With an eye-watering 15 Grammy Awards under their belt, the Foo Fighters are one of the most successful bands of all time.
Singer and guitarist Dave Grohl is loved not only because of his stellar songwriting and guitar abilities, but also his likable personality. It’s pretty hard not to be a Foo Fighters fan!
So today I’m digging deep into the guitars, amplifiers, and effects Dave Grohl uses to write his music, and I’ll be sharing all the juicy details and settings you’ll need to get his signature tones for yourself.
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Dave’s used a ton of gear throughout his career, but he’s mostly leaned toward the 355 semi-hollow body style guitar.
These guitars are great as they make low gain and clean tones extra lush, yet can still handle being driven hard without feeding back as a full hollow-body guitar would.
This ability to handle everything from clean and crunch to super high gain tones is pivotal in a guitar that can handle the myriad of different sounds the Foo Fighters utilize.
Gibson Trini Lopez ES-355
This is really the definitive Foo Fighters guitar. It brings the best of the solid-body world and combines it with the older jazz hollow-body style to make the most versatile instrument possible.
It looks remarkably similar to the regular ES-355, with the main differences being the diamond-shaped F-holes and the Gibson Firebird style headstock that help give it a bit of that rock edge to its aesthetic.
Dave would use this with the stock PAF pickups.
These guitars were originally produced in very limited quantities back in 1964, so getting your hands on one now is nearly impossible.
The good news is they have since been reissued. Gibson has perfectly recreated the neck shape and they even use paper-in-oil capacitors, just like the original!
Gibson DG 335
Back in 2007, Dave Grohl worked with Gibson to create his own spin on the Trini Lopez guitar with his first signature model guitar.
Visually it’s very similar, the main difference is the pickups that have been swapped out for Burstbuckers in both the bridge and neck positions.
It also had the bridge system swapped out for the more modern Les Paul-esque tune-o-matic style, which makes it a bit more stable for the modern player.
Just like the Trini Lopez, this guitar also comes with a very hefty price tag. Unfortunately, there are no affordable versions of the DG-355 available (yes Gibson, we’re all waiting for an Epiphone DG-355).
But there are still some truly fantastic and affordable dual humbucking semi-hollow body Gibson alternatives out there:
Gibson Les Paul Custom
Around the Color and Shape recording sessions and subsequent touring cycle, Dave leaned heavily into the good old white Gibson Les Paul Custom.
You’ll also see him using his black one in the Everlong video briefly.
The Epiphone versions of these guitars make great alternatives as they are remarkably similar in specification, at a fraction of the cost.
The overwhelming majority of Foo Fighters’ music is played in regular standard tuning (E A D G B E).
However, in a few special cases, they use a unique drop A tuning. Not to be confused with tuning to C standard and dropping the low C down a whole tone.
This unique tuning involves keeping the guitar standard and only dropping the low E down to A, which results in A A D G B E.
While this might seem odd at first, you can come up with some pretty unique parts when those first two strings are an octave apart.
A good example of how they use this is on the song Stacked Actors.
Dave Grohl very much sticks to that old-school rock ethos of traditional tube amplifiers and mic’d-up speaker cabinets.
But one thing that makes emulating his sound challenging is that he utilizes distinct clean, dirty, and high-gain tones. Picking only the best amplifier for that specific job.
This can make it hard to nail everything if you only own a single amp.
The good news is there are a lot of modern solutions to allow you to get these same sounds on a much smaller budget.
The JCM900 was one of the main amplifiers he used to track their self-titled debut album as well as The Color and Shape. It provided that classic British rock chunk needed for his style.
But he would also commonly pair this with something like a mini-Marshall MG50GFX to fill in other areas of his sound the JCM900 couldn’t accommodate.
Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier
The king of ultra-saturated high-gain tones. The Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier was an amp Dave favored for its fantastic sounding distortion as well as the fact they are built like tanks and can survive the brutal rigors of touring.
He’d also sometimes run the JCM900 into the effects return of the Dual Rec, essentially utilizing the pre-amp of the JCM900 and the power amp of the Mesa.
If the full 100w version is a bit much for you, Mesa also makes a rather adorable 25-watt mini version.
This legendary British amplifier hardly needs an introduction. Since recording their third album There Is Nothing Left To Use Dave would use this to fulfill both his high-gain and clean tones.
This amplifier has become a staple of his guitar setup ever since. You cannot go wrong with an AC30!
Foo Fighters Amp Settings
Foo Fighters like to use different tones from song to song. One minute there’s a glassy clean tone, the next there’s a wildly grungy distorted tone.
So get ready to do a fair bit of tweaking!
Here’s a good baseline distorted tone that you can use across the board for the majority of Foo Fighters songs:
Gain: 6.5 – Foo Fighters tread that line between pushing the distortion as hard as they can while having it still sound clean and articulate. So having the gain at 6.5 is still very pushed, but also manageable.
Bass: 3 – Dave keeps his guitars locked pretty firmly in the mid-range, as is commonplace for that more traditional rock sound. So a lot of bass isn’t needed here.
Mids: 6 – The mids are boosted a fair bit for that clean and articulate pick attack and to allow big open chords to not muddy up too much.
Treble: 6 – Foo Fighters guitars are quite bright, but not ear-piercingly so. A slight boost here works well, but as soon as you hear things start to get ‘fizzy’, stop.
Everlong uses a very light–gain tone with just the tiniest bit of breakup. The goal here is to get it as clean and bright as possible but still hear the grit come in when you pick extra hard.
A clean tone that needs as much headroom as possible to play the arpeggiated chords with absolutely no breakup, while also maintaining that round and thick sound.
Much more of a meat and potatoes high gain sound. It’s thick, fast, and doesn’t need a huge amount of definition as you’re mostly playing fifth intervals.
Learn to Fly
Careful management of your distortion is important here as you’ll be playing open chords as single notes, which can easily turn into a muddy mess if you saturate things too much. Keeping the gain low for lots of definition is key here!
Dave is very much a purist when it comes to his main distortion tone, so all your gain and drive should be coming from the amp itself.
All of his pedalboard equipment consists of utility and modulation pedals to help augment and add flavor to his sound.
MXR Phase 90
A classic pedal was popularized in the 80s by players such as Van Halen. It just has a single knob and an on-off switch, simple!
The Phase 90 is still as popular as ever today and you can hear Foo Fighters use it on songs such as Breakout and Nothing Left to Lose.
This pedal also sees use on Chris Shiflett’s pedalboard too. In fact, he uses a bunch of MXR pedals including the MXR Flanger and Reverb.
Boss Waza Craft delay
Delay as a modulation effect doesn’t see a massive amount of use in the Foo Fighters. However, it is usually kicked on during leads and cleans to add a bit of texture and ambience.
The Waza Craft saw most of its use on the early Foo Fighters albums. But was later replaced by the Boss DD-3T digital delay which they are still using today.
Electro-Harmonix Memory Man
The EHX Memory Man was used very much as a utility pedal that saw heavy use in the studio. It allows you to dial in very specific delay sounds that replicate the tones of those old-school tape delay units.
Foo Fighters are the quintessential modern classic band. They keep one foot in the past honoring classic guitar sounds, while not being afraid to use modern gear and production techniques.
This gives their guitars a sound that appeals to old and new players alike. I hope you have a lot of fun playing with the information shared in this article to create these tones yourself!