Pedals And Effects coming at ya with an entry of our Song Dissection series, where we analyze the legendary tones from the most sonically ambitious songs out there, and determine what gear they used to achieve their unique sounds. Today's post is on the Beastie Boys 1994 rap-rock classic "Sabotage" off the album Ill Communication. Blending conventional rock instrumentation with DJ scratches, and the flow of three very talented MC's the Beastie Boys blurred the lines of musical genres in a way only the could, with humor, zest, fearlessness and funk. Our disclaimer: some bands/artists are very protective about their sonic secrets, so this dissection is based solely on our own knowledge of the capabilities of effects pedals, a little internet research and of course the song itself. Largely known for its driving bass line, tone, and a whole lot of attitude lets take a look at how the Beastie Boys got that signature riotous sound on Sabotage!
Originally recorded as an instrumental, Sabotage nearly didn't make it onto the album! Vocals for the song were recorded just two weeks before the album was even released! Opening with drums and its signature driving bass line, Sabotage is a perfect example of where the Beastie Boys had come from, and where they were going. Honoring their punk rock roots while displaying their rhythm chops. The signature bass line in question has gone down in music history as one of the most distinguishable bass lines ever. It's no secret that we at Pedals And Effects love our huge sounding low end and fuzz, so dissecting Adam "MCA" Yauch's tone was a no brainer!
Yauch's bass tone on Sabotage manages to be huge without being so overtly driven or drenched in gain. To achieve his signature bass tone, producer Mario Caldato Jr. explains that Yauch played a 60's Fender Jazz bass through an Acoustic 270 Graphic EQ head. The amp was put into an isolated sound proofed case when recorded, with the bass running through a Black Cat Superfuzz pedal. The Black Cat Superfuzz is modeled after the highly coveted 70's Japanese made Univox Superfuzz. What was special about those Univox Superfuzzes was their "two stage octave doubling circuit." From the Black Cat site: "beneath the massive torrent of fuzz is a hint of upper octave; not quite as prominent as an Octavia, but definitely noticeable." That double octave is what helped Yauch achieve such a massive sound on the record.
Longtime friend of Pedals And Effects and keyboard player for the Beastie Boys, "Money" Mark Nishita dropped by 5starr Sound Labs some time ago and let Juan demo and review the DNA Analogic Bass Dragger distortion pedal which is the very fuzz pedal that Yauch uses when playing Sabotage live. Equally as huge as the Superfuzz used on the record, Yauch leaned heavily on this pedal while playing live. While the Bass Dragger has long since been discontinued by the manufacturer you might have some luck on Reverb.com. The Black Cat Superfuzz is currently still available on their website and can also be found on Reverb.
While we lost Yauch in 2012, the music he made was timeless, and the tones he achieved and the rhymes he spit, have solidified his legacy in the upper echelon of music history. The Beastie Boys has such an unconventional approach to conventional sounds and that's what made them so successful. To have the punk aggression with hip-hop flow and sensibility, they carved a very unique but accessible niche for themselves in music. RIP Adam Yauch.
Really dissecting a bands or artists sound is a good way to attempt to figure out their songwriting mentality and apply it to your own. Keep listening to whatever moves you, try applying that to your own playing, and most importantly, be ambitious. You never know where your unique sounds can take you.