Jerry Cantrell Amp Settings – Sound Just Like Alice in Chains!

Author: Santiago Motto | Updated: | This post may contain affiliate links.

We could say that, arguably, the grunge era can be divided into two. On one hand, Nirvana’s simplicity and Beatles-like melodies brought down the hair rock era.

On the other hand, bands like Alice in Chains took the ‘80s tones and filled them with great songs full of angry statements to give birth to a different kind of grunge.

Jerry Cantrell is, perhaps, the most iconic guitar player of that side of grunge. He became the missing link between heavy metal and grunge and continues to walk that fine line in style today.

I’ll cover everything you need to know to sound just like Jerry regardless of your budget. Finally, I’ll even give you the precise indications to dial in the different tones he’s used throughout his stellar career.

Jerry Cantrell’s Guitars

Jerry Cantrell is, by no means, a classic guitar player. Yes, his arrival in the mainstream music world caused a revolution that still takes headlining stages today.

But where does that furious, gritty sound come from?

Well, the first link in the chain is the guitar and Jerry’s main guitar is quite an unusual choice. He has rocked his G&L Rampage since he bought them in 1984 and 1985 respectively.

These guitars, as you might know, come from the Fullerton factory Leo Fender founded after selling Fender. Therefore, the guitar’s body shape is similar to Fenders’.

Furthermore, according to Jerry, he was trying to emulate Eddie Van Halen’s Frankenstein guitar because Eddie was a massive influence while growing up.

The G&L Rampage features a soft maple body, a maple neck, and an ebony fingerboard. It also sports a single humbucker with a single volume knob and a Kahler tremolo system. The reason behind this very unusual tremolo choice is that Jerry is a heavy-handed guitar player, which makes a traditional Floyd Rose go out of tune.

His signature model that you can see in this video at the 2010 NAMM show was discontinued.

That being said, you can go for a Charvel Pro-Mod San Dimas Style 1 which has an ebony fingerboard and the Seymour Duncan JB on the bridge. That will get you very close tone-wise and won’t break the bank.

Also, Jerry rocks his new Gibson Les Paul Custom “Wino” made by Gibson, especially for him. If the price tag seems too astronomical, there’s an Epiphone version of it that can do the job.

Finally, you can also catch Mr. Cantrell playing a G&L ASAT Classic Bluesboy Telecaster for specific songs. You can get a cheaper version by buying the Tribute.

So, to sum it up, what you need in the guitar department is a mighty humbucker at the bridge position and, if possible, an ebony fingerboard to give that snap and top end to the sound.

Jerry Cantrell’s Amplifiers

Jerry Cantrell has come a long way since the beginning of the nineties in terms of tone but also in terms of equipment.

During the first years of the band, he used Bogner-modified Marshalls along with Mesa Boogies. He is one of the pioneers of “guitar stacking” which means recording several guitars with different amps to achieve a bigger tone.

Later on in his career, Jerry Cantrell teamed up with Dave Friedman of Friedman amplification to replicate the tone of all the layers he recorded on the records in a single amp head. That was the beginning of the Friedman JJ signature amp that you can hear on this demo at the 2014 Musikmesse Convention.

This amp sports quite a hefty price tag and comes in three versions:

Any of the three versions will give you instant access to Jerry’s tone since the amp has been in the making for over six years. You can check out this great video of Dave and Jerry talking about it.

If your budget is limited, you can buy Friedman’s BE-OD or BE-OD Deluxe pedals and put them in front of a tube amp with EL34 valves in it. This is very important because the chainsaw-like mids (also known as “Brown sound”) that are so important for Jerry’s tone come from these valves.

You guessed it; you need an affordable Marshall like the DSL20HR 20-watt tube head or the DSL40CR 1×12″ 40-watt tube combo amp.

Jerry Cantrell’s Effects Pedals

Finally, Jerry’s rack is also full of effects pedals he uses in a minimalistic way but that impacts tone a lot.

To begin with, and to reinforce the mids section, he plays a TS-9 Tube Screamer. Another indispensable pedal is the MXR 10-band EQ to take away unwanted frequencies. Finally, the MXR Smart Gate works wonders in keeping the massive gain structure under control.

Effects-wise, the only pedals Jerry uses are the MXR Talk Box, his signature Dunlop Wah, a Boss Chorus Ensemble and Strymon Ola chorus pedal, a Dunlop Rotovibe, an MXR Van Halen Signature flanger, and the combination of a Boss DD-3 and an Eventide Time Factor.

Again, his use of effects is minimalistic, so don’t go crazy about getting all these pedals and focus on the distorted rhythm and lead sounds.

Dialing in Jerry’s Tone

OK, now that we have the tools of the trade ready to go, we have to dial in Jerry’s tone using them.

To begin with, let’s divide his tone into three: broken clean, rhythm, and lead.

Broken Clean Tone

Jerry Cantrell’s guitar is never crystal clean, his broken clean tone requires EQ to take away some of the bottom end and emphasize the treble side of the guitar. Therefore, you need to set your bass control below 5, the mids at 6, and the treble at 8 while the presence knob (if your amp has it) at 7.

Add to this the TS-9 keeping the gain knob below 3, the tone control past noon, and the level knob at the volume you see fit. Otherwise, get the overdrive from your amp setting the gain control below 4 and the volume knob past noon to get natural tube compression and slight overdrive.

  • Gain – 3 to 4
  • Volume – 5 to 7
  • Bass – 3 to 5
  • Mid – 6
  • Treble – 8
  • Presence – 7

Rhythm Tone

Alice in Chains is a loud, heavy, distorted band, so most of the time Jerry Cantrell’s guitar is heavily distorted. Yet, because of the combination of the EL34s, the ebony, and the soft maple body, the guitar sounds like a treble-oriented chainsaw.

To get this tone, you need to really push your amp. On his Friedman JJ, Jerry uses the gain at 6 or 7, the volume at 6, and the EQ with the presence knob at 6, bass at 8, middle at 7, and treble at 8. This gives his guitar the ability to cut through the mix while remaining heavy and powerful.

  • Gain – 6 to 8
  • Volume – 5 to 7
  • Bass – 8
  • Mid – 7
  • Treble – 8
  • Presence – 6

Lead Tone

Jerry Cantrell’s lead tone is very similar to his rhythm tone but fatter, and more distorted. In this sense, if you take the above setup and crank the gain and volume knobs, you’ll be getting quite close. So, set the volume at 7 and the gain at 9 and you’ll be wailing as Jerry does live.

Different Eras, Similar Tones

Throughout Alice in Chains records, Jerry’s tone has become darker and thicker. Let’s see how to dial in the tones of three iconic AIC songs from “Facelift” (1990) to “Rainier Fog” (2018).

Man in The Box (1990)

  • Gain – 6 to 8
  • Volume – 5 to 7
  • Bass – 6
  • Mid – 8
  • Treble – 8
  • Presence – 6

Sludge Factory (1995)

  • Gain – 5 to 7
  • Volume – 5 to 7
  • Bass – 5
  • Mid – 8
  • Treble – 7
  • Presence – 6

Black Gives Way to Blue (2009)

  • Gain – 3 to 4
  • Volume – 4 to 6
  • Bass – 3
  • Mid – 7
  • Treble – 8
  • Presence – 7

So Far Under (2018)

  • Gain – 8
  • Volume – 7
  • Bass – 8
  • Mid – 8
  • Treble – 6
  • Presence – 6

The Bottom Line

Jerry Cantrell is a great example of chasing the tone in your head for decades and connecting to others who feel the same. His story and legacy can be great triggers for your tone pursuit. Be like Jerry and don’t give up until you blow half the planet’s mind with your mighty riffs.

Happy playing!

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About Santiago Motto

Santiago is a guitar player with over 25 years of experience. A self-confessed guitar nerd, he currently tours with his band 'San Juan'. Called 'Sandel' by his friends, he has a pop palate for melodies, ballads, and world music. San especially has an immense love for telecasters and all-mahogany Martins.

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