Playing the guitar: Finding your own sound

Laura-Mary Carter from Blood Red Shoes talks us through the equipment she uses and offering her own tips on how to find the hardware that suits you best

You don't have to spend loads of money on a guitar to sound good. When I first started I borrowed a Squier from my mate - they only cost £90 and I think she got it secondhand so it was even cheaper, about £20.

I'm using a Fender Telecaster right now which was £600. I guess that's expensive, but it was worth it - and I had just got a record deal.

A Telecaster makes a perfect, clean sound with a gritty edge. Lots of people use them for that reason. If you can't afford a Fender Telecaster, then a Squier Telecaster is cheaper and mimics the sound.

But even if you turn up with all these amazing guitars and gadgets, you might not achieve a good sound. One of my influences, Kat Bjelland, the lead singer and guitarist in Babes in Toyland, has a Rickenbacker, which she got from a thrift shop for $20.

I think it's really important to find your own sound as a guitarist. Don't be afraid to experiment with gear, borrow stuff to see what fits you best, get random stuff, even - eBay is good - go to music shops and just try things out. Sometimes you can find your sound instantly, but often it takes time.

A big part of your sound also comes from things like the amp you use and effects pedals. I have a Marshall JCM200 amp because Steve from the band had one, which I borrowed and really liked. We wanted to create a vintage sound with a grunge feel, so I replaced the amp's original tubes with vintage ones that I found on eBay. There are loads of different amps so it really just depends on the sound you want - try a few out.

I currently have more effects pedals than I've ever had and I'm probably not going to get any more. I think if you overuse effects you just end up sounding like U2. I have a Marshall Governor - a distortion pedal that adds more bass. I also have a delay pedal. A tuner pedal was another good investment for me - I can tune up on stage quickly and easily without making a noise. And I've got a Big Muff pedal, which really gives that grunge-era sound. We use it on our album for bass distortion - it has a big impact.

I also have to have thick strings on my guitar that are hard-wearing so they don't break when I really go for it, and that also produces a heavier tone.

People laughed at me because I was a young female player on electric guitar and most women guitarists play acoustic and are singer-songwriters. When I'd go to gigs, fans were surprised that I was any good. My inspiration was Babes in Toyland: they had their own style and the lead singer didn't give a shit. That energy really struck a chord.

I started in an all-girl punk band. We were the only girl band playing electric guitar at that time. I think it's still rare to see a woman on an electric guitar. I recently got a postcard from a girl who said I was her inspiration because she wanted to play electric guitar but didn't know any women who did that - then she saw me.

An electric, with all its gear, is a lot to carry around. I often hear people in their dressing room just writing and strumming away on an acoustic. In fact, I wrote a lot of our songs on acoustic. The only problem is that although it's more portable, the songs sound better on electric, so now I've started writing songs during the soundcheck because it's the only time the equipment is all set up and you really get to hear what it sounds like.

But whether it's acoustic or electric, when it comes to gear, it's all about how it feels. It's got to be comfortable and good for your sound.

· Blood Red Shoes' album Box of Secrets is out now

Laura-Mary Carter

The GuardianTramp

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