Josh Klinghoffer talks touring with Pearl Jam, his relationship with the Red Hot Chili Peppers and his ambitious quest to make a solo album every year

Josh Klinghoffer
(Image credit: Getty Images)

For those who thought we may see less of guitarist Josh Klinghoffer after his high-profile gig with the Red Hot Chili Peppers came to an end in 2019, you've been proven incorrect. 

Post-Peppers, the multi-instrumentalist has been hard at work – launching his own solo band, Pluralone, and issued a pair of albums (2019’s To Be One with You and 2020’s I Don’t Feel Well). Plus, he's been enlisted as a hired hand for live work for both Pearl Jam and Eddie Vedder’s own band, the Earthlings. 

Shortly after making his live debut with Pearl Jam and the Earthlings at the Ohana Festival and releasing two B-sides from Pluralone’s I Don’t Feel Well sessions (the tracks Across the Park and Sevens), Klinghoffer spoke to Guitar World.

What is your guitar setup with Pluralone?

“Honestly, Pluralone has only performed once live. So, I can give you the rundown of that rig. That was a particular, ‘thrown together at the last minute’ sort of setup for that one show. For any future shows, it’s ‘TBD’ – I haven’t really settled on a rig yet. But for the show at the Ohana Fest, I used… I think it’s a ’59 Gibson Barney Kessel that I just found a few months prior. 

“And this is typical for me – for my first-ever show, I played a bunch of guitars that I was fairly unfamiliar with. I played a Teisco Del Ray 12-string that I had just purchased three days before. It had belonged to Ry Cooder. Those are the two guitars I used at that performance.

“I think I used my early ‘60s Vox AC30. It’s a tan one. And effects, I threw a 'board together for that show specifically, and I regretted it the entire time – because I played around four in the afternoon, and the sun was beating down on me, and I couldn’t see any of the lights! I was a little frazzled because it was my first performance, and I was forgetting all the things you’d normally check. So, I would play a whole song thinking I was on clean, but really, my distortion was on. 

“And that distortion is one of my favorite pedals – an Ibanez [BS10] Bass Stack. And then the other thing I had up there but was putting a drum machine through it – but I use this on guitar all the time – was the Red Panda Particle.”

I usually approach everything thinking either, ‘Which Strat to use?’ or ‘Why would I not use a Strat?’

Which guitars did you use in the studio for Pluralone?

“I think because I spent so much time in the Chili Peppers, I was always attracted to the Strat. So, I usually approach everything thinking either, ‘Which Strat to use?’ or ‘Why would I not use a Strat?’ For Pluralone, I generally used a couple of different Strats on the last recordings. And I’ve recorded with a Jaguar and Jazzmaster. I tend to use a lot of Fenders in the studio. 

“Apart from on this last Pluralone album I used my Gibson Firebird VII a little bit – which I got right when I joined the Chili Peppers, thinking I would tour with it a lot because it’s a lot of fun to play. But it wound up being difficult to find a place to play in that band. I used it on the first tour, but never again. 

“I used a Fender Bass VI. The bass I used a lot on this album was my late friend’s Music Man StingRay fretless bass. He was my best friend growing up and he died when he was 19, so I used his bass on his birthday to record the song [The Report]. And I used an Ampeg AEB-1. And early ‘60s Jazz basses, too – I have one with flats and one with wounds.”

Josh Klinghoffer

(Image credit: Suhaimi Abdullah/Getty Images)

How would you compare your Pluralone setup to what you used with the Chili Peppers?

“It’s a little smaller. The Chili Peppers live rig is one thing, and then the studio rig would be another thing. The last album I did with the Chili Peppers, The Getaway, I’m ashamed to admit that my rig was nothing like what I intended it to be. I did that whole album with a Marshall practice amp! 

“But the two amps I had set up were a Marshall practice amp from the early ‘80s and a late ‘50s Fender Deluxe. I used the Marshall more. But I had a whole diametrically opposite plan for that record – I was going to do a lot of creative things with amps. I collected a bunch of amps during the first tour I’d done with them – it just goes to show you can’t make too many plans or try and control anything. So, I was going to put that into effect on my third album with them… which didn’t come to be. 

“But live, it’s just louder and more present. I used a 200-watt Marshall Major amp – because John Frusciante used those, and at first, I was thinking, ‘If he used it, there’s got to be something to that loud amp.’ But over time and just the trend of how comfortable people are playing changed over time. So, I never played as loud as I think the band had in the past. 

The fact that I used a 200-watt Marshall Major wound up being a problem… I should have used a smaller wattage amp

“The fact that I used that amp wound up being a problem. Probably because of all the headroom I had with that 200-watt amp and was always stacking different combinations of gain on top of each other. I should have used a smaller wattage amp. But the Marshall Major and the Fender Tone Master were my rig for the last tour. 

“For 80 percent I’d use Strats. I had one Gibson on the first tour – the Firebird. And then the second tour it was an SG, and after that I had one Les Paul. I always had a 12-string of some kind – a Fender or a Firebird – because we would play Breaking the Girl once in a while that I’d do on 12-string. But pretty much always Strats. Once in a while, I’d bring out a Jazzmaster for fun. You can do a thousand things with a Strat.”

Have you been in touch with the Chili Peppers since your departure?

“Yeah, I have – in different amounts with different guys. I hadn’t seen Anthony [Kiedis] until the other day – I ran into him at Chad Smith’s birthday. But we text. I play Fantasy Basketball with Flea – he and I are in contact often. And then I’ve had the good fortune of just continuing to work with Chad a lot in the last two years – doing some records, and recording a lot with Andrew Watt.”

How did you get involved with Pearl Jam?

“The Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam have a long, intertwined history. The Chili Peppers took Pearl Jam out on one of their first tours back in 1991. Jack Irons – the original drummer of the Chili Peppers – connected Eddie with Stone [Gossard] and Jeff [Ament] in Seattle. And then Jack Irons went on to become the drummer in Pearl Jam for a little bit. Basically, the Chili Peppers and Pearl Jam have just been close. 

“At some point, we connected. It was 2016 that I really saw them more – we did the same festival in New Orleans. We became a little closer over time – did some gigs with Mike McCready for various charities, and Eddie came down and played the benefit fundraiser for Flea’s music school in Silverlake. 

“When their new album was going to come out – right before the pandemic – they felt they needed a little bit of help. Predominantly with background vocals and a couple other things. So, they had offered me the position of opening their tour and they said, ‘Since you’re there, you can sing a couple of bits, play percussion. Anything that’s needed.’

“As it turns out, I’m playing guitar on a song or two. I have a minor but key role at certain points of the show. But it’s really just through long history and friendships that existed before I was even around. But lucky for me I was a huge fan of them when I was a kid and I’m quite familiar with their older music. So, it’s not like joining some band that is just ‘another band.’ 

I don’t really play that much guitar in Pearl Jam. I play on four songs maybe at the most, and rarely will all four be in the same set

“For me, the friend that I mentioned whose fretless bass I played, he only owned a fretless because he was a big fan of Jeff Ament, and I was like, ‘You should get a fretless!’ I have a great picture of Jeff playing that bass that I sent to my friend’s mom – which is a really nice, full-circle moment. 

“So, I wasn’t a stranger. It kind of made sense for me to join the Chili Peppers – when John decided not to do it at that period, I had been around for so long and friends toured with them, having me around wasn’t something that was an adjustment. Kind of the same with Pearl Jam. Not as much, maybe – because I didn’t know them as much, not living in Seattle. But having me around wouldn’t be that strange or different.”

How is it determined what you will be playing with Pearl Jam? As Eddie also plays a lot of guitar, there can potentially be four guitarists on stage.

“I don’t really play that much guitar. I play on four songs maybe at the most, and rarely will all four be in the same set. So, I’d say two or three a night. It has a lot to do with their latest album, Gigaton, was recorded over a long period of time and there were different sessions of overdubbing. So, there’s a lot of parts that might need a couple of extra hands.

“I’m never taking a guitar part that’s more essential than Stone or Mike. And Eddie plays guitar quite a bit in the band, but not as much on the newer stuff. He played a lot of guitar on the songs that he wrote, but he doesn’t play on those live. So, one of the ones I play on is a song where on the record there’s Eddie, Stone, and Mike playing. Eddie doesn’t want to play that song live, so I’m playing one of the little parts.”

Which songs do you play live with Pearl Jam?

“I play on Superblood Wolfmoon, Seven O’Clock – and that’s the one song where four of us are holding guitars at one point. But I honestly don’t think Eddie plays until the latter verse – right before the final chorus. So, when he starts playing, we almost crisscross. There might be one chorus where there’s four guitars at once. 

“But then the minute the last chorus is over and the outro begins, I hand my guitar to my tech. I could just hold it, but I feel like I want there to be one less guitar. So then I just sing from that point on. I might be forgetting one, but I know I do a little part in In My Tree.”

I finally built a studio. For the first time in my life, I have the ability to record whenever I want

What's next on the cards for your solo material, and how long do you plan to tour with Pearl Jam?

“I have a slightly unrealistic/pompous bet with myself that I would be able to put out a record every year. So, I’m in year three of Pluralone’s existence, and I’m dangerously close to losing that bet and not having a record out this year. But the clock isn’t up yet. I’m trying to make as much music as possible under my own little solo moniker. And then whatever Pearl Jam has on the calendar. 

“For the foreseeable future I’ll be with them, since it’s still in support of the Gigaton album. I’m by no means a member of Pearl Jam, but I’m definitely committed to touring this next cycle. They’ve been so welcoming, and they’re totally conscious and supportive of my music and my solo work.

“But I’ve been doing a lot of recording with friends, and like I said, with Andrew and Chad. There’s pretty much something going on every day. I finally built a studio. For the first time in my life, I have the ability to record whenever I want.”

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Greg Prato

Greg is a contributing writer at Guitar World. He has written for other outlets over the years, and has been lucky to interview some of his favorite all-time guitarists and bassists: Tony Iommi, Ace Frehley, Adrian Belew, Andy Summers, East Bay Ray, Billy Corgan, Alex Lifeson, Geddy Lee, Les Claypool, and Mike Watt, among others (and even took lessons from John Petrucci back in the summer of ’91!). He is the author of such books as Grunge Is Dead: The Oral History of Seattle Rock Music, Shredders: The Oral History of Speed Guitar (And More) and Touched by Magic: The Tommy Bolin Story.