Heel to toe to hair and hoof and it's head over heels and it's all but an ark-lark...

Equipment and Sounds

Many musicians have tried to reproduce the Cocteaus’ guitar and effects sounds—some better than others. Here are some of Robin Guthrie’s choicest recording geek explanations and recipes, direct from Robin himself, as shared on the Cocteau Twins Forums in the early 2000s.

You can also check out Robin’s setup on EquipBoard.

For more background on Cocteau Twins’ setup and gear details over the years, here are some stories from the Press & News archive that feature some interesting tidbits.



“I use an Electrix repeater [for live looping]. It works…it’s unstable and the MIDI implementation was written by a sped. I think it’s Canadian but that may be a coincidence. I’ve been through all sorts, the original Jam Man was great but clicked on the loop if you didn’t get it just right, something I am familiar with. As I said in another answer I have an RC50 but haven’t fired it up yet. On paper it looks great.”

“…that seems to change everytime I play as I haven’t really found the ideal [looper] unit—I use a Jam-Man, an Electrix repeater or a Boomerang depending what works. [reverb] Eventide, [delay] Echo-Pro, and [piano] Steinberg Grand [while recording Imperial]…..[and for Violet Indiana performances] Flextone II amp and blue and green Line 6 stomp boxes…..[during the intro to “I Wear Your Ring”] well, it’s a mixture of my guitar and a Roland JD-800, sort of…”

Drum machines

“The reason for having a go at drum machines, especially in the 80s when the whole idea was pretty young, well as far as programmed beats and sampled sounds were concerned there wasn’t much choice. The beloved 808 was a stepping stone to ‘better things’ as digital was the key word at that point. Better a really crunchy horrible 8-bit Fairlight sample than a fat analogue 808 kick in 1982/1983, trust me. The sounds the 808 became famous for were dirty, malprocessed sounds by DJs who inadvertently overloaded their desks and people who used to put the drum machines through FX as I did, but as I’ve mentioned before, perhaps in another thread, when we used this box for Garlands it was way more wimpy than it should have been. Many reasons for this, the people we worked with were very ‘knowledgeable’ and I had just turned 19 and didn’t have the confidence in myself at all to, as I’ve stated before, play our drum machines, a DR-55 Dr. Rhythm and 2 Soundmaster SR88s through guitar amps, fuzz(on/off) and reverb (spring) from the amp. Most of the time it was HH amplification but I also used some white and pink noise generators that I’d built myself to thicken out the sound (or make it unlistenable depending on if you were a ‘knowledgeable person’). So, for me, always a shrinking feeling, even after 22 years that Garlands wasn’t quite what it could have been. But it has to be said that during the later period of the Cocteau Twins, when drum machines (god bless ‘em) per se, were being phased out by samplers and the programming of such samplers was by MIDI keyboard, I really wasn’t interested in the computer alternatives of the day (as far as music was concerned). Fairlights then cost about $33,000. The awkward combination of computer and hardware I found quite distracting and tried to stick to more ‘musical’ composition tools, such as the Akai MPC60 and the EMU SP1200, where I could, sample at will, but of course, not save any for posterity. Still better 12-bit than no bits, eh? The long and the short of it is that most of CT’s drums I programmed were on the ‘not quite’ best of equipment of the day and are burned to tape. Having said that however I must point out, if even for my own sanity, the beats and rhythms I put on Cocteau Twins records remain, to me, something very vital.”

“It should be noted that the 808 was only used on Garlands with a few samples of one on Blue Bell Knoll.”

“[List of drum machines used per release] Garlands: Roland TR808; Lullabies: Linn LM1; Peppermint Pig: LinnDrum; Head Over Heels: EMU Drumulator; Sunburst and Snowblind: EMU Drumulator; Treasure: EMU Drumulator modded with the rock chips set (samples of John Bonham); Aikea-Guinea: Roland TR707; Victorialand: Just a Roland CR78 on one song; Tiny Dynamine and Echoes in a Shallow Bay: Roland TR707 and TR727; Blue Bell Knoll: EMU SP12, Yamaha RX5; Heaven or Las Vegas: Akai MPC 60 MK1 (this is the one designed by Roger Linn), EMU SP1200; Four-Calendar Café: Akai MPC60 MK1, Roland CR1000; Milk & Kisses: Akai MPC60 MK2. Of course there were usually other sounds triggered, but for the most part these are the machines used. For all of the later records, the machines used were sampling drum machines (i.e. the Akai’s and the Emu SP series) therefore the machines didn’t actually contain the sounds used. The sounds came from ‘a variety of sources.’)”

Building sounds


“I used an acoustic guitar, which I still have, which was made for me by the Kinkade brothers in Bristol, England, where Russell Fong was learning his craft at the time. It’s quite simply the most beautiful acoustic guitar I’ve ever played. True, of course, is the fact that it is processed to shit, using, mostly a unit I liked at the time called and Eventide SP2016. There is as well Richard Thomas who plays soprano sax, like an angel would; tablas, played by Richard also, some beatbox, a Roland Compurhythm CR8000 and lots of other processing.”

“A Kissed Out Red Floatboat”

“OK, no synths, it’s all guitars and smoke and mirrors. The sort of synthy percussive sound that runs all the way through and is all on its own in the intro is a bunch of filtered delays triggered from the drums. I used a Lexicon PCM70 for this (same with the ‘synth’ rhythm thing on ‘Blue Bell Knoll’). The filtery pulsating wah sound which appears from the choruses to the end, well, the exact guitar I can’t remember but the gist of the sound is a triggered gate, triggering 16th notes from the metronome output of the sequencer, an EMU SP1200, then wah-ed. The four guys in anoraks who always used to stand in front of my pedalboard and take notes and photos during the set (and nudge each other and look smug when I made a fuck-up) will know that I replicated this sound live using the same gate (a Drawmer DS201) and an Akai MPC60. The wah was a Roger Mayer customised Crybaby. The acoustic guitar in all probability is my Kinkade as mentioned [above], probably treble or quadruple tracked, compressed, delayed. The little riffs at the end of the verses were played on a Fender Electric 12. The sweep sound which crops up now and again is my broken (and I will never get it fixed) Boss BF2 flanger (broken as it goes into a very destructive oscillation if you wind the feedback up all the way. I have a couple of others which don’t).”

“Blind Dumb Deaf”

“The recording of ‘Blind Dumb Deaf’ was a little different to most of the later Cocteau Twins songs as it was our first album, we were studio newbies, and didn’t have the time or experience to experiment at all during the recording process. I wasn’t really the producer (I didn’t even know what a producer was at that point), so all the work on guitar sounds as such was done before the band entered the studio from playing gigs and gathering what equipment we could. Garlands, the album, was essentially recorded live in the studio with myself and Will playing together and Elizabeth overdubbing a few vocals later, very much the way most bands record. My guitar setup was this: a Kawai KS-11-XL electric guitar followed by an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi, a Watkins Copicat tape echo (3 button model), an Electro-Harmonix Clone Theory and then into another Watkins Copicat tape echo (4 button model). This went into my amp, a Maine combo (60w 2x10 never seen one since). The bass was a Rickenbacker 4001 played through a Ibanez UE-400 Multi-Effects unit into a Carlsbro Stingray bass combo. There was one disappointment at the time which was the drum machines that we used at that time, a Boss Dr Rhythm and a Soundmaster SR88 played through the distortion channel of a HH IC100 combo were deemed unsuitable by the engineers and Ivo (the grown-ups) and were replaced with the ‘more professional’ (at the time as it had just been invented) Roland TR808. This made the drums sound very clean but weak, lacking the power that we were used to in concert. I mean the stuff we used sounded way more like (what became) hip-hop than electronic. But in spite of the lack of distortion on the drums the Garlands sessions were a pretty accurate recording of how we sounded at the time when we played live.”


“The ‘Violaine’ guitar was doubled by me at the time, cutting and pasting was something I couldn’t afford. (Well, who knows what a record with Liz would have been like?) Having said that, I managed lots of the (so called) modern production techniques!”

“Heaven or Las Vegas”

“As said before, for that whole album I mainly used the Paul Reed Smith and my 1959 Fender Jazzmaster although for that song I played a customised Levinson (a blue Jazzmaster shaped one with a chandler maple neck) for the slide solo. The clean guitar parts were the Paul Reed Smith played through a Marshall 9000 series tube preamp directly into the board with my fave Lexicon pitch shift +10/-10 cents to spread the sound to stereo, followed with a little Roland Dimension D and echo from the TC2290, synched to the bpm, the chorus, more distorted guitar part was played through my Gallien Kruger preamp (channel 2) then the same sort of treatment, tweaked differently. I should have said before but I normally would compress the guitars to tape either with a Urei 1178 or a pair of DBX 160x’s, and usually lots of double tracking. Simon played bass on that one, I can’t remember which bass exactly (probably one of his Precisions) but I think he played it through a Rocktron bass preamp which was a favourite at the time.”


“Strummy acoustic guitars, not fun to record at all but I was playing at that time one of a handful of acoustics none of which are particularly sexy, a black Yamaha, a Washburn 12-string and a red Charvel flattop—my fave acoustic is a custom made Kinkade brothers (made for me in 1985 for Victorialand by the Kinkade brothers in Bristol—where Russell Fong learned his craft), though I’m pretty sure it wasn’t that one. I do know, however, that all the acoustics would be doubled or trebled then compressed to thicken the sound. The sort of funky guitar is a 1959 Fender Stratocaster played through a Tom Sholtz Sustainer and then into the board with a touch of all the same stuff I wrote in the last paragraph. The fast tremolo guitar sound was created in the mix with a noise gate. It’s funny I remember all the pre-rehab recording as if it were yesterday and the later stuff is a little more vague. I blame the sobriety. Most of that equipment is still in my studio just waiting for an opportunity to get used but, to be honest, when I play through those things it sound so Cocteau Twins that I tend to avoid it. Save it for a rainy day, I suppose.”

“Pitch the Baby”

“The pulsating stuff was my green Paul Reed Smith guitar (‘cause I did most of HoLV with it and my ‘59 Jazzmaster) played through a Gallien Kruger preamp straight into the board. This was then treated with a Lexicon 480L (pitch shifted +10 cents and -10 cents to make it stereo) and delayed with a Yamaha D1500 in sync with the bpm of the track. Next, the fun bit: I inserted a Drawmer DS201 dual noise gate over the stereo guitar and triggered it externally from click track playing 16th notes, then I re-recorded the track back from tape through a Crybaby wah-wah which I moved manually (i.e. with my hands). Next, the clean guitars—same guitar through a Tom Sholtz Rockmodule preamp into the board, a little Roland Dimension D and same Yamaha delay. And the bass was a ‘57 Precision played through a Nomad bass box. Sorry not to be more specific. Oh, and there are no synths.”