Does Tool Use Autotune? (or use backing tracks live?)

Tool is a popular alternative rock band formed in 1990. Back when the band formed, autotune had only just been created, and almost no one was using it. However, in the years to come, autotune has become much more widely used. So, does Tool use autotune?

Tool does not use autotune either on their recordings or in live performances. However, in live shows, leader singer Maynard does trigger prerecorded backing vocals from a series of pedals and a keyboard he has in front of him, making the vocals sound richer than if it was just him alone.

Over the years, they have won and been nominated for many prestigious awards, including multiple Grammys.

In this article, we’ll get into all the in’s and out’s of Maynard’s voice, what his range is, and we’ll learn more about the prerecorded vocals that Maynard uses in live performances.

Let’s get into it.

Does Maynard have a good voice?

Maynard James Keenan has an outstanding voice with a wide range and a lot of power. Unlike many hard rock singers, he can go from a soft whisper to an over-the-top scream very quickly. And his voice has been very consistent over the 3+ decades of Tool’s existence. 

But currently, some people are divided on whether Maynard has a good voice.

Back in 1990, when Tool was formed, at least one person thought Maynard had a good voice. That person was Adam Jones, the guitarist for Tool. Jones had heard Maynard singing on a demo, and he was so awestruck by Maynard’s vocals that he immediately wanted to form a band with him.

Not long after, Tool was formed.

Tool has been a successful band, and much of its success was back before autotune had ever become popular. From that fact alone, Maynard’s voice must at least be decent for so many people to love the band’s music.

The truth is most people have agreed that Maynard is an incredible vocalist with a good voice. 

I have only seen Tool live one time, in 2006 at the Coachella Music Festival. The only thing disappointing at that show was how short the set was (as is the case sometimes with festivals) and the fact that they did not play their amazing cover of Zeppelin’s No Quarter.

In their 11 song set though, Maynard sounded great.

However, in more recent years, some people think his voice has weakened and lost what made it so powerful. After a Tool performance in 2020, one critic wrote: “…even while performing classics like “Schism,” his vocals come off as disappointingly stale.”

This may simply be a case of Maynard not being able to please everyone all the time.

At let’s be honest, if you’ve seen Tool live you know that Maynard isn’t really performing for the crowd. He’s performing for himself which is why he’s rarely, if ever, at the front of the stage.

In general, people believe that Maynard has a good voice.

What is Maynard James Keenan’s vocal range?

Maynard James Keenan has a range of four octaves. On average, most singers have a 2-octave range. Other singers with a 4-octave range include Freddie Mercury of Queen and Rob Halford of Judas Priest.

In general, a vocal range is determined to be the range between the lowest note and the highest note that someone can produce with their voice.

However, this is not necessarily helpful when applied to musical vocals.

A singer may be able to produce a certain note, but if they do not have control and the note sounds terrible, then it is not useful to them as a musical artist.

For musical vocalists, their vocal range is determined by the useful notes that they can produce with their voices.

One website attempted to chart Maynard’s notes in his various songs and determined that his specific vocal range was C#2 – F#5. But again, this could easily be debated by others who listen to Tool.

However, most agree that Maynard has a range of four octaves. This is a very good range to have. Maynard was ranked to be in the top 30 greatest singers based on his vocal range.

So, while probably no one would argue that Maynard is the greatest vocalist of all time, he is still a powerhouse with an impressive vocal range.

Can Maynard still scream?

Maynard James Keenan can still scream well, even if it’s not quite the powerful and impressive scream he was once known to have. But for a band that is over 30 years old, he still sounds great.

To make that claim, since it’s been well over a decade since I’ve seen Tool live, I relied on watching YouTube videos from the past 2 years of The Grudge and No Quarter to gauge how well he can scream now.

While it might seem strange to some, screaming can actually be an important part of musical talent.

Obviously, only certain genres of music incorporate screaming. Rock and metal are two of the most common genres to incorporate screaming into the vocals. Of course, there is also screamo music, which is considered to be a subgenre of emo.

In these genres, screaming is a powerful sound that pushes the singer’s vocal range to its absolute limit.

A well-timed scream can create intense emotions in the listener, and it is an important component of rock songs that feature high energy levels and anti-establishment sentiments.

Maynard always had an effective scream, which is one of the reasons Tool’s songs were so popular. 

However, screaming throughout one’s singing career can be dangerous. Screaming produces a powerful sound that can damage your vocal cords, especially if not done correctly.

There are many vocal exercises that singers use in order to avoid damaging their vocal cords. However, even with healthy vocal practices, constant screaming over the course of years will always wear down a singer’s vocal cords.

This, unfortunately, has happened to Maynard, like Rob Halford before him.

It has nothing to do with his talent as a vocalist; he is simply getting older and has worn down his vocal cords. He can still scream, but it is not quite as good compared to the sound he had when Tool first started.

How does Maynard James Keenan sing?

Maynard James Keenan is known for using a mixed-voice technique. He can go from soft to loud very quickly, as well as go from his chest voice to his head voice quickly. He has a rare depth and sense of dynamics, often missing from many hard rock singers.

An essential thing to differentiate in the realm of vocals is the chest voice versus the head voice.

The chest voice is the lower range of sounds that a person can produce. If you try to create a low note right now, you will feel it lower in your throat and chest.

The head voice is the higher range of sounds that a person can produce.

If you try to produce the highest note you can, you will barely feel it in your throat. Instead, you will feel it coming from higher up, which is why it is called the head voice.

The mixed voice technique is when a singer blends the chest voice and head voice together. It helps deal with the gap between the chest voice and head voice, creating a fuller sound.

While the specifics of this technique are complicated, it is essentially achieved by singing notes in the upper register with your chest voice instead of your head voice.

Maynard uses this technique, which is one of the reasons he is popular and considered to be so talented.

Does Tool use prerecorded backing vocals?

Tool’s Maynard James Keenan has a vast array of effect pedals and a keyboard next to him which he occasionally uses to trigger prerecorded backing vocals of himself when Tool performs live in concert.

Essentially, it’s an easy way for the band to reproduce their recorded versions of songs without having to bring backup vocalists with them.

Backing tracks are prerecorded sounds that can range from instruments to vocals.

Bands use these when certain parts of their songs may be impossible to implement live. For example, some vocalists do not have a band to tour with. So, they play the prerecorded tracks and sing along to them as a solo artist.

However, prerecorded tracks often draw criticism from fans.

Many believe that these tracks ruin the integrity of the music and are, in a way, deceitful. Fans would prefer that all sounds be created live so that they can see a band’s true talent.

So Maynard James Keenan does use prerecorded backing vocals. However, this doesn’t necessarily undermine his talent as a vocalist.

It seems that he activates the backing tracks with a pedal instead of having them play on a timed loop. Since he has control over when the tracks start and stop, it is almost like he is playing an instrument of his own.

These backing vocals are simply present to create a fuller sound that no artist, no matter how talented, could create alone while singing live.

And it’s always at Maynard’s discretion as to when, or if he uses them; he’s in control which is just not the same as watching some pop star dance and mostly lip-sync.

Maynard talks TOOL at Joe Rogan Experience


Most people agree Maynard has an incredible voice. However, it may not be what it once was when Tool was starting out.

Maynard has an impressive vocal range of four octaves.

Maynard’s scream has certainly weakened over the years. He can still scream while singing, but it isn’t as powerful as it used to be.

Maynard often uses a mixed-voice technique while singing, not only in Tool, but also A Perfect Circle and Puscifer.

It appears Maynard uses prerecorded backing vocals while performing live. However, these vocals are only used to add to his sound rather than replace it.

Photos that require attribution:

Flash and Tool Whole Band by Scott Penner are licensed under CC2.0 and were cropped, edited, merged, and had a text overlay added.

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