Dan Auerbach breaks down the guitar playing on 5 classic Black Keys tracks

Dan Auerbach
(Image credit: Scott Legato/Getty Images)

Dan Auerbach is a man of perpetual motion. If he’s not in the studio tracking with the Black Keys he is out on stage with them, touring in support of their new album, Dropout Boogie. Or else his phone is blowing up with someone looking for his services to produce their album – and not just anyone, neither. Cats like Marcus King have him on speed dial. 

There is no question, the man Auerbach’s time is in demand, so that’s why we doubly appreciate it when he takes some time out to take a trip down memory lane, and discuss five of his favorite tracks from the Black Keys discography. Here goes…

1. I Got Mine – from Attack & Release (2008)

“This was always a fun one to play live. That’s just the sound of the basement – Pat and me in the basement where we used to play. The intro was probably influenced by some sort of James Brown thing. 

“But that riff, I don’t know where it came from, to be honest with you. It was a pretty simple little thing. I’m not sure if there was any one particular influence, more so than others.”

2. Ten Cent Pistol – from Brothers (2010)

“That was at Muscle Shoals Sound [in Alabama]. It feels like that song could have been on the new record [Dropout Boogie]; it’s got a lot of improvisation in it. We were listening to lots of funk, including Mulatu Astatke, the Ethiopian funk guy. We did a lot of solos with the octaves like that, and we were definitely influenced by that on that record.”

3. Little Black Submarines – from El Camino (2011)

“We wrote it with Danger Mouse [Brian Joseph Burton]. We started it on acoustic guitar, and it wasn’t until we got into the studio to record it that we decided to have that ending section, where all the drums and everything kick in. That was fun – getting to be able to do that, and have a song that had a journey to it.”

4. Tighten Up – from Brothers (2010)

“We cut that in New York City and co-wrote it with Danger Mouse. He even started the verses, the stuff on the piano, just coming up with chord changes. They had a grand piano there in the studio. We put that one together fairly quickly, and we also used a drum loop of Pat playing. 

“We had him go in and he played until he got a loop that he really liked, and then we started to layer it together. There’s one solo at the ending [starting at 03:05] with a weird phaser-type sound. That was just a Boss pedal that they had at the studio sitting on a shelf. They didn’t have a lot of pedals – but that was one of them. I just was like, 'Yeah, let’s give it a shot.' 

“It was the first time I ever used that pedal, and it was the main sound on this song that became our first radio success. Pretty funny.” 

Editor’s note: We’re pretty sure Auerbach is referring to the Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter, which he has often used in tandem with a Boss OC-3 Super Octave as part of his live rig.

Here are some Tighten Up outro-solo settings for both pedals, courtesy of GW Associate Editor Chris Gill:

Boss OC-3 Super Octave

Guitar Input, Direct Level: 4, Oct 1 Level: 5, Drive Level: 5, Mode: Drive, Mono Output > PH-3 Input

Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter

Rate: 4.5, Depth: 10, Res: 9, 8-stage setting

5. Lonely Boy – from El Camino (2011)

“We cut it in Nashville, at [my studio], Easy Eye Sound. I’m playing my ’54 Strat that I bought when I was on tour one time. I’ve always loved playing it; it’s got all the original electronics. And I used it all over that record. That started with another pedal that I’d never used before – and haven’t used since! [It’s] that little [pitch-shifting] pedal that bends the note down [most likely a Boss PS-5]. 

“I just plugged it in to see what it was and immediately came up with the riff for the beginning of Lonely Boy. We just started improvising the parts. It’s a very raw, simple song, but we just started jamming on it. And it just started from that cool little pedal sound we were getting.”

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Josh is a freelance journalist who has spent the past dozen or so years interviewing musicians for a variety of publications, including Guitar World, GRAMMY.com, SPIN, Chicago Sun-Times, MTV News, Rolling Stone and American Songwriter. He credits his father for getting him into music. He's been interested in discovering new bands ever since his father gave him a list of artists to look into. A favorite story his father told him is when he skipped a high school track meet to see Jimi Hendrix in concert. For his part, seeing one of his favorite guitarists – Mike Campbell – feet away from him during a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert is a special moment he’ll always cherish.