Robby Krieger, legendary guitarist of The Doors is known for some of the most memorable guitar playing of all time. Who could forget his great solo on Light My Fire or his eerie eastern-inspired playing on The End. Lets take a closer look at how he achieved his signature sound.
The main key to the Robby Krieger tone is of course his choice of guitar, which was for the most part either a Gibson SG Special or a Gibson SG Standard. Unlike most SGs being made today, Robby’s had a Lyre vibrato system, giving him access to creating some eerie-like pitch bends. Gibson has made some Robby Krieger signature SGs which may be difficult to find, but would be the closest you can find to original ’60s SGs. A cheaper way to do it would be to use a regular SG-style guitar and change out the pickups for vintage spec pickups. Legend has it that Robby used the SG Special on the first two Doors albums, which were equipped with P-90 pickups. Later when he started using the SG Standard, those had humbuckers.
When it comes to amps, The Doors had had an endorsement deal with Acoustic amps, though in various interviews, Robby has noted how terrible they sounded. The best way to get his tone in my opinion would be to use vintage Fender tube amps such as a Twin Reverb and cranking the volume up. Having the amp set really loud was essential to his tone, as he used his guitar’s volume to control output easily allowing him to go from cleans to distorted tones in a moments notice. A cranked amp also added feedback and harmonic textures that really make solos come to life and just cannot be done in a low-volume setting.
Robby didn’t really use many pedals with The Doors except for a fuzz to get lead tones on songs like When the Music’s Over and Five to One. The exact fuzz he used was a Maestro Fuzztone FZ-1. These are however no longer made today, but can be had from eBay for $300-$400. Some boutique builders also build clones if you are looking an option slightly cheaper. And of course, many fuzz pedals out there can cop similar tones if dialled in right. Just gotta experiment.
Finally, the main secret to Robby Krieger’s guitar tone is in the way he plays. Coming from a flamenco background, he was accustomed to playing with his fingers rather than a pick. As well, he grew his fingernails quite long which I feel is a big part of his tone. Much of his soloing incorporates a lot of hammer-ons and pull-offs which is essential to his sound. He also played slide to get those really eerie sounds. Trying minor open tunings really nails that vibe as heard on the song End of The Night.
So that’s it, all in all a Gibson SG, Fender tube amp, and a fuzz pedal are the main pieces of equipment needed and then playing with your fingernails and learning his playing style will get you the rest of the way.