Finding out what gear guitarists use isn’t a problem. Most players will gladly recite a list of their favorite guitars and equipment when asked, especially if they have signature model products. If they won’t, there’s usually a good chance that somebody somewhere has at least snapped a photo or two of their guitars and live rigs.
The bigger challenge is finding out how most guitarists use their gear. It’s not the fault of guitar journalists or the artists themselves—cataloging every single guitar played and amp or effect setting used can be a tedious, laborious, time-intensive affair, and many guitarists can’t remember all of the details (that’s why they pay their guitar techs big bucks). I personally can’t remember every knob on certain amps I own, let alone what my exact favorite settings are.
To help you figure out how to create the guitar tones of several iconic songs, we’ve dug deep into research mode, combing old interviews and meticulously examining stage and studio photos from the appropriate eras. I then dug into my personal gear collection of over 100 guitars, 75 amps and 400 pedals and rack processors to replicate those sounds. If I didn’t have particular pieces of gear, I used items like Fractal Audio’s Axe-Fx II XL+ and AX8 (extremely helpful), a Line 6 POD HD500X and various iPad apps, including Positive Grid’s Bias Series and IK Multimedia’s AmpliTube Series.
Much of the original gear used to record these songs is well known, and as a result many of these items are very expensive, if you can even find them. For those of you with limited funds, we’ve also put together more affordable alternative rigs that should provide most of the core elements of these tones. If you want it all, the most affordable alternative may actually be Fractal’s AX8 and a great guitar or two of your personal preference.
Because control markings and layout styles are inconsistent, I’ve listed all settings from 0–10 where 0 is completely off, 10 is all the way up and 5 is exactly in the middle. Keep in mind that the sound of even the same guitars and amp models can often vary dramatically, especially with vintage gear more than 30 years old. If the recommended settings don’t sound quite right, tweak them as you see fit. These settings worked best with my rigs and should get you very close, but variables such as a guitar’s tone woods and pickups can make a difference. Pedals are listed in the order that they should be chained together in series from the guitar to the amp.
Also keep in mind that all of the examples are studio recordings, so the sounds may not be ideal for live performance. Other important elements like the mics, outboard gear and mixing console settings used in the studio while tracking, mixing and mastering can affect the overall tone, so these sounds may not completely match the final product you hear on a record. However, we hope you’ll find that our settings get you most of the way there and inspire you to come up with your own signature sounds to influence new generations.
“SEVEN NATION ARMY”
The White Stripes, Elephant (2003)
Guitarist: Jack White
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 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 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.
GUITAR: Early Sixties Kay K6533 archtop hollowbody with single Kay “cheese grater” single-coil pickup (neck pickup only)
AMP: Mid Sixties 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
GET THE SOUND, CHEAP!
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.