George Thorogood’s ‘Bad To The Bone’ Guitar Tone Dissected

In 1982 George Thorogood and The Destroyers released a song that went on to contain one of the most recognizable guitar riffs of all time…Bad to the Bone.

The mid-range ‘honky’ guitar tone comes from a Gibson ES-125 (with P-90 Soapbar pickups), combined with a combo amp that is cranked all the way up.

The distinctive riff sees George playing his home-made copper slide, and I’m going to show you how to get the same effect – without using a slide!

Since I used the BOSS ME-80 on my Classic Patches Medley video, I’m going to go through how I approached the ‘Bad to the Bone’ tone on it here, but essentially the process would be same on any of the BOSS multi effects units.

In an earlier blog article, I spoke about the best way to approach a guitar tone is to consider the 4 Elements of Guitar Tone and using those principles, we have:

Contributed by Josh Munday – Tone Designer

1. The Guitar


Few blues artists establish an instantly recognizable tone – but George Thorogood made a Gibson ES-125 with P90 Soapbar pickups part of his signature sound “Nobody else wanted to play that cheap guitar. It’s not like a Les Paul. I didn’t have any money when we started the band. I had to buy an ES-125…It was a dirty, gruff sound. I figured when people listened to it they would know it was me, at least by the tone if not the phrasing of the guitar.” *

You will need to make slight adjustments in your final settings depending what guitar you are using.

2. The Pickup Selection


The original P-90 pickups predated the humbucker and, being big single coils pickups, had a brighter sound. I can tell the guitar tone on ‘Bad to the Bone’ is a bridge pickup by the harsh ‘honkiness’. So, if your guitar has single coil pickups, select the bridge pickup. If you don’t own a guitar with a single-coil pickup in the bridge position just go for the closest approximation e.g. On a 2 humbucker guitar like a Les Paul, select the bridge pickup and I’ll show you how to deal with the tonal differences later – in the EQ, Compressor and FX sections.

3. The Amp


Always start with everything off – I can’t stress this enough! Find the OFF button for everything in the signal chain so all you can hear is your dry guitar sound coming through.

Remember any multi-FX / amp simulator like the BOSS ME-80 is simulating a room full of gear, so think about it like that – you wouldn’t walk into a room full of amps and FX and start by turning everything ON would you? You would plug into an amp, get a good basic tone, then turn on any effects one at a time and build up your sound…. likewise with any multi-FX.

When selecting an amp there are some basic rules of thumb that will help:

► Set the EQ ‘flat’ (i.e. all settings at the half way point or 12 o’clock) as this gives you a neutral starting point so that the EQ isn’t colouring the tone.

► Set the gain at about a quarter of a turn (9 o’clock).

By now you should have a good idea of what the plain amp tone sounds like with a mild amount of gain, so you can hear the gain stage character.

There is no exact information about which amp George used for this recording we’ll have to use our ears.  Since he mostly used ‘combo’ style amps cranked all the way up, I’ve selected the ‘Drive’ amp setting and turned all the EQ settings to full, then pulled the BASS setting back to 85 (because it started to muffle the tone a bit). I’ve only put the GAIN up to about 40 because it’s not a hi-gain tone.

Even at this EQ setting I couldn’t quite get the same ‘mid-range honkiness’ so I’ve used the second EQ from the EQ/FX2 section to boost the MID and HIGH with a setting of 55 on each (and the BASS just left at a neutral 50).


4. The Effects

As i mentioned earlier, you will need to use effects to modify the pickup tone to allow for your guitar tone. I’ve used a Fender G-5 Stratocaster and selected a single coil in the bridge position, so the tone is close enough to a P-90 Soapbar to work for me,

If you have a Humbucker in the Bridge position you might want to use the ‘Hum-Single’ converter feature in the COMP/FX1 section of the ME-80. This will thin out your thick humbucker tone to give you that more mid-range tone of a P-90.

Now lets get that slide effect – without using a piece of copper pipe!

Set the Control Pedal (CTL) to ‘-1 Octave’. When you push your foot forward it’s normal tuning but by pulling your foot back towards the heel slightly you can bend the pitch down. Most of the slide work done in this song is only a 2-fret slide (or 1 tone) so you only need to use a small part of the throw of the expression pedal.

The ‘Bad to the Bone’ recording has a nice Reverb effect on it (which you can hear clearly in between the opening riffs) so for this I’ve selected the HALL Reverb and put the setting at 28.

There you have it guys, that is how I got the ‘Bad to the Bone’ guitar tone that you can hear in the video.

Download the ‘Bad to the Bone’ patch for BOSS GT-100 HERE

Download the ‘Bad to the Bone’ patch for ME-80 HERE

Download the ‘Bad to the Bone’ patch for GT-001 HERE

Thanks to Mark Smith for his assistance in writing this article.

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