Gary Moore

In our ongoing series, continues to overview the work of some Gibson guitar greats. Sustain yourself for the take-no-prisoners blues-rock style of the late Gary Moore

Who was he?

Born in Belfast in 1952, Moore was perhaps the most celebrated guitarist to ever emerge from Northern Ireland. Picking up the guitar at the age of eight, Moore – like many other British players of his generation – was inspired by the music of Elvis Presley, The Shadows and The Beatles. His introduction to blues came “second-hand”, as it were, via British Blues Explosion stars such as Peter Green, Eric Clapton, John Mayall and Mick Taylor as well as Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck and other “go-to” guitar heroes.

Over a long and varied career, Moore went through many changes. He predominantly played heavy blues-rock, but had a sizeable catalog that was straight-up metal, as well as making detours into jazz-rock and even dance beats. It didn't all work – Moore was perhaps pushed and pulled by record companies try to make him the next EVH, at times – but he eventually returned to his first love of ballistic blues.

Well, blues rock. Moore was not a player to cut whole acoustic albums of Robert Johnson songs a la Clapton, nor rockabilly-esque twang-outs like Beck. Moore's blues were often about firepower and undoubted virtuosity. Even so, he earned the endorsement of blues masters such as BB King, Albert Collins and Albert King along the way. Moore died, aged 58, in 2011.

Gary Moore

Signature Sounds

It depends who you ask and what you listen to! In the blues-rock realm, Moore's sounds were often aggressive and edgy, upping the ante on Eric Clapton's vibrant Les Paul tones on heard John Mayall and The Bluesbreakers' so-called “Beano” album. On three '70s albums with Jon Hiseman's Colosseum II, Moore slipped into Jeff Beck-esque fusion territory. With Thin Lizzy, he expertly melded Celtic-tinged melodies and hard rock, notably on Black Rose: A Rock Legend. In his metal-leaning '80s solo career, his shredding and quicksilver riffs inspired the likes of George Lynch, fellow Irishman Vivian Campbell and, notably, Randy Rhoads.

But throughout it all, Moore's sound was instantly recognizable. He had a strong, even vibrato: it was very “vocal” and crying, introduced at the end of long-held sustaining notes. He employed plenty of gain/distortion, but it was smooth-sounding rather than fuzzy... and this helped the long sustain which became a signature. He also employed big bends, sometimes over a whole tone.

On a Les Paul, he'd often (but not always) play his thick-toned rhythm riffs and chords exclusively on the neck pickup, before kicking-in the more biting tones of the bridge for solos. No revelation: that's why they're called “rhythm” and “lead” humbuckers, folks.

Gary Moore

In terms of actual technique, Moore employed his middle finger more often than many players, able to stretch it a good three frets from index. Add his ring finger and pinky, and Moore could play super-fast runs employing all his digits, especially for cascading hammer-ons and pull-offs. And those hammer-ons/pull-offs often used an open string as the “root”.

No individual part of his sound was unique, in many ways, but Moore's blend of the slower licks inspired by BB and (particularly) Albert King with those metal-esque flurries added up to a signature sound.

He also often echoed the underlying chordal progression in his bluesier songs – think “Parisienne Walkways” and the similar “Still Got The Blues”. A lot of his soloing melodies were based around the pentatonic scale with the “blue” note added. All pretty remarkable, given that Gary played the “wrong” way – he was left-handed.

Gary Moore and Gibson Guitars

Moore famously bought the 1959 Gibson Les Paul Standard that Peter Green played in the original Fleetwood Mac – the two were friends from early in his Moore's career. Gary played “Greeny” throughout his recorded career, though in Moore's hands the guitar's unique “flutey” tones were usually more-overdriven than for Green. Moore recorded “Parisienne Walkways” on “Greeny”. Gibson recaptured the specs of this as the limited edition Collector's Choice # 1, now out of production. The fabled original? It's now owned by Metallica's Kirk Hammett.

Gary Moore

“Greeny” grew fragile over the years, and was used less-and-less as a touring guitar. But many of its attributes were refined for his own signature Gary Moore Les Paul Standard (2000-'02), without a pickguard or binding and with mismatched control knobs.

Gary Moore

Another past signature was the Gary Moore BFG, a stripped-down lemonburst Les with killswitch and P-90 at the bridge.

Gary Moore

For Moore aficionados, it's another '59 – the “Still Got The Blues” Les Paul (known as “Stripe”, to many fans) – that's the one. This sharper-sounding LP is the one most-associated with Moore's tone and, again, had its pickguard removed. The covers were also removed, to reveal the black 'bucker bobbins. In later years, Moore increasingly played a cherry '63 Gibson ES-335 for its warmth.

Among many other Les Paul Standards, Goldtops, Firebirds and Explorers, Gary owned a single cutaway 1959 cherry doublecut Les Paul Junior with single P-90, a '64 Firebird I (bought by Moore, in deference to Clapton, on the BBM album Around The Next Dream with Jack Bruce and Ginger Baker) often strung to open D.

Moore often modded his guitars, to include medium-jumbo frets to help that big tone. He played pretty much all of his guitars with a high action and a ferocious pick attack.

Essential Listening

Still Got The Blues (1990) and follow-up After Hours ('92) are the best for Moore's “blues rebirth” playing. His tribute to Peter Green, Blues For Greeny, is heartfelt and admirable, but you're probably better checking out early Fleetwood Mac first if you haven't already. Around The Next Dream was slated by many for being too much like Cream: to others, that's exactly its strength. Live At Monsters Of Rock (2003) sees Moore ripping through his catalog with minimal restraint in a 3-piece (with no overdubs). Inevitably, there are also numerous “blues” compilations.

His only full album with Thin Lizzy, Black Rose: A Rock Legend, is worth it for Philip Lynott's superior songwriting and the Celtic guitar interplay between Moore and Scott Gorham, particularly on the epic title track.