When Joy Division's debut record was released to the world on June 15 1979, it seemed unlikely that the Manchester band would have an impact upon the diverse music scene in Britain at the time. Retrospectively, however, it's obvious that 'Unknown Pleasures' is an instant classic - a hybrid concoction of desolation marked with brittle synthesisers and driving, melodic bass lines. While Joy Division would sadly fall apart in 1980 following the suicide of lead singer Ian Curtis, the influence of the band has lingered long into the 21st century, with artists like Interpol, Total Control, and ESG rising out of the album's legacy. In celebration of the 1970's classic, we take a look at the gear behind 'Unknown Pleasures'.
Unknown Pleasures should by no means be considered a 'guitar album'; however, it's hard not to admire the simplicity of guitarist Bernard Sumner's playing. Drawing inspiration from groups such as the Sex Pistols and Can, Sumner's minimalistic, melodic, single note passages and angular strumming sit atop of the bass on songs like 'Disorder' and 'She's Lost Control.' Sumner predominantly recorded Unknown Pleasures on his Shergold Masquerader, a British Telecaster style guitar featuring dual humbuckers and coil-split phase switching. While it looks like Sumner replaced the pickups in his Masquerader with DiMarzio humbuckers, the rest of the guitar looks original, and can be seen in the above performance of 'She's Lost Control.'
In addition to his Shergold Masquerader, Sumner recorded various segments of Unknown Pleasures on a 60's era Gibson SG, which he often uses live with New Order.
VOX PHANTOM SPECIAL VI
While the majority of guitar on Unknown Pleasures is performed by Sumner, vocalist Ian Curtis can be heard on select tracks from the album playing his Vox Phantom Special VI, the teardrop guitar which later became synonymous with Joy Division. Curtis' guitar sound can be instantly recognised by its tinny, processed sound, which comes from the guitar's built in battery powered effects (including fuzz, tremolo and percussion effects). Curtis can be seen playing his Phantom Special VI in the band's definitive music video for 'Love Will Tear Us Apart'. The guitar was passed on to Sumner following Curtis' suicide, with his bandmate using the instrument in various performances with New Order.
HONDO II RICKENBACKER COPY
Despite the fact that Peter Hook is regarded as one of the most influential bass players of the modern age due to his playing on Unknown Pleasures, it's pretty obvious that he has no idea what he's playing most of the time. Across the record, you can hear a whole heap of dead frets and misplaced, out of tune notes, but somehow, it works. The thin bass tone is one of the driving forces of the record and holds up as being a visiting point for many listeners. Hook's melodic, almost strummed bass lines were played upon a Hondo II, a cheap Japanese copy of a Rickenbacker 4003 acquired from a Manchester music store for £99, proving that it doesn't cost a fortune to change the shape of punk's future.
SHERGOLD MARATHON 6 STRING
Around the time of the release of Unknown Pleasures, Peter Hook purchased a six-string Shergold Marathon, reminiscent of Sumner's own Masquerader. While the instrument doesn't feature on Unknown Pleasures, you can prominently hear Hook playing a six-string bass on Joy Division's second LP Closer, as well as New Order's iconic dancefloor filler 'Blue Monday.'
Throughout the recording of Unknown Pleasures, Curtis and Sumner opted for simplisitic, biting tones with minimal effects use. For live performances and presumably recording, Curtis used a solid-state Yamaha G100 2x12, which can be seen in various images of the band performing live.
Sumner used a Vox UL730 head to record most of his guitar passages, with the above image of one of Joy Division's live shows showing that he also used an Altair PW-5 Power Attenuator to tame the huge volume of the amp.
For his bass tone, Hook used a HiWatt 100 head paired with a Vox cabinet, which he discussed in an interview with Musical Instrument Professional back in 2014. “I went to Bingley Hall in Stafford to see The Stranglers and I remember being absolutely transfixed by Jean-Jaques Burnel,” Hook remembers. “I thought he was the coolest thing I’d ever seen and his sound was unbelievable. It just blew me away. I remember waiting until the end of the gig to get near the front to go and write down what his set up was. And it was a Vox TB18 cab with a HiWatt 100, and then I set my stall out to sound exactly like Jean-Jaques, so I went out and bought both."
One of Unknown Pleasures' most notable elements is the way in which producer Martin Hannett and Bernard Sumner used keyboards to fill out the space on the record, creating gloomy textures which perfectly complement the dark nature of Curtis' lyrical content. Using an analogue PowerTran Transcendent 2000 and an ARP Omni-2, Hannett and Sumner created unforgettably edgy string and brass textures. Without them, the record simply wouldn't be the same.
Throughout the recording of Unknown Pleasures, drummer Stephen Morris played a traditional Rogers concert kit with a 14-inch Gretsch snare, 12, 13, 14 and 15 inch hanging toms, 15-inch Super Zyn hi-hats, 20-inch Earth ride cymbals, and 18 and 14 inch Zildjan crash cymbals. Morris' rapid paced snare and hi-hat patterns provided the blueprint for indie rock drummers for the next 50 years; it'd be hard to find a drummer who hasn't been influenced by Morris' playing on this album.
The drumming on Unknown Pleasures is also made incredibly unique by Morris' use of a Synare, a drum synthesiser which can be prominently heard on 'She's Lost Control' as well as 'Atrocity Exhibition' from the band's second album Closer, which Morris discusses in this article.
Producer Martin Hannett was also responsible for some of Morris' most iconic drum sounds. Legend has it that Hannett forced Morris to disassemble every component of his drum kit and rebuild it for the purpose of one recording, as well as setting up his drums on the roof of the studio to record 'She's Lost Control'. This was later reinterpreted in the film 24 Hour Party People. Whether or not these stories are true is uncertain; however, they definitely help to write Unknown Pleasures further into history as one of the defining records of the 20th century.