Fuzzy Logic-How the Kooks Mangled their Guitar Tones

The Kooks have done a lot in a short career. The young Brighton, U.K., quartet—singer/guitarist Luke Pritchard, guitarist Hugh Harris, bassist Max Rafferty, and drummer Paul Garred—have sold two million albums internationally, toured the globe, opened for the Stones, and recorded at Abbey Road. They still aren’t allowed to legally rent a car in North America, but that minor detail isn’t slowing their progress. The band’s new release, Konk [Virgin], is a serious sonic step up from its 2006 predecessor Inside In/Inside Out.
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“We intentionally made Inside In/Inside Out sound like a first record by using less expensive, gritty gear,” says Todd Burke, who engineered both records alongside producer Tony Hoffer at the Kinks’ Konk Studios in London. “One of the adjectives that kept coming up was ‘humble’—letting the sounds be, and not dressing them up. For Konk, even though the Kooks are an aggressive, super-raw band, we weren’t shy about going a step further
in terms of audio sophistication and fidelity.”

“I wanted to get away from what I know on this album,” says Harris, who employed everything from bowed guitar lines to octave pedals to add new dimensions of sound to his usual “straight” guitar approach. The guitarist also dabbled with creating his own fuzz pedals prior to pre-production, placing his Frankenstein creations alongside favorites such as the Z. Vex Super Hard-On and the Maestro FZ-1 Fuzztone.

“We were doing the wrong things, given this type of music—like not having our amps super loud and our tones super saturated,” remarks Hoffer. “Hugh would be playing, and I would be changing the pedals over the course of the song. Things got different on the guitar, rather than being static, and it made the sound more intense as it was morphing throughout the song.”

Burke says the band also opted to leave their amp stacks at home. Harris’ go-to setup was a ’60s Fender Twin Reverb paired with either a WEM/Watkins Clubman or a Fender Champion 600.

“The idea was to use a bigger amp to fill out the extreme corners of the stereo field, and let a little amp—driven to be all nasty and fuzzy—sit at the center,” explains Burke. “It suited the band’s vision for the album to create different guitar personalities on a ‘per song’ basis, and it’s hard to find one amp that can suit all of those personalities. But with
two or three amps, you can get into some higherlevel sound design. It’s like having more colors to draw with.”

Listeners will notice that Harris’ acoustic-guitar sound on Konk is slightly distorted. This is a decision the guitarist says was made in order to maintain a sense of uniformity between the electric an acoustic sections.

“We miked his large-bodied ’60s Martin with a single Shure SM57 and put the signal through a Neve 80 Series console,” explains Burke. “You can open the preamp up on that board, bring the fader back, and get a really hot, hype-y sound. Then, we would use a limiter on the signal. Obviously, that compressed the sh*t out of the acoustic-guitar
signal, but it also injected a lot of personality and attitude into the song, and it helped the acoustic guitar tracks settle with the fuzzy and overdriven electric guitars.”