Is there any guitar riff from the 21st century more instantly recognizable than “Seven Nation Army”?
Jack White, the six-string-slinging maverick genius behind those distinctive seven notes, has enjoyed enormous critical and commercial success for over two decades now.
From the meteoric rise of the White Stripes to his work with The Raconteurs, The Dead Weather, and his solo work, Jack White remains at the forefront of powerful, minimalist modern guitar playing.
Very few guitar players in the past twenty years have managed to avoid the temptation to learn the intro to “Seven Nation Army.”
In this article, I’ll go over some of the guitars, amps, and effects Jack White used on those classic recordings. We’ll also look at affordable modern alternatives to White’s vintage-voiced tastes.
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When recording Elephant, the band’s breakthrough album, Jack White made use of some serious vintage gear.
Jack White’s main guitar of choice in this era was an early 1960s Kay K6533 archtop hollowbody. This guitar had a sole single-coil pickup in the neck position. This is the guitar on which he recorded the guitar tracks for “Seven Nation Army” on.
Jack White’s main live guitar at the time was a 1964 “JB Hutto” Res-O-Glass Airline Guitar. This is the bizarre, bright red instrument seen in live clips and music videos from this time.
For guitar players without the budget for a vintage hollowbody, the Godin 5th Avenue Kingpin might do the trick. It’s a hollow guitar that looks quite a bit like the Kay archtop, with a solitary P90-style pickup in the neck position.
If you want more versatility while still being able to chase the White Stripes tone, another single coil-equipped hollowbody like the Epiphone Casino would get you in the ballpark of Jack White’s mammoth tone.
While much of his work is recorded in standard E-A-D-G-B-e tuning, Jack White has experimented with open tunings throughout his career.
During his time fronting the White Stripes, Jack White preferred Open A tuning (E A E A C# E). This tuning allows the guitar to play an A major chord if you strum without fretting any notes.
Switching to Open A tuning is key for players looking to capture the spirit of Jack White’s slide riffs. It’s also easier to play the full major chords on slide in this tuning.
The key to Jack White’s massive guitar tone is that note definition is not lost despite his tremendous use of overdrive. This is partially thanks to the low output of the pickups in his guitar.
Another major factor in this is his choice of guitar amplifier. Jack White prefers amps that have a clear, articulate natural tone that he can then push into saturated overdrive.
Jack White’s main amp during the White Stripes years was the Sears Silvertone 1485 Six Ten. Original models from the 1960s are exceedingly rare, but the Jackson Audio 1484 Twin Twelve amp emulation pedal seeks to emulate this vintage amp’s distinctive voice.
A modern amp alternative is the Fender Pro Junior combo amp. At just fifteen watts, it won’t play stadiums any time soon, but it will provide all the clarity and clean headroom (at reasonable volumes) you’ll need as the base for your Jack White tone.
For practice sessions and small gigs in an intimate atmosphere, you can get pretty close to his tone with this 5W Bugera tube amp.
For speakers, Jack White’s preferred cabs used Jensen C10Q ceramic speakers. Realistically, any ceramic speaker will do the trick.
Jack White Amp Settings
Jack White’s amp settings provided a solid foundation for the dirt he applied to the tone with guitar pedals. We’ll look over his choice of guitar pedals later in this article.
Jack White’s amp was set to a juicy, crunchy, overdriven tone. You can hear all the notes in every chord until he kicks on his fuzz pedal.
That’s the bass guitar-and-amp tone we want to work with and build up from.
Jack White’s Sears Silvertone lacks separate gain staging. If your amp has a separate gain control, set it to about 8 to get some nice saturation to your tone.
If your amp lacks a separate gain control, you’ll need to push it using the volume control. If that’s the case, start at 6 and move up until it saturates.
Otherwise, keep the volume at 6 and increase the gain.
Without a bass player, the White Stripes don’t need much midrange to define the guitar tone.
Treble should be about 7 to get the higher notes in your big, blocky Jack White chords to stand out.
Have your bass control at a similar level to the treble control for the clear “scooped” mids sound.
For the Jack White tone, you’ll need a few key tone-shaping guitar pedals. Chief among these is the Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi. This is the fuzzy, ultra-saturated sound that Jack White used for slide playing and lead lines.
Fuzz pedals provide the additional saturation and “thickness” that makes single-note melodies on guitar really stand out.
The other key to Jack’s tone is the DigiTech Whammy pitch shifter. Since the White Stripes had no bass player, this is what Jack White used to record the “bass” intro to “Seven Nation Army.” To get the “bass” effect, the Whammy should be set to an octave down.
Jack White Guitar Slide
With the White Stripes, Jack White played slide guitar for many of his solos.
A slide is a round tube that fits around one of a guitar player’s fingers, allowing the guitarist to emulate the warbles and subtle pitch shifts of the human voice.
Jack White typically used a brass slide, which has a particular tone compared to a glass slide. You can find brass guitar slides (like this Dunlop) in most guitar stores and they are typically inexpensive.
Emulating the Tone of a Guitar Genius
White’s array of effects, penchant for weird and wonderful guitars, and stunning command of raw rock and roll power has made him an enduring star to this day.
While it’s been a little over ten years since the White Stripes called it quits, many modern guitar players are looking to capture some of their garage rock revival magic.