How The Beths made their latest record with the help of some seriously weird amps – and a strict "more distortion" mantra

The Beths
(Image credit: Dave Simpson/WireImage)

Hailing from Auckland, New Zealand, The Beths are an indie-pop quartet whose knack for creating upbeat, distortion-drenched earworms has propelled them onto an international stage. 

The idea is simple, explains singer and guitarist Elizabeth Stokes: “We just really like pop songs and arranging them in a way that’s fun to us, which is with guitars.” Lead guitarist Jonathan Pearce adds with a smile, “We’re a band with an unofficial official ‘no synthesizers’ rule.” 

September sees the release of their third LP, Expert In A Dying Field – an album largely recorded at Pearce’s studio, which houses an ever-growing collection of pedals and vintage New Zealand-made guitar amplifiers. In fact, you won’t find a single Fender amp tone on the record – a rarity in the indie-pop world. The band’s sound is instead characterized by the lesser-recognised tones of the Fountain Mustang 30, the Jansen Bassman and Jansen 6 Twenty.

The Fountain, which according to Stokes “is vaguely Vox-style and really, really bright,” is a particular favourite that Pearce uses for much of his lead work, while the Bassman is what he describes as “honestly quite a strange-sounding amp”. 

Consisting of a 1x12” speaker in a tall, upright box with a closed back, the pair discovered that – assisted by a Wampler Plexi Drive Deluxe – they could use it to produce “a very convincing high-gain Marshall full-stack sound”, at a fraction of the volume. 

Pearce reveals that the session’s mantra was: “many sounds are quite good, but could do with more distortion”. The stars of this department were a King of Clone and a Chase Bliss Brothers pedal. 

Elsewhere, three-dimensional layers were added by recording two amps simultaneously with different delays. Explains Pearce, “One amp’s pretty much dry and one’s through a characterful delay pedal on a 100 percent wet setting. You pan them hard left and hard right, and it spatializes it.”

While their pedalboards might be stuffed with toys, the pair keep it simpler when it comes to guitars, and each has one dependable workhorse. Pearce’s is a 1978 Gibson Les Paul Deluxe Goldtop that he had shipped over from the States, while Stokes opts for the more contemporary look and feel of a G&L Tribute Series Fallout with a P-90 in the neck position and humbucker in the bridge.

“I’m a bit of a contrarian,” she laughs, “so it’s nice having a guitar that not many people play.”

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Ellie Rogers

Since graduating university with a degree in English, Ellie has spent the last decade working in a variety of media, marketing and live events roles. As well as being a regular contributor to Total Guitar, MusicRadar and, she currently heads up the marketing team of a mid-scale venue in the south-west of England. She started dabbling with guitars around the age of seven and has been borderline obsessed ever since. She has a particular fascination with alternate tunings, is forever hunting for the perfect slide for the smaller-handed guitarist, and derives a sadistic pleasure from bothering her drummer mates with a preference for “f**king wonky” time signatures.