Wolf Alice are a hard band to pin down, genre-wise. While some have incorrectly tried to tag them as grunge revivalists, the London four-piece do draw from 90s alt-rock in their love of driving amps from their pedalboards to utilise a wide tonal range - from QOTSA fuzz fests to hypnotic shoegazey delay and bouts of live improvisation.
Singer/guitarist Ellie Rowsell and fellow six-stringer Joff Oddie might have begun as an acoustic duo, but in just three years, their electric band dynamic with bassist Theo Ellis and drummer Joel Amey is developing fast, and allowing their debut album’s songs to evolve further onstage during a pretty relentless touring schedule. Let’s take a closer look at the rigs they rely on.
Fender '62 Jaguar Reissue
Joff: “I’ve had this since we started to go electric and started playing gigs as a band. It has different pots, different pickups and a Mastery bridge in there. Switches have been changed multiple times too. The switches are not the most durable things.
“It’s funny because I was working with a guitar tech called Tony Bateman and we were about to do Jools Holland and all of my switches were fucked. We’d been away for a long time and they were all kind of shagged out. He went down to a mate of his and picked some up. I said, who’s that? ‘Oh Brian May’. So these are stolen from Brian May - thank you Brian May.
“I use them a lot during the set. The pickups are Lollars. I’d used a Strat before with Lollars in and I’d heard good things about them too. I wasn’t really happy with the stock ones so I just had a bit of a gamble really. I like them. They’re a lot heavier output than the normal reissue pickups and the neck is a bit fatter.
“I bought this guitar second hand from a bloke in Wood Green and it was stock apart from having a Mustang bridge in. And that was kind of ok but it was still going all over the place. I bought the Mastery bridge in a guitar shop in Portland. I just whacked it in and they are incredible.
“I want to get the vibrato because it’s a lot more solid than this one. You can hear it squeaking. Even the tonal difference this bridge makes is something I wasn’t banking on. It adds a lot more clarity because it’s just a better connection; down into the wood. With the other bridges, even the tune-o-matics some people put in, you can end up with the strings all over the place. Because it’s offset, if one thing starts to go out, all the other strings will go.”
“Playing a Jag has definitely influenced me as a player. They’re very idiosyncratic guitars, there’s lot of things like playing behind the neck and the ridiculous vibrato arm. They are weird sounding, they’re not great for everything. Sometimes if you want a guitar to just sound like a guitar, the Jags aren’t the best places to go but if you want weird really sharp abrasive sounds they’re great.”
Fender American Standard Stratocaster
Joff: “I use this for Lisbon, which is in open B tuning and in lieu of this other Strat I’ve got coming, we tune it up to play Moaning Lisa Smile. It’s completely standard.
“Fender in the US are currently making me a spec’d Strat, so I’m really looking forward to getting that back and seeing where that can fit in. It’s going to be fairly standard - I just wanted something with nice resonant woods. I think it’s just a one-piece swamp ash. Something that’s a bit more resonant and singier.”
Joff: “This is a little project guitar, a little self-build with a Warmoth body and Fender neck. Lollars [Specials] as well, but I’m not quite happy with these at the moment, where they’re sitting with the guitar.
“They’re good pickups but I’m not sure if it’s doing the job I really want it to do. I wanted something with a hardtail bridge for heavier rhythm and big single note things. It’s the first time I’ve put a guitar together and it almost sounds like a hollowbody so I’m a big confused by that. It’s very resonant and a bit woody!
“I want this to be a rock monster and it’s a nice clean guitar! Fender are building us a neck for it and I’m going to fiddle around with pickups - we’re talking about maybe putting a humbucker in so it’s a bit more ‘rock’.
“It’s the first one I’ve ever done, so I got all the bits and learned on the way how to solder everything in. I got a couple of dodgy wiring diagrams so I was scratching my head for a while. It’s really satisfying and seeing the effect of things; pots and capacitors - the boring things like that start to become interesting.”
Fender Hot Rod Deluxe III & Vox AC30 Custom Hand-Wired
Joff: “I started with the Hot Rod [above], then I had a couple of different Voxes before the Hand-Wired. I run both of these completely clean. It’s fairly simple really; the Vox is top [end] and the Hot Rod is bottom with the EQ set as so.
“It’s kind of working for me at the moment, but also kind of not. I’m very much in a transitional stage with that. I’ve just bought a 70s Bassman head in the States because I haven’t got much headroom at the moment and certain things are choking out a little bit.
“I’m thinking about moving to heads and cabs. It was Adi [Vines, Wolf Alice guitar tech and former bassist with Swervedriver] that recommended them to me. I just need something more powerful. I like amps to be a blank canvas and more about the sounds in the front end through pedals and whatever. The Bassman is just a big nice blank canvas.”
Joff: “I got it about a year and a bit ago. I was looking for something that did MIDI changes and multiple things at once because there’s a couple of tracks on the record that go from one guitar sound to a completely alien guitar sound.
“It was getting to the point where I was spending too much time between songs pressing this button here and this one here. So I needed something that could do the leg work for me, that’s still going to give me the flexibility to improvise and flick switches. But is not a big rack with patches, which I think could be a little bit boring.”
Empress Tremolo2, Phaser And Compressor
Joff: ”Empress just make the techy-ist pedals in the world. I’m a massive, massive fan and I can’t sing their praises enough.
“In terms of their tremolo you can get any trem sound you want out of that, no matter how extreme. And the phaser has ridiculous sounds and sweep patterns that are really cool.”
Joff: “The Timeline does more bog standard delay sounds. The main sounds I use it for are slaps. But things like Bros and Storms have the custom ones with different sounds on.”
Strymon Big Sky
Joff: “It’s a good live utility because it’s linked to MIDI and you can have lots and lots of different sounds.
“I might not use it in the studio per se because they’re fairly digital sounding. I like what the Strymons do and I need to have it for live but sometimes I feel some of the sounds a little bit digital, if you know what I mean.”
Electro Harmonix Nano POG
Joff: “I’d like to get the full-sized POG, or maybe a HOG, but it doesn’t fit on my ’board!”
Line 6 DL4
Joff: “Probably my favourite pedal on the board. I originally bought the Timeline to replace the Line 6 and then realised that I couldn’t get a lot of these sounds.
“To be honest, if I could fill my board with Line 6 DL4s I would! The normal delay sounds are great. There’s only three presets though so this one does the weird stuff.”
MXR Analog Chorus
Joff: “That’s one of the first pedals that I bought. We’re big fans of them, they’re just really nice sounding chorus pedals.”
Sola Sound Tone Bender
Joff: “I went from Big Muffs but the Tone Bender is a bit more present that the Muff. It can be more abrasive and in your face, which is nice.”
Way Huge Red Llama
Joff: “I had the [Fulltone] OCD before and I found it sucked out a little bit too much bottom end, and the Red Llama was recommended to me by Mike Crossey, our producer, because we were using Klons [Centaurs] in the studio and I said I couldn’t really find an overdrive that retains bottom end. He recommended that as a cheaper option because I didn’t have two grand to buy a Klon. I’d love to!
“I’ve ordered a Rock Your Repaired Amp Klone. It’s a Klon clone. I played one in a shop in Denmark a while ago and they’re amazing. The most transparent, beautiful things but unfortunately, they’re such high demand and it’s just him [Shane Logan] that’s making them. So there’s a waiting list. I put my order in a couple of months ago and it will potentially replace the old Red Llama.”
Joff: “I’ve got it set very shrill, but I really like it. I use it in stuff like Giant Peach, the main loud middle sound in that. I use it in Fluffy, She… things like that.
“The EQ is kind of severe, in a good way. My big thing that I hate with distortions is when you get a horrible thin distortion and you ramp out all the bottom end. I like to have the whole thing. Empress does that really well, they do everything really well to be fair.”
Moollon Buffer Age Signal Boost
Joff: “This is Adi’s pedal that I’ve borrowed from him. I’d never actually heard of the company before. It’s a clean boost and it’s super transparent and really nice. Apparently all their cases are engraved like that, it’s super beautiful.”
Dunlop Cry Baby
Joff: “Some people see a wah and think ‘Jimi Hendrix wannabe’ but it’s essentially a manual phaser and you can get some great sounds if you’re putting it before your big fuzzes.
“And even before massive reverbs you can create your own swell sounds. There’s loads of great sounds you can get out of putting it behind other effects.”
Morley Volume Plus
Joff: “It’s mainly for sweeps and swells, and if I’m tuning that goes up. I actually stole this. It belongs to Cameron Knight, who is the session guitarist for Alt-J.
“He used to play in a band with Joel, our drummer. I saw this and I wanted one so I said ‘Can I have this?’ He said, ‘Oh yes, it’s Cam’s’. So cheers Cam!”
Apple Macbook Pro, Novation Launchkey 25, Boss RC-1 Loop Station & Keith Mcmillen Instruments 12 Step Chromatic Keyboard
Joff: “This setup is literally one-shot samples that we use for a few things. The footboard is for times when we can’t.
“Basically we needed key part but we don’t want to run a track, because track’s cheating. So we have things set up so we can play guitar at the same time. We’ve got a couple of ambient loops plumbed in too.”
Fender Lite Ash Telecaster
Ellie: “It’s been my main live guitar for about two years. It’s Korean. It actually belongs to Joff’s stepdad.
“I was playing a Fender Mustang before and because I mainly play rhythm I didn’t think it was as appropriate and also, I found the neck was too small. But I really like Mustangs and I like the way they look.
“With the Tele, even though I know I could probably find a ‘better’ sounding guitar than this particular Telecaster, I’m so comfortable with it. I’m a bit scared of change and I just really like the clean sounds.
“At home I don’t have all my pedals with me and it’s nice to play. I’m not a fan of twang, and it’s quite dull. I know that can be a bad thing but in a way that’s kind of what I like about it.
“I actually have a custom-made backup that’s the same in terms of appearance, which is quite cool but I don’t use it too much. I prefer this one. I’m in a couple of tunings through the set but it’s only the E string that I change. One song is C and one is G; Swallowtail and The Wonderwhy.”
Ellie: “I used to have a Fender Hot Rod and I actually really like that, purely because I think the clean sound and reverb is so good.
“But because I’m playing so much rhythm this is a lot beefier. In isolation I prefer the Hot Rods, and if I was playing at home that’s what I’d use, but in the mix this is just way more powerful.”
Boss RV-5 Reverb
Ellie: “I normally use that with the reverb time and level all the way up and the tone all the way down because I like that sound.
“If we’ve used a synth in one of our tracks, instead of playing a synth that’s my go-to synth sound.”
Ellie: “I use this for my vocals. I hook the harmonica mic [below] up to it.
“That has a really cool sound on its own but the delay means I can control it more and mixed with the old school clipped sound the mic has, it gives different textures. It can sound a bit more instrumental rather than just a voice.”
Electro-Harmonix Big Muff
Ellie: “I used to have a Little Big Muff, and that was the first and only pedal I had. My friend John [Victor] from Gengahr is a really incredible guitarist and he saw that I used one.
“It kind of dips a little, it’s great as an isolated effect, but when you’re playing with other people I find it dips and the tone is kind of gone. So John made me a pedal that makes sure that doesn’t happen.
“I have two at home, but I haven’t included them on my board yet because I’m deciding which of them I like more. He’s slightly obsessed with making the perfect fuzz, and I’m trying to find one. With the Big Muff, I compensate by putting the OCD on at the same time.”
Pro Co Rat
Ellie: “I only use this for the nasty sounding songs when I need it to cut through, on Fluffy and You’re A Germ when Joff has loads of fuzz on his tone and I need something more trebly and nasty.”
Ellie: “I do use it on its own, too. I use it to beef up my clean sound because it can be quite subtle, which is what I like about it.”