The secrets behind Jack White's guitar tone on the White Stripes' Seven Nation Army

The White Stripes single Seven Nation Army is proof that if you write a great riff, the world will beat a path to your door.

Simple and infectious, the descending 'bass' line (actually recorded and performed on a Kay hollowbody electric guitar through a Whammy pedal set to the octave-down setting) still lives on today, long after the White Stripes disbanded, as a supporters’ chant at soccer matches and other sporting events.

Seven Nation Army was also the White Stripes’ biggest hit, with frontman Jack White earning status as a bona fide modern electric guitar hero for his cool riff, slick slide playing and rough-in-all-the-right-places tone.

White’s performance of the song is characterized by three distinct tones that add variety and interest to the otherwise simple song structure. In addition to the 'bass' line, White plays the same riff with his Kay hollowbody using a slide to play jangly, mildly overdriven chords, and he performs a raucous overdubbed slide solo with ripping distortion courtesy of an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi fuzz pedal (White places the Big Muff after the Whammy).

Aspiring slide players, take note: using a distortion or fuzz pedal can give single-note slide lines added body, sustain and cut that boosts the guitar tone to the front of the mix. White says that he uses whatever strings his guitar techs put on his instruments and has no idea what gauge or brand they are. For the best tone, use the heaviest gauge you can tolerate.

Original gear

GUITAR: Early-'60s Kay K6533 archtop hollowbody with single Kay “cheese grater” single-coil pickup (neck pickup only)
AMP: Mid-'60s Sears Silvertone 1485 (Channel 2, Volume: 6, Bass: 5, Treble: 7, Reverb and Tremolo off )
CABINET: Sears Silvertone 1485 6x10 with Jensen C10Q ceramic speakers
EFFECTS: Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi (Volume: 6, Tone: 7, Sustain: 9); DigiTech Whammy 4 (Whammy 1-octave down setting)
STRINGS/TUNING: String gauge/brand unspecified (use at least a set of .010–.046 strings); Open A (E A E A C# E)
PICK/SLIDE: Dunlop Heavy 1.0mm Tortex, chrome-plated steel slide

Jack White guitar gear

(Image credit: Press)

Get the sound, cheap!

  • Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin
  • Fender Pro Junior III
  • DigiTech Drop
  • Electro-Harmonix Nano Big Muff Pi

TONE TIP: Turn up the Pro Junior’s volume control until the tone just starts to break up. This provides tone that’s clean enough for a convincing bass line with the octave-down effect and jangly enough for the main rhythm guitar part. Kick on the Big Muff for the slide solo only.

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Chris Gill

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.