Jack White? The guy from White Stripes?
Well, yes, and several other great bands and projects (The Upholsterers, The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, as well as his solo career)! This American guitarist and vocalist knows how to give each one of these projects a particular flavour. If in White Stripes he pioneered a genre that mixes the blues and the most primitive punk, in Raconteurs he develops a more muscular rock and in Dead Weather he made sensuality and the crooner persona its signature. The second of those mentioned, The Raconteurs, has just released an album: Help Us Strangers (Third Man Records, 2019) is the third LP from the band that White established in 2006 with Brendan Benson, Patrick Keeler and one of his lifelong teammates, Jack Lawrence. As you read this, The Raconteurs are taking their new songs around the world. Some new songs that affect the identity of the band: melodies, timeless riffs, White’s usual classiness and love of the purest six-string rock (that now seems almost archaic), all the while staying true to to his roots. And, well, you’ll understand that we’ll need to discuss guitars if we want to focus on Jack White. In this case not the guitars themselves but the guitar sounds that White achieves.
Not the guitars themselves but the guitar sounds
That’s it. Since most of White’s gear is vintage (and/or specifically modified by him), in this article we’ll focus on how to give your guitar, mainly through amplifiers and pedals, that same howling and powerful sound as the genius from Detroit. As for guitars, White has always used a great variety of brands (Airline, Danelectro, Gibson, Fender…), but his great love, admitted by himself and applicable to both electric and acoustic guitars, is Gretsch. This mythical brand’s catalogue is very wide, but, to highlight some, we could mention the G6128T-59 VS Duo Jet and its much cheaper cousin, the G5230T Electromatic Jet. Also, we can’t forget two gorgeous guitars which White uses often (but in different colours), the G6134T Penguin and the G6118T Anniversary. Careful not to drool on your keyboard.
Gretsch is not the only guitars White uses, of course he has a large collection of beautiful guitars, one that stands out in particular is his Fender Highway One Telecaster with Bigsby tremolo which he modified himself, painting all the hardware (including the Bigsby) white and removing the neck pickup and replacing it with a T.V. Jones Filtertron. The closest guitar we have in our shop is the new Fender Vintera 60s Tele with Bigsby, which you can always modify with a TV Jones pickup 😉
Both of these are Jumbo sized, but Jack prefers guitars of all shapes and sizes including this Concert sized Gretsch G9531E Style 3 Grand Concert:
That’s old news, gimme some other tips!
True, OK, let’s shift gears and talk about amplifiers. During his White Stripes era, White often used a mid-’60s Sears Silvertone 1485 tube head and a 6×10 Silvertone speaker cab combo, a rig that is not easy to come by these days. Let’s discuss some amps that are a bit more attainable. The jewel pictured above, called the Fender 65 Twin Reverb, as you can probably guess, is a reissue of an amp from 1965, one that stands out in history for its intimidating, thick and deep reverberation. In addition, this gadget is especially important in our objective (trying to emulate the White sound), since it offers a great tone when you’re playing through pedals. And, friends, heaven knows we’re going to need pedals to sound like this guy. Another purely Jack White element is how intuitive it is to use: volume, a few other knobs and the rest depends on you! The 65 Twin Reverb has two cousins that should not be forgotten: The 68 Custom Vibrolux Reverb and the Fender 68 Custom Deluxe Reverb. Neither amp will disappoint you, trust us.
Let’s continue talking about amplifiers for a moment and about Fender, because the Hot Rod Deluxe IV is another of White’s favourites. The Hot Rod series came into being in the mid-90s, when hair metal began to fade and a large part of the sounds of the ‘50s, ’60s and ’70s saw their comeback. The Hot Rods, with their Drive and More Drive circuits, incorporated overdrive and distortion into the classic Fender sound, always cleaner than anything else. This new range gave Fender greater versatility in sound and they surely take into consideration subtleties, the little, yet important, details.
We will finish the amp section with two real jewels. On the left, ladies and gentlemen, the Fender Blues Deluxe Reissue, a beast that can get loud (it is recommended not to surpass 2 on the volume knob if someone in your building has heart problems) but its subtleties and velvety sound magically come through as well. To the right, the Fender George Benson Twin Reverb is a majestic tube amplifier that stands out for the clarity of its sound. Write down their names: neither of them will let you down.
I just need a good amp, then?
It doesn’t hurt but I’m afraid you’ll need more than that, we’re talking effect pedals here, and a nice pile of them. But turn that frown upside down because we’re here to help with a few important tips. The four pedals above are kind of fundamental in the company of Jack White. He hates the smart phone type of gadgets (for valid reasons) but he sure loves pedals. One of the most emblematic features of his sound is its use of distortion. The pedal on the top-left is the Electro Harmonix Little Big Muff Pi, a real eminence when it comes to distortion. It features a wide range of distortion nuances (from something very soft, very modest, to a real chainsaw) and its great capacity for sound equalisation. The pedal on the top-right is synonymous with the White sound: the Digitech Whammy. He uses this pedal on songs like Seven Nation Army to make his guitar sound like a bass with all the octaves down. The pedal on the bottom-left is the Dunlop Germanium Fuzz Face Mini Red, widely used in garage and metal bands for its marked vintage-character fuzz and its great possibility of combination with other pedals. At the bottom-right we have another fuzz, the Z.Vex Woolly Mammoth Vexter, which gives us, in addition to a powerful distortion, a nicely controllable low end. Essential.
One pedal White has used frequently, both in The Dead Weather and The Raconteurs, is the Electro Harmonix Nano Bassballs , a surround filter that generates unique sounds (check out this song for the sound). In addition, its distortion switch floods the harmonics with nuances. Add a little funk to your guitar. Another pedal, also from Electro Harmonix, widely used by our Detroit genius is the Micro POG, a circuit that allows an extra dose of dirt in the sound of the guitar. White used to use it mostly in White Stripes, where the minimal guitar-drums duo required all kinds of sound tricks to either beef it up or brighten it up, or both simultaneously. The pedal is now also available in a nano version, as can be seen in the video below:
The Bosses also fit nicely on White’s pedalboard, of course. One of the most reliable signatures when it comes to guitar pedals could not be missing. The Boss CS-3 Compression Sustainer is a no-brainer, a compressor that, in the process (compressing the strongest signals and increasing the lowest ones) hardly alters the original quality of the sound. In such intense (sometimes aggressive) music as that of Raconteurs, the use of a suitable compressor is essential. The pedal on the right is a TU-3, one of the most precise and intuitive chromatic tuners on the market.
Do I need even more pedals?
Well, it’s not that you need them, but there are four more pedals to talk about, just in case. Let’s start with the MXR Micro Amp M133 preamplifier, which White usually has on and brings more gain to the sound. In addition, he plays with it when developing volume dynamics of and licks, two of his great virtues as a guitarist. The Eventide H9 Harmonizer, is one of the best signal processors, of its kind, you can acquire. With a very low learning curve, it’s overwhelming how much use can be made of the H9’s sound processing.
We finish this overview of Jack White’s pedals with two delicious cherries on top. The first of them, the Voodoo Lab Tremolo, offers authentic tube amplifier tremolo sounds. This is made possible primarily by the use of the same lamp and photocell assembly as most classic amplifiers. We finish off with the Dunlop JD-4S Rotovibe, a chorus/vibrato reminiscent of the rotary loudspeaker sound that Hendrix made legendary. This is a very versatile effect, due to the manageability of the controls, and it couldn’t be more handsome, check it out in this video:
A couple of last details
They will be quick, I assure you: the first of them concerns the picks. Jack White says he always plays with thick picks in order to attack the string with force. He especially likes them to be black, but that’s no surprise. The ones in the photo are the Dunlop Jim Root Custom Nylon Picks, 1.38 mm thick. The ex-White Striper shows no predilection for a particular brand or signature of picks, but has said that in his teens he bought ghs, because they were manufactured in his native Michigan.
Very few artists offer as many lessons when it comes to creating hit songs with unforgettable tones as Jack White does. The first lesson we learn is that it takes tremendous dedication, a kind that the Detroit artist gives to his craft and, in particular, to his guitar. It’s easy to attribute it all to talent (which he has like few others), but behind that there are hours and hours of studying the guitar, testing models, thinking about what fits versus what you have in your head, how to adapt it to a specific amp and which specific pedals to put it through. Read any interview with him, you’ll realise that though talent helps, 99% of success depends on you, a trainable quality called dedication.