R.E.M.’s Monster Tone

It’s no secret that R.E.M. were looking for something different during the recording of Monster. They had just come off of a run of very successful albums, but the band felt they were lacking in the rock department. Enter Monster. Peter Buck is not known as a guitarist that’s into lots of gear. Buck typically chooses to lay back on most tracks and serve the song. The best way to indulge in Buck’s playing is to focus on the chord voicing and rhythm, let the tone engulf your ears, and simply rock out. Monster is a perfect example of great vintage tone, with amps cranked and guitars strumming away, but still, there are a few key components that you’ll need to achieve this tone.

First and foremost, the amp. We think the amp used on this record was it’s centerpiece. It’s as if Buck decided to focus on one amp and explore all the sonic possibilities that this amp could provide, each track featuring a different facet of the amp–sometimes multiple. It’s been said that Buck played through Silvertones, Fender Twins, Vox AC30s, and Mesa Trem-o-verbs over the years1, all confirmed via live performances, but there’s not much information as to what went on in the studio. To our ears, we definitely hear an Alnico speaker which either indicates a Vox AC30 or potentially a Silvertone head into a Vox cabinet. For this, we’ve dialed in the VG302E Amplifier with the VG 2×12″ 30W ’67 Cabinet. But that’s not the full picture. There is a distinct mid-boost that is not present in most amplifier tone stacks. For now, we’re satisfied using the EQ106 Six-Band Equalizer. We’re running this into the Normal channel which is typically dull and bassy, but with the mid-boost, things brighten up and you can instantly hear Buck coming through your speakers as you strum those huge chords.

With the basic tone dialed in there are only two more elements, Tremolo, and lead tone. The Speed control for the Vibe-Trem channel on the VG302E Amplifier nearly perfectly matches some of the performances on Monster, in the Slow and Fast settings. It adds to the likelihood that Buck was using an AC30 all over this record. For lead tone, we know that Buck has been spotted with a ProCo RAT in his pedal board so we added the DS101A Distortion to cover all bases.

What Frequency?

This core tone is great for rocking out on massive chords, kicking in a lead tone for searing solos, and adding Tremolo when things need some movement.

  • VG302E Amplifier
  • EQ106 Six-Band Equalizer
  • DS101A Distortion
  • 2x12C 30W ’67 Cabinet

1 Peter Buck | Equipboard. https://equipboard.com/pros/peter-buck?gear=amplifiers. Accessed 25 March 2023.