The late guitar giant Gary Moore was a true titan of tone. Moore, who died of heart failure two months shy of his April 4 birthday in 2011, was a rare six-stringer — as comfortable with blues, his first musical love, as he was with blistering rock and exploratory jazz. Moore was also a superb technical player. His speed and articulation were exemplary, and his vibrato was absolutely exquisite. “Textbook” would be an accurate adjective to describe the latter, if he wasn’t so purely soulful as well.
Although Moore used a variety of brands and models of guitar throughout his 42-year career, he will forever be linked to the Gibson Les Paul. Not only because most of his greatest recordings were cut with a Les Paul in his bands — just listen to “Parisienne Walkways,” a bristling and artful example of his gorgeous compositional intelligence and sheer excellence as a performer — but because his career is entwined with one of the most influential Les Pauls in history: the so-called “Holy Grail” 1959 Les Paul Standard that was once owned by Peter Green.
Moore acquired the guitar from his mentor and idol Green for $200 and a Gibson SG. Moore learned the basic concepts behind his uncanny approach to vibrato watching the same guitar in Green’s hands, delivering the goods on classic Fleetwood Mac compositions like “My Dream” from Then Play On. When Moore eventually parted with the “Holy Grail” it sold at auction in 2006 for more than $2-million.
Moore used a host of Les Pauls, typically plugged into a Marshall amp with minimal if any effects, including the 1959 Standard he used for his career redefining Still Got the Blues, the 1990 album that signaled his return and commitment to blues after decades in the trenches of rock ‘n’ roll. In 1999 Gibson created a Moore signature model Les Paul, the Gary Moore BFG, with a chambered body, no pick guard and mismatched pickups — a P-90 in the neck position and a BurstBucker in the bridge.
His arsenal of notable Gibsons was rounded out by a double cutaway Les Paul Junior, a 1960 ES-335TD, a 1957 Les Paul Goldtop, a 1956 ES-5-Switchmaster and yet another ’59 Standard that he used for 1992’s follow-up to Still Got the Blues, called After Hours.
Besides playing some of the greatest guitars on the planet and possessing perfect vibrato in his fingers and from his wrist, Moore’s articulation at high picking speeds with a distorted tone was outstanding. The best way to master playing with articulation at speed is to initially master articulation alone. To get on the path, play a familiar single note lead very slowly until each note sounds pristine, and then gradually practice the line faster and faster. To attain this ability there is no substitute for the hard work of rigorous practice.
To approach a tone like Moore’s, set a high gain amp at nine, the treble at eight, the mids at seven, bass at eight, and set the volume fairly high if possible — over eight. Moore did not spare volume, which accounts for his seemingly infinite sustain. If you can’t turn up, a basic overdrive like a Tube Screamer will do. Moore used one on occasion. Also, roll back the tone pots on the guitar, adding highs from the amp to get into the right zone.