The differences in sound that we can find and highlight in this article are endless, since the 70s and 80s, even if they are consecutive, in our wonderful world of the electric guitar they seem decades opposed to each other.
If the passage from the 60s to the 70s had been mainly characterised by the technological development in the sound studio, the amplification gear, the beginning of more common use of pedals for effect, the transition to following decade, with the land of the rising Sun as the main exporter of new and countless guitar effects, broke ties with its recent past and gave the 80s still today the dubious honour of being the decade in which the sound of the guitar was most processed in history and which, if we wish to copy those sounds, we have to put more pedals on our pedalboard.
From Guitars Exchange we will focus on the 3 basic differences that happened at the end of the 70s and early 80s.
Clean sound from the electric guitar in the 70s is basically characterised by the search for a clean valve sound, both crystalline and lightly saturated, generally without effects between the signal from guitar to amp. Perhaps the only effect we can hear on an infinity of songs is the reverb of the amps themselves or those added later in production.
As for acoustic guitars from the 70s, we likely find ourselves in the decade of the best sound in history in that sense. Recording studios designed and built as architectural pieces to get the best possible acoustics, the best microphones, and studios full of techies and engineers in search for the best mic position to get that sound. Music had become a multi-million dollar business and the industry invested a lot of dough to make their products sound incredibly good (remember the boom of Hifi equipment that same decade).
In the 80s the ‘clean’ sound of the electric or acoustic guitar would be accompanied, in 90% of cases, by an effect: the Chorus. Okay, maybe we’re exaggerating a bit (not much), but that pedal dominated the entire decade of the 80s and it’s practically impossible to hear a clean sound that hasn’t been put through a chain of pedals that did not have at least one Chorus on. Gone were the days when you plugged your guitar into an amp without adding some effects. The 80s were that way and you know what?, they also added to acoustic guitars.
Something similar happened with saturated sound but instead of adding a Chorus what we added in the 80s was: Distortion. Fuzz was over and so were the saturated sounds of valve amps, so common in the 70s, and which by the way, are the desired tones of thousands of guitarists around the world still today. Fine, you can like it now but in the 80s it stank. What they wanted was total distortion, the more saturated the better. The Marshall Plexis now were Marshall JCM 800s. Hard rock had died and now Heavy and New Metal reigned. Even Fender added a distortion knob to its most emblematic model the Fender Twin Reverb, and put out a 180 watt beast called the Fender Super Twin Reverb. Recall that the Strats today were Superstrats and that Van Halen had spread tapping around the world and we lived in a world of ‘guitar heros’ with hair spray in their hair and pyrotechnic concerts.
In the 80s everything had to be grandiose and especially, very saturated. Hence some of the icons of the time were pedals such as the Boss OD-2 Turbo overdrive and the Boss DS-2.
It is quite complicated to find a single song produced in the 80s wanting to make the sales charts that didn’t have an authentic arsenal of effects added not only to the guitar but also to all the instruments that were in the studio that day (we don’t want to remember those drum sounds…).
So the guitar effects like Delays, the DD3 by Boss, or the AD-9 by Ibanez/Maxon, the PH-1 Phaser or the MXR, the Flanger Boss BF-2... are the pedals to have if you want to sound like something on the hit charts of that decade.
And though we can say it here, we don’t deny it: we prefer the sound of one decade over the other, we do not mean to say that we didn’t like the sound of the 80s. Those were and still are incredible songs, they just put too much makeup on top, but what the hell!, having all that pallet of effects makes those songs hard to emulate on stage nowadays without at least ten or a dozen pedals at your feet and a good pedalboard that will help you create those sounds... and that is always a good excuse to buy one more pedal.