How to sound like Robert Smith

The Cure are the great survivors of the punk era. They have been together – albeit with an ever-changing line-up – for nearly 20 years, during which time their mix of gothic, independent, and quirky pop styles has allowed them to transcend the vagaries of fashion and enjoy enormous,  and continuous commercial success.

Robert Smiths ‘s sound is steeped in simplicity.  The key here is good song writing as oppossed to racks of endless equipment. A simple Boss Distortion is all that required here.  The Cure are often identified with the gothic rock subgenre of alternative rock, and are viewed as one of the form’s definitive bands. However, the band has routinely rejected classification, particularly as a gothic rock band. Robert Smith said in 2006, “It’s so pitiful when ‘goth’ is still tagged onto the name The Cure”, and added, “We’re not categorisable.

I suppose we were post-punk when we came out, but in total it’s impossible  I just play Cure music, whatever that is.” Smith has also expressed his distaste for gothic rock, describing it as “incredibly dull and monotonous. A dirge really.”[ While typically viewed as producers of dark and gloomy music, The Cure have also yielded a number of upbeat songs. Spin has said “The Cure have always been an either/or sort of band: either  Robert Smith is wallowing in gothic sadness or he’s licking sticky-sweet cotton-candy pop off his lipstick-stained fingers.”

The Cure’s primary musical traits have been listed as “dominant, melodic bass lines; whiny, strangulated vocals; and a lyric obsession with existential, almost literary despair.”  Most Cure songs start with Smith and Gallup writing the drum parts and basslines. Both record demos at home and then bring them into the studio for fine-tuning. Smith said in 1992, “I think when people talk about the ‘Cure sound,’ they mean songs based on 6-string bass, acoustic guitar, and my voice, plus the string sound from the Solina.

The Solina

The Solina String Ensemble is often thought of as THE String Machine of the late 1970’s disco era. It’s a multi-orchestral machine with violin, viola, trumpet, horn, cello and contrabass. Instead of attack and decay there are crescendo and sustain controls (which sound more orchestral but are the same thing). Apparently this synth really makes a great string sound, but that’s all really… It has gate and trigger outs from the polyphonic keyboard. Completely cased in wood (or wood-like) panels with a clean and discrete layout. It’s old, it’s vintage, and it’s been used by Air, The Eagles, Elton John, Pink Floyd, The Cure, Joy Division, OMD, Josh Wink, STYX, Tangerine Dream, Keane, Japan, and New Order.

“On top of this foundation is laid “towering layers of guitars and synthesizers”. Keyboards have been a component of the band’s sound since Seventeen Seconds, and their importance increased with their extensive use on Disintegration.

As  for Guitar’s Robert  says  “Most of the guitar work has been done on a limited edition Gibson Chet Atkins – a huge guitar with gold all over it.”


Ampeg VL-503 Combo / 1×12


Gretsch Chet Atkins Country Gentleman Electric Guitar

Ovation Balladeer 12 String 6751 Acoustic Guitar


Boss BF-2 Flanger

Boss CH-1 Super Chorus

Boss DD-3 Digital Delay

Boss DS-1 Distortion

Boss PH-2 Super Phaser

Boss PN-2 Tremolo Pan

Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive

Dunlop Original CryBaby Wah Pedal

ROBERT SMITH (GUITAR, BASS, LEAD VOCALS, KEYBOARDS): AKG C12 mic; Ampeg Combo SVT112; Banjo (5 string); Boss effects pedals; Coral Sitar guitar; Emu Emulator II; Fender 6 string bass; Fender Jazzmaster; Gibson Chet Atkins ltd edition guitar; Gibson SG custom guitar; Gretsch Tennessee Rose guitar; Jen Cry Baby Wah Wah pedal; Marshall Bluesbreaker combo; Mosrite guitar; Ovation 12 string guitar; PHD custom guitar; Sitar; Takamine 12 string acoustic guitar; Takamine 6 string acoustic guitar; Vox AC30 ammp; Yairi Classical guitar & Schecter UltraCure six-string bass

 The following is a year by year exposition of what Robert Smith used meticulously described:
in 1981 : the built-in chorus of a Roland JC-160 amp / the built in phaser of a Peavey Musician Mark III head amp (and that’s still to be checked out a MXR Flanger – he used this one extensively with the Banshees, I still have a doubt about its use with The Cure).
in 1982 : the built in phaser of a Peavey Musician Mark III head amp / a Electro Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man (analog Chorus / Vibrato / Delay).
in 1983 / 1984 : still the Peavey phaser + a Boss CE-2 Chorus + a Boss BF-2 (located at the end of the FX chain).
in 1985 / 1992 : same amp, same phaser + and numerous chorus (CE-2 / CH-1, following the convenience) + Boss BF-2
from 1996 onwards : introduction of a Boss PH-2 (Roberts didn’t use his peavey anymore but Ampeg VL503 or Line6 Flextone instead), Boss BF-2, Boss CE-5.
– in 2006: CE2 or JC-120. He’s been using the CE2 into various amps (Marshalls a lot) live for the last decade, but it might well have been the JC-120 in the studio.But it’s not just the chorus – there’s a lot of compression there and he deliberately tunes his high E string a little flat. Slow rate, full depth.
The lead (descending) riff is a Fender Bass VI into a Boss CE-2 and DD-3 and a Peavy Bass amp. I can’t remember the pedal settings but Robert Smith likes to use “intuitive” symmetrical setings like 12:00 speed 12:00 depth or 10:00 speed and 2:00 depth. In any event the Bass VI is THE KEY to the tone on “Just like heaven”.
Have fun.

© itsstecole & Sebouh Gemdjian





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