Gear behind the thunder

"I like my guitar sound. I think it's a SOUND." - Chris Holmes, 1989

Chris Holmes always had a wild image as the Mean Man of Rock and Roll. But he always put a lot of thought into his guitar sound and had some groundbreaking ideas. His guitars were unique in many ways and the Headless explorer even had an integrated wireless system! Chris also collaborated with one of the biggest gurus of guitar gadgets - Pete Cornish. Pete has done custom gear for many famous guitarists including Jimmy Page, Eric Clapton, Tony Iommi, Dave Gilmour, Iron Maiden and many more. In 1985 Pete Cornish built a guitar routing unit for Chris' live setup. Then in 1989 Chris wanted a remotely controlled wah that wasn't limited to 128 steps like the midi controlled units, and this request resulted in the rack wah / remote control pedal setup that Chris used on the 'Headless Children' tour. Check out some more info at

In the 80s Chris used late 70's JMP Mastervolume Marshalls and he obviously played them loud to get that much sustain without excess distortion. His sound is also really big and I think he might have been using two amps in stereo with the second amp slightly delayed. I've heard that he and Randy Piper used to break the knobs from the front panel so the sounds wouldn't be messed with.

When Chris re-joined W.A.S.P. for the KFD album and tour he was using Marshall JMP-1 preamps and Alesis Quadraverb 2 effects processors. On the left is a picture of Chris' rack taken from Young Guitar magazine article. On the KFD tour he used Peavey 5150-II heads as power amps and Peavey 5150 speakers, but I've never heard Chris mention those as his stuff.

You can also see a Conn Strobe Tuner in the picture. The wireless system on top comes from the high-end Japanese company, Ex-Pro. It's called the Ex-Pro Pro-10pll. There are also Samson wireless receivers in the pic so it's hard to say which ones Chris actually used.

Young Guitar magazine covered the gear used on the first WASP world tour in 1985, and even back then Chris already had his signature sound. His rack consisted of two Furman PQ-3 preamp parametric equalizers and a Lexicon PCM-41 delay unit that adds a lot of sustain and can also be used for a chorus effect. I feel this unit is really important to achieve Chris' sound, and Chris was kind enough to explain to me how he sets it up. Two 100 Watt Marshall (68?) plexi heads deliver the powerful tone through Marshall cabs with Celestion speakers. I've heard that Jose Arredondo modified the amps for Chris, and the knobs have been broken off so the EQ settings can't be changed from the amp.

Chris' guitars are tuned to E-flat. Sadly Blackie often wanted to use studio tricks while mastering and speeded up some songs so the tuning is off if you try to play along to them. Chris uses 09-42 string sets which makes those bends and wide vibratos a lot easier. He also likes low action and how it brings out the fret noise when playing hard. All his guitars have thin and flat frets. Chris told me that he squeezes the strings so hard that the notes sound out of tune if the frets are too big. Chris uses medium and heavy picks. He had a lot of Dean Markleys in the case for the zebra RR, but of course he uses the signature picks on tour. Chris has used many different humbucker pickups which all had one thing in common - high output. However, the Duncan Distortion seems to have been used the most.

Chris has been a friend of Eddie Van Halen since their childhood in Pasadena. Chris used to play a cool Ibanez Destroyer back then and Eddie borrowed it for the Women and Children First album in 1980. Ironically, Chris originally got one just because Eddie had one, but then Eddie cut his guitar and the sound was gone. Later the modded shape would evolve into one of the coolest guitars - the Charvel Star.

In 2007 I wanted to try some of the gear that Chris had been using, so I bought a Furman PQ-3 and Lexicon PCM-41 from Ebay. The delay unit has now become an important part of my own sound, and Chris later gave me some advice on how to set it up the way he does. The strobe tuner I didn't really need but it looks cool. :)