds that Radiohead gets out of their instruments during this period were based heavily on equipment that they were using in the studio at the time, so it’s a little hard to pinpoint exactly the same thing. With a little playing around, however, you can get a very close approximation. Good luck & have fun!


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