“For those of you looking for the Siamese Dream lead sound, pick one of these…”: Billy Corgan’s guide to getting that classic Smashing Pumpkins guitar sound

Smashing Pumpkins in 1993
(Image credit: Paul Bergen/Redferns)

There were many iconic rock records released in the first half of the 90s, but nothing had as distinct a sound as Smashing Pumpkins’ classic second album Siamese Dream. It was an album where the sonics were fully intertwined with the songs, one and the same. Siamese Dream would not have been half the record if, say, the guitars sounded like the ones on Pearl Jam’s Ten or Stone Temple Pilots’ Purple. These were fantastical songs that weren’t meant to sound like they were from planet Earth. They were from somewhere else, somewhere much more psychedelic and disturbing and outlandish and freaky (yes, we’re talking about Billy Corgan’s brain).

Now, with Billy’s help, you can move on from being a simple mortal guitarist and into the Siamese Dream realm, where guitars sound both airy and in-your-face, atmospheric and razorsharp, warm but intense. Last month on TikTok and Instagram, Billy took the time to scroll through his trollies of effects pedals and picked out the ones he used to make his guitars on Siamese Dream squeal.

Holding up the MXR Distortion+, Billy says, “I used this to play leads on Siamese Dream, we’d run that through a Big Muff, it’s even got the Siamese settings,” he explains, with the camera zooming in to show that his markings from the album’s recording sessions are still present. Then Corgan picks up his Big Muff, the iconic Electro-Harmonix pedal immortalised on the title of Mudhoney’s debut EP and favoured by rockers everywhere trying to copy their grunge heroes. “Here is the original Siamese Muff,” says Corgan, holding it up. “You can see the settings are still on it, there’s the mark right there, and then this would be up,” pointing out the Sustain setting.

There’s one more pedal you need if you want to ape Corgan’s classic sound, though, and that’s the MXR Phase 100 pedal. “For those of you looking for the Siamese Dream lead sound,” Corgan advises, “pick one of these and turn the speed all the way down.”

And there you have it, you can now sound as good as Billy Corgan on Siamese Dream. You just need to get yourself a Butch Vig to help you get the maelstrom of sounds down on tape and be one of the most shit-hot guitarists of your generation. But apart from that you’re pretty much there. Watch the video below where Billy talks you through it...


♬ original sound - Billy Corgan
Niall Doherty

Niall Doherty is a writer and editor whose work can be found in Classic Rock, The Guardian, Music Week, FourFourTwo, on Apple Music and more. Formerly the Deputy Editor of Q magazine, he co-runs the music Substack letter The New Cue with fellow former Q colleagues Ted Kessler and Chris Catchpole. He is also Reviews Editor at Record Collector. Over the years, he's interviewed some of the world's biggest stars, including Elton John, Coldplay, Arctic Monkeys, Muse, Pearl Jam, Radiohead, Depeche Mode, Robert Plant and more. Radiohead was only for eight minutes but he still counts it.