The Deftones is a band that was born in 1988, in Sacramento, California. Their sound lies between several genres such as alternative metal, art rock, experimental rock, and nu metal.
Their blend of several styles and Stephen Carpenter’s guitar parts and tones is a big part of what constitutes their identity and characteristic sound.
Stephen’s sonic paintings are a combination of several pieces such as drop tunings, extended range guitars, high-gain amplifiers, and techniques such as palm muting, dissonant chords, ambient effects, and an experimental approach that ultimately shaped their sound to what it is today.
In this Deftones Amp Settings Guide, I will go over everything that you can’t overlook if you’re looking to nail their signature sound, whether you want to play their songs accurately or take inspiration from their tones to compose your own material.
Bottom Line Up Front
The Deftones are known for a strong blend of styles such as alternative metal, experimental rock, and shoegaze.
The guitarist, Stephen Carpenter, is an avid user of seven, eight, and even nine-string guitars, high-gain amplifiers, and other tools that allow him to have a heavy sound with atmospheric and ambient properties.
To recreate his sound, you will need gear that is directed towards heavier music, which means that a 6 string guitar with single coils and a clean amplifier isn’t going to be very useful in this quest. The right technique and choice of chord voicings are also crucial to achieving a tone that resembles Stephen’s.
Start with the following amplifier settings: Gain at 6, Treble at 5, Middle at 7, and Bass at 5.
After that, test it with your favorite Deftones riffs while trying to emulate Stephen’s playing style. You might need to make a few adjustments depending on the gear you’re using, but these settings are meant to be a good starting point to be perfected gradually.
Deftones Amplifier Settings: Heavy Riffs That Go Past the Usual 6 Strings
The settings in this section are meant to be used with gear suited for Stephen Carpenter’s usual sounds.
This means that you should have a guitar with humbuckers, preferably with 7 or 8 strings, and an amplifier that can dish out high-gain easily. If your amp is more on the clean side, you can compensate by using a good distortion pedal.
Start with the following settings:
- Gain: 6
- Treble: 5
- Middle: 7
- Bass: 5
Having the Gain knob at 6 makes sense if you’re using a high-gain amp. At this point, it is already distorted, but it can still maintain a clear note separation and complex chord voicings will still sound clear if you use the correct right-hand technique. If your amp doesn’t have a lot of gain, turn the knob to 7/8.
The mids are the highest of the 3 EQ parameters to ensure your sound cuts right through the mix. The treble knob should be around 5 and 7 to guarantee a pronounced top end, but be careful that it doesn’t become too shrill. Adjust the bass accordingly so that it has enough body without sounding muddy.
If you’re getting your distortion from a pedal, you will probably need to experiment with how it interacts with the amplifier’s gain knob so that it does not get overly saturated and too compressed.
Keep in mind that these settings are meant to be a starting point, and they will yield different results depending on the combination of guitar, amplifier, and pedals that you’re using for this. It is likely that you will need to make a few adjustments to get the most out of your gear.
What are the Ingredients for a Unique Guitar Tone?
What do your favorite guitar tones have in common? What defines and characterizes them the most? Guitarists spend a lot of time talking about tone, and I think that is because it is affected by many variables.
Just thinking about gear alone, you have many moving parts: your guitar, an amplifier with several knobs, and maybe a few pedals that can also sound very different depending on how you set them, among other things.
After spending years trying to sound like my guitar heroes, as well as crafting unique sounds of my own, I concluded that these are the aspects that influence your tone the most:
- Guitar Body Type: Solid Body, Semi-hollow Body, Hollow Body
- Pickup Choice: Humbuckers, Single-coils, P90’s, Goldfoils, etc
- Amplifier Type: Solid State, Tube Amp, Plugin/Emulator
- Amplifier’s Settings: Volume, Gain, Bass, Middle, Treble, Presence
- Effect Pedals: Overdrive, Distortion, Fuzz, Modulation, Time-based Effects, etc
With so many aspects to consider when crafting a guitar tone, it is easy to feel overwhelmed by the sheer amount of options and possibilities. However, experimenting with gear and figuring out what you like is one of the best parts of our guitar journeys.
The ability to tell what kind of guitar, amp, and pedals you’d need for a certain tone is a great skill to have, especially for session musicians who are often faced with guitar parts spanning different genres and approaches.
Last but not least, your technique plays a huge role in defining your tone. When you want to emulate another guitarist’s sound, you have to study everything such as the picking technique, vibrato, bends, legato, articulation, and so on.
I recommend listening to their material consistently, watching videos of live performances, and any master classes or events in which you can get a clear view of what they are doing.
Deftones & Stephen Carpenter’s Tone: Tools for Massive Metal Sounds
Stephen Carpenter’s gear choices reflect the sound he’s going for with the Deftones. Because they often play in lower tunings and have an aggressive sound with a lot of distortion, Stephen uses a lot of extended-range guitars, such as 7 and 8-string ESPs.
In terms of amps, he is a fan of high-gain amplifiers that can deliver some serious distortion, such as the Marshall JCM800 and the Peavey 6505. If you have a very clean amp like a Fender Twin Reverb, you will have to use a distortion pedal with a lot of available saturation to compensate.
As for his effects, he obtains his atmospheric soundscapes through the use of reverb, delay, and modulation pedals.
The combination of his gear and playing technique allows him to obtain the heavily distorted and ethereal-like sounds that the Deftones are known for.
Stephen Carpenter’s Guitars
Stephen is a big fan of ESP Guitars, and he has developed more than one signature model in collaboration with them. Here are a few examples of instruments he usually plays in the studio and on stage:
- ESP STEF B-7: a 7-string guitar with a single Fishman Fluence SRC Signature pickup. One of Stephen Carpenter’s signature models that were developed with ESP.
- ESP STEF-T7B: a very unique instrument that combines 7 strings with a 27″ scale, typical of baritone guitars. It is capable of handling extremely low tunings with ease.
- ESP STEF B-8: an 8-string build with a pair of Fishman Fluence SRC Signature pickups. It also features a 27″ baritone scale length.
- ESP LTD SCT-607B: released in 2018, this 7-string guitar features the same baritone scale length and pickups as its more expensive cousins made by ESP.
- ESP LTD SC-608 RSP: a guitar that is similar to the SCT-607B, but in a Superstrat-style body shape. It features a push-pull knob that toggles between different pickup voicings.
- ESP LTD SC20 SOB: this is one of the few 6-string signature guitars under Stephen Carpenter’s name. It features a 25.5″ scale length and a combination of 2 ESP humbuckers and a Seymour Duncan JB single coil.
Stephen Carpenter’s Amplifiers
High-gain amplifiers are the usual tools that Stephen likes to use to obtain his signature sounds. Apart from real tube amps, he has also used digital alternatives such as the AxeFX and modeling amplifiers like the Positive Grid BIAS head.
Check some of Stephen Carpenter’s amplifiers of choice below:
- Orange Tiny Terror TT15JR Jim Root Signature: a hot-rodded take on the original Tiny Terror, capable of delivering crunchy saturated tones without getting too loud in the room.
- Marshall JCM800 2203: a tried and true amplifier that has been used by countless guitarists over the decades. Responsible for many classic Marshall tones.
- Peavey 6505 Mini Head: a smaller version of a highly acclaimed Peavey amp that many metal players use because of its consistent, solid metal tones.
- Marshall JCM 2000 DSL 100 Dual Super Lead: an extremely powerful 100W amplifier that produces creamy distortion that molds itself perfectly to the kind of sounds that the Deftones are known for.
- Positive Grid BIAS Head: an amp head that can be used with Positive Grid’s amp modeling software to obtain high-quality sounds in a convenient format. Perfect for when you don’t want to play too loud or spend a long time setting up your microphones.
- Bogner Uberschall Mk2: a 150W head with seven stages of cascading gain. An amplifier meant for modern metal and any genre that requires brutal distortion.
Stephen Carpenter’s Pedals
Stephen’s pedalboards mostly consist of fuzz, reverb, delay, and modulation effects such as phaser and flanger. He blends these elements to create sonic landscapes that combine clean, ambient-like sections with brutally distorted riffs.
Below, you’ll find a short list of effect pedals that Stephen Carpenter uses:
- Line 6 Helix (Multi-Effects Unit)
- Boss FZ-2 Hyper Fuzz
- ZVEX Fuzz Factory
- ZVEX Machine
- Strymon BigSky Reverb
- Strymon Mobius Modulator
- Boss BF-3 Flanger
- ZVEX Ringtone TT
- MXR EVH-117 Analog Flanger
- MXR M169 Carbon Copy Delay
- MXR M288 Bass Octave Deluxe
- Eventide PitchFactor Harmonizer
- Eventide H9 Max Harmonizer
- Digitech WH-4 Whammy
- MXR M148 Micro Chorus
How to Achieve a Deftone’s Guitar Tone – What is the Right Gear for the Job?
If you want to nail Stephen Carpenter’s tones when he plays with the Deftones, you can’t neglect your gear choices, as they have to be somewhat specific. Since he generally plays his guitars in drop tunings and often uses extended-range instruments, you must factor that into your plan.
You’ll find a few of my favorite suggestions of guitars, amplifiers, and effect pedals for a Deftones-inspired rig below.
The Guitars: 6 Strings Won’t Cut It
The most affordable extended-range guitar on this list, the EC-257 is LTD’s offer to those who want to get started in this instrument style. Inspired by the classic Les Paul body shape, this guitar features ESP-designed pickups that are made to handle aggressive and brutal distortion.
One of many signature models that Stephen has designed in collaboration with ESP. This guitar features a pair of Fishman Fluence Stephen Carpenter Signature pickups that are enhanced by a push/pull system that switches between active and passive voices.
A 7-string guitar with a baritone scale (27″) is especially prepared for low tunings such as Drop C or even lower, which is why you hear them so often on Deftones records.
If you’d rather play an 8-string guitar, you should consider the SC-608, another of Carpenter’s ESP signature models. It features the same electronics as the previous guitar we’ve discussed, only now you have an extra string that goes even lower, further enhancing your possibilities.
Even though the neck has to be wide to accommodate all the strings, it is still very comfortable and there’s easy access to the higher frets due to the guitar’s ergonomic body shape.
The Amplifiers: Saturation Frenzy
The 6505 Mini Head takes all the grit and aggressiveness from the original model and packs it into a smaller enclosure that is easier to carry around for gigs or rehearsals. It can be toggled between 20, 5, and 1W of power, allowing you to push the volume and gain without being unbearably loud.
Other interesting features include a USB output for recording and a Mic Simulated Direct Interface if you want to go directly into the PA instead of putting a microphone in front of the cab.
Stephen Carpenter likes to use some Orange amps such as Jim Root’s signature Tiny Terror. This one features two channels, and switchable power that goes between 30W, 15W, and 7W, allowing you to take advantage of its full saturation at decent volumes.
Each channel has its independent volume, tone, and gain controls. You can control this via a footswitch that is sold separately. On the bright side, it comes with a padded gig bag.
If you’re looking to move some serious air when you’re playing, look no further from the Marshall DSL100HR, a 100W head with 2 channels, Classic Gain and Ultra Gain. These two channels give you nearly unlimited possibilities, from vintage tones to high-gain walls of sound.
Marshall includes a footswitch that controls both channels and the effects loop. It also features a studio-grade digital reverb and a line output with a Marshall 1960 cab emulation for convenient recording.
The Pedals: Ambient Dimension
A pedal that barely needs any introduction, the BigSky has found its way to the pedalboards of thousands of professional guitarists who need a reliable reverb pedal that features several high-quality algorithms, presets, MIDI, and much more.
Since the Deftones incorporate a lot of ambient sounds into their songs, this pedal would be a great advantage when attempting to emulate their guitar tones.
Stephen Carpenter is also known for experimenting with various fuzz pedals. He likes to use the ZVEX Fuzz Factory as well as the Boss FZ-1 Fuzz. This is an improved take on the original Boss FZ-1, with more gain, a wider expressive range, and other tone-shaping features such as a modern/vintage switch.
One of the staples on Stephen Carpenter’s rig, the H9 Max Harmonizer can do pretty much anything related to reverb, modulation, and delay. It features 52 of Eventide’s best algorithms that you’d find on other excellent pedals such as the TimeFactor, ModFactor, and PitchFactor.
It has 99 selectable presets, a built-in tuner, a control app for iOS/Android, and much more.
FAQ: Frequently Asked Questions About the Deftones Amplifier Settings
Question: What kind of guitars and amplifiers does Stephen Carpenter from Deftones use?
Answer: Stephen Carpenter uses mostly ESP instruments, and almost always 7 or 8-string guitars that have a 27″ scale length like a baritone guitar. They often feature Fishman pickups designed to handle incredible amounts of distortion while retaining clarity and control. He uses tube amplifiers that are capable of producing high-gain sounds without resorting to pedals, such as the Marshall JCM800 2203 and the Orange Tiny Terror TT15JR.
Question: What is the correct tuning to play songs by Deftones?
Answer: The Deftones have experimented with a variety of tunings throughout the years, but most of their songs were recorded with guitars tuned to Drop C, Drop C#, and Drop A#. These extremely low tunings require the guitar to be set up for heavier strings, and a longer scale length is also helpful to maintain adequate string tension.
Question: Does Stephen Carpenter from Deftones use a lot of effects in his guitar rig?
Answer: Stephen Carpenter incorporates a lot of fuzz, reverb, and delay pedals into his pedalboards for studio sessions and live performances. He also likes to add modulation effects for increased depth. Some of his favorite pedals include the ZVEX Fuzz Factory, Strymon BigSky, and the MXR M169 Carbon Copy.
Closing Considerations About the Deftones Amplifier Settings
At this point, you’ve realized that having the right amplifier settings isn’t the only thing to take into account if you want to sound like the Deftones.
Capturing the essence and atmosphere of Stephen Carpenter’s sounds in the Deftones can be tricky if you don’t know where to start. A combination of extended-range guitars (7, 8, or even 9-string guitars) with a baritone scale (27″ scale length), and high-gain amplifiers are an excellent foundation.
When setting up your amplifier, start with the following settings: Gain at 6, Treble at 5, Middle at 7, and Bass at 5.
An appropriate choice of reverb, delay, and modulation pedals will be crucial to nail their ambient and deeper tones.
Last but not least, most of the aggressiveness of your sound should come from your picking technique. Study Stephen’s playing attentively, understand it as much as possible, and with the right gear, you’ll sound like the Deftones!