Watch the Tones & Gear online guitar lesson by Chris Buono from Focus On: Funk Guitar
When beginning to explore what it takes to make great funk tones and the gear used to do it we'll first look at the go-to components in the guitar, amp and effects categories. Starting with the guitars, look towards single coil-equipped guitars such as a Fender Strat and/or Tele with a focus on the former. Of course, Strat- and Tele-style guitars made by other builders could be considered. Unless you have super bright hands a maple neck would serve you well as they help produce a snappier attack and overall tone. It's a good idea to go with .010 gauge strings as opposed to the thinner .009 gauge as you'll be putting them through some formidable punishment when playing funk rhythms as well as playing with lighter gain levels and thus benefit from a thicker gauge. When it comes to amps it starts with Fender once again with a focus on the Deluxe Reverb and Twin Reverb models for respective 1X12 and 2X12 options. These amps stay basically clean, but will deliver their versions of light clipping when pushed. Depending on your tastes when it comes to how much gain you want to incorporate will serve as part of the criteria for what speaker configuration as well as power rating you look towards. As for effects your first one should be the ubiquitous wah pedal. Close seconds are a phat-sounding phaser and an even phatter-sounding envelope filter! If you plan to take a solo or start delving into heavier funk rock riff playing then a light OD pedal much like a Tube Screamer and/or a bit heavier distortion pedal will be on your shopping list as well.
As you pursue the funk you'll learn about a universal truth any funk player worth his salt is hip to: You can get down with just about any rig if you have a good sense of rhythm and pure intentions. At the same time, funk music invites absurdly cool sounds and provides a completely inspiring platform to get your sonic freak on. Be it liberal use of compression, massive fuzz tones ala Eddie Hazel or the whacked out ring modulated tones from Wayne Krantz and deft Whammy pedal antics from Tom Morello, funk music almost begs for you to go for it. Go digging and you'll discover all sorts of approaches from the masters such as Prince's penchant for Boss pedals or John Frusciante's devotion to Marshall amps particularly the Jubliee and vintage Boss CE-1 chorus pedals. And, don't stop there - look to keyboard/synth players as well like Bernie Worrell, Hernie Hancock and Steve Wonder. If not for those guys we guitarists may never have know what a Mu-Tron III is!
Once you've put some time into your funk rig consider some of my tried-and-true funk gear tricks I've learned over the years through other players and just some good old trial and error:
-If you can handle it, use .011 gauge strings.
-Try to avoid 10" speakers as they make your sound some across as, well, small. Plus, they break up too quickly robbing you of precious headroom.
-If your budget allows, go for a tunable wah pedal such as a Teese RMC3FL. You'll love having options.
-A Gibson ES-175 goes a long way with its inherent archtop snap. Think I'm crazy? Look into what Jimmy Nolen, Tony Maiden and Neo Nocentelli used on more than a handful of classics recordings.
-Other Gibsons that have made an impact on classic funk records are ES-335's, the ES-5 Swithmaster and, ready for this, Les Pauls!
-Go for low output pickups especially if you use humbuckers or think about P-90s for that matter.
-Speaking of pickups try the middle position (#3) on a Strat or the middle position on a three-way toggle for two humbuckers on the aforementioned Les Paul. Totally funky!
-Other go-to tube amps to consider are the Fender Pro Reverb and Vox AC-30(!). Yes, the amp that defined various eras of The Beatles, Queen and U2 is a beautiful sounding amp in a funk context.
-Don't raise your nose to non-boutique amps such as a quirky old Kustom or beat up Peavey Classic 50. They both will do your funk tone tweaking big time justice.
-Love'm or hate'm a Roland JC-120 in the right hands is a solid state force to be reckoned with.
-Try avoid using chorus unless it's an analog chorus and you set the rate very low and the depth in the middle range. When it comes to wetting up your tone with modulation effects make phasing the first choice and flanger the second with chorus being last.
-Be conservative about reverb - too much will cloud your sound. Considering funk's inherent syncopation reverb should be used sparingly and with respect.
-Be patient with envelope filters. I've found the better the filters, the harder I had to work at them to get them going. Once I did - OH MAN. It's amazing. Perfect example: A Lovetone Meatball.
-Keep an octave pedal in the back of your mind. It's a great first pedal to start copping raunchy synth tones and can sound great when correctly placed.
I could gladly go on and on with this tips, but this is a great start. Have fun!