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Playing Guitar Through
A Leslie Speaker Cabinet

This could be the coolest sound ever for guitar!

Originally built to produce an extra dimension to the Hammond organ, the Leslie speaker cabinet is also famous as an exciting effect for electric guitar.

The sound literally seems to spin around the room. You may have heard that swirling, phasey, almost underwater-type sound and perhaps wondered what effect or instrument was used to create it. Now you know!

Hammond Leslie Speaker 122A with 30 Foot 6-pin Cable
Hammond Leslie Speaker 122A

A original Leslie speaker consistes of a heavy wood cabinet and involves a power amp, a bass speaker firing into a revolving rotor, and usually a compression driver that fires into a spinning horn-shaped upper rotor. This is the classic Leslie configuration: two rotors, each spinning in different directions. The bass speaker reproduces sounds up to approximately 700Hz, with the upper driver taking care of sounds from 700Hz to around 15kHz. The upper rotor helps give guitar an extra sizzle, especially useful for lead solos.

Rhythm guitarists also enjoy the Leslie effect, since it turns a normal guitar sound into a swirling, organ-like tone to help separate it from the lead guitarist's sound. It'll inspire not only your playing, but also the rest of the band.

This is another of those under-utilized effects that can help separate you -- or your band -- from the competition. And if you run a recording studio, adding a Leslie effect to your back line of amps, cabinets, and effects can help increase bookings.

Luckily for today's performers, there are a variety of excellent Leslie effects that produce the classic size at a fraction of the size and weight of the original, bulky wood cabinet models. Check these out at the bottom of the page. But first, let's go through some recorded examples featuring a guitar or vocal played through a rotating speaker system.

A selected guitar-through-a-Leslie discography

  • Badfinger: No Matter What (rhythm guitar)

  • Beatles: Something (guitars); Tomorrow Never Knows (lead vocal)

  • Cream: Badge (outro guitar riff)

  • Eagles: Hotel California (rhythm guitar)

  • Peter Frampton: Do You Feel Like We Do? (live version: ending guitar solo)

  • Grateful Dead: Casey Jones (guitar intros, fills)

  • Hollies: Air That I Breathe (guitar solos)

  • Led Zeppelin: No Quarter (opening vocal)

  • Ozark Mountain Daredevils: Jackie Blue (slide guitar intro and solo)

  • Skylark: Wildflower (guitar solo and fills)

  • Ringo Starr: It Don't Come Easy (intro guitar riff)

  • Three Dog Night: Mama Told Me Not To Come (guitar solo and fills)

  • Three Doors Down: Kryptonite (rhythm guitar, guitar solo)

  • Tommy Tutone: 867-5309/Jenny (guitar solo)

  • Stevie Ray Vaughan: Cold Shot (guitars)

  • U2: One (rhythm guitar - especially during intro)


Tips for Leslie users

Tip 1: If you're using a Leslie emulator pedal, use it with an AC adapter whenever possible. Some of these devices can wear down batteries fairly quickly.

Tip 2: If your Leslie effect offers two speeds, vary the speeds throughout the song to maintain listener interest.

Tip 3: Guitarists can learn from keyboard players to get the most out of the 'rotating speaker' effect. Listen to how the organ player switches on the fast speed to lead into a chorus. The fast speed usually remains on throughout the chorus. Slow parts of the song are often played at a slow rotor speed setting.

Tip 4: Close-micing (placing a PA microphone close to the speaker to reduce ambient noise) a traditional Leslie cabinet requires a minimum of two microphones: one each for the upper and lower rotors. Without micing, the sound of a Leslie cabinet will get lost in the mix (especially true when using the slowest speed).

Tip 5: Unlike the original Leslie speaker, some modern-day pedals can output the sound in stereo. This allows you to run the signal to separate amplifiers, one placed at each side of the stage, for a truly s-p-a-c-i-o-u-s sound.

Tip 6: The Leslie, like other modulation effects, often sounds best when used at the end of your signal chain. Use it after compression, fuzz, overdrive, etc.


Leslie speaker systems and emulators:

Boss RT-20 Rotary Speaker Sound Processor
Boss RT-20 Rotary Speaker Sound Processor

Hughes & Kettner Tube Tools Tube Rotosphere MKII
Hughes & Kettner Tube Tools Tube Rotosphere MKII

Line 6 ToneCore Roto-Machine Pedal
Line 6 ToneCore Roto-Machine Pedal

Hammond Leslie 3300 Rotary Speaker
Hammond Leslie 3300 Rotary Speaker

Leslie 2101 mk2 Speaker System
Leslie 2101 Mk2 Speaker System

Leslie System 21 Stationary Unit
Leslie System 21 Stationary Unit

Motion Sound PRO-3X Rotary Horn Amplifier
Motion Sound PRO-3X Rotary Horn + Amplifier System

Motion Sound PRO-145 Rotary Speaker System
Motion Sound PRO-145 Rotary Speaker System

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