The Rolling Stones’ song, “Gimme Shelter,” is probably one of the most famous songs ever written and writers have included it in all kinds of “best-of” lists. It’s also in countless movies which means that even if you don’t know the Stones, you’ve probably heard them.
Today we’re going to talk primarily about the tremolo guitar part that’s played throughout the track. We’re not going to dive into the specifics of what Keith Richards used, but instead, focus on how you can cheaply reproduce the classic tremolo tone.
Generally speaking, you can replicate the tremolo pedal setting for Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter” by setting the rate to 1/16 notes relative to 119 BPM, with medium intensity in the intro, a stronger intensity for the rest of the song, and a sine-wave tremolo opposed to triangular or square-wave.
There are many other aspects of getting the “Gimme Shelter” tone, and if you wanted to get even more specific, you could dive into the type of tremolo Keith likely used, the guitar, amp, and other pedal effects and amplifier settings. For this article, we’re primarily going to talk about the tremolo but we’ll briefly touch on some of the other features.
What Gear You Need to Imitate The “Gimme Shelter” Guitar Tone
For the most part, you don’t really need a lot of gear to get the sound you’re looking for on the Stones’ “Gimme Shelter.” I argued the same thing for my tutorial on “How Soon Is Now.”
Most of us don’t have $50,000 to spare to get the exact tone of Keith Richards on Let It Bleed so we’ll just be working with what’s accessible.
That said, I will discuss some of the actual gear that he used. Generally speaking, most guitarists will already have a few of these, including drive and reverb, considering most amps come with this right on the amp.
- Tremolo Pedal
- Tweed-Style Fender Amp
Additionally, if you have an amp modeler, a stomp-box modeler, or a multi-FX pedal, you can get a lot of these sounds right on those products. We’ll talk about what I used from my gear to get the sound that I found was closest.
1) Tremolo Pedal
As I’ll explain to you in a minute, Richards allegedly used a Triumph Silicon 100-Watt amplifier back in 1969 to make “Gimme Shelter,” and this particular model had a built-in tremolo effect.
Pretty much any tremolo pedal will be able to imitate the tremolo sound that Keith got on the record. Even something as simple as the UT300 will do a sufficient job of getting the sound you’re looking for.
2) Compressor [Line 6 Stomp Box Modeler]
From what I can hear, “Gimme Shelter” mostly has a compressor tone right in the introduction, but not in the rest of the track. For getting this sound, I used the Line 6 M5 Stompbox Modeler which may or may not still be in production.
This is just a stand-in for the time being until I get my hands back on the Ego Wampler Compressor which can get a much better compressor tone.
I still love the modeler, don’t get me wrong, but the Ego Wampler Compressor is built for great compressor sounds and excels at it.
3) Fender, Squier, or Any Telecaster Type Guitar
Keith Richards reportedly used a hollow-body Australian-made guitar for the recording called a Maton EG240 Supreme.
When they play the song live, it seems like it’s relatively common for Keith to use a semi-hollow body that kind of looks like the Gibson ES335. For example, he’s playing a guitar like that in this video and in this one.
Nevertheless, a Telecaster-type guitar will work great for this tune which this YouTuber also demonstrated in his video.
I’ve got a semi-hollow body guitar on my bucket list of guitars to get, but for now, the Telecaster will have to do for getting that slightly twangy, hollow, sound.
4) Tweed-Style Amp
As I said earlier, Keith Richards reportedly used a Triumph Silicon 100 Watt amplifier which is probably a rarity nowadays and you’ll have to get one on the used market if you really wanted to replicate his tone down to the very last detail.
However, it’s not really necessary to get an amplifier like that to replicate the sound. Any amplifier should be able to get you the sound with the right tweaking including a standard Fender Tweed-style amp.
Other Effects – Drive and Reverb
I chose to be deliberately vague with this one, because, as I said to you earlier, your amp probably already has these settings anyway.
A lot of people really like the BOSS Blues Drive Pedal for playing The Stones, and generally speaking, it’s a popular pedal.
The Guitar Tremolo Setting for Rolling Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”
For this section, I’ll be using a standard clock for a frame of reference so I hope you can tell the time. Also, “Gimme Shelter” has a BPM of 119, and the tremolo rate sounds like it’s in 16th notes.
Intro Tremolo Setting of “Gimme Shelter”
As I explained in my guide to tremolo, depth is just another word for intensity, the rate changes the speed, and the wave changes the shape of the waveform.
In most tremolo pedals, you have the option to choose from triangular tremolo, sine-wave, and rectangular. A sine-wave tremolo tends to be much smoother than a triangular or rectangular tremolo.
When I think of triangular and rectangular tremolo, Tom Morello’s tremolo guitar parts come to mind, as opposed to Keith Richards’ “Gimme Shelter” which is a lot smoother and more sine-wave-like.
After-Intro Tremolo Setting of “Gimme Shelter”
For the rest of the song, to my ears, it sounds as if the intensity of the tremolo effect has increased a bit so I put the depth up to 1:30 or 2:00 to reflect that while also increasing the rate.
And this appears to be the sound that he has on one guitar for the rest of the song. The other guitar tracks on the song sound like they don’t have any tremolo on them.
Other Guitar Settings for The Stones’ “Gimme Shelter”
- Bridge Pick-Up
The neck pickup on either a hollow-body or telecaster type is far too warm to get the tone of the beginning of “Gimme Shelter.” I think it sounds much better to use the bridge pick-up.
However, later in the song, it sounds like the guitar tone changes from the bridge pick-up to the neck pick-up to give it more bass.
Pick or Fingerstyle
Some people play the introduction to the song with their fingers, as opposed to a pick, but there is a lot of “pluckiness” in the intro to the song. For that reason, I think it’s best to use a pick and compression to get that vibe.
Compression [Intro Only]
- Medium Compression
Also, you want quite a bit of compression to bring out the aforementioned “pluckiness” of the song. Not enough to make it over-the-top, but just enough to get that country and blues “pluck” sound.
- A small amount of drive
The drive on the guitar tone is fairly subtle, just enough to give you some bass and grittiness, but not enough to be full-fledged distortion.
You could probably even get this sound just by having the gain on your amplifier turned up and the pick-ups turned down for the introduction. Then, when the intro ends, turn up the pick-ups to bring in a much hotter signal.
- Subtle Reverb
And I saved reverb for last because what guitar tone doesn’t have at least a little bit of reverb on it?
Other Articles You May Be Interested In
- How to Use A Noise Gate/Suppressor Pedal [Dead Simple]
- How to Use A Volume Pedal As An Expression Pedal [SIMPLE]
- How to Use A Volume Pedal [An Illustrated Guide]
- How to Use A Vibrato Pedal [An Illustrated Tutorial]
- How To Use A Digitech Whammy Pedal [The Ultimate Guide]
Important Things to Note About “Gimme Shelter”
1) There Are Multiple Guitars on “Gimme Shelter”
In “Gimme Shelter,” there is one guitar that’s panned to the left and one that’s panned to the right, with the one on the left using the tremolo effect while the one on the right does not.
There is also a lead guitar in the beginning as well which plays the overarching melody atop the rhythm guitar playing, but this is a separate guitar entirely. Additionally, there are probably even more guitar tracks recorded for the song that is less audible.
1) Behringer UT300 Tremolo (on Thomann)