Few bands had the level of impact in the indie and garage rock scene quite like The Strokes. They were the perfect blend of old-school rock ethos brought forward to a new generation.
Driven by the monstrous guitar duo Albert Hammond Jr. and Nick Valensi, the Strokes inspired many a guitarist thanks to their raw and unfiltered tone and style.
So today I’m taking a look at the guitars, amps, and equipment Albert and Nick used to create their signature sound, and I’ll show you how to recreate their tones for yourself.
Table of Contents
The Strokes fully embrace that traditional old-school rock sound, which is very much reflected in the gear and equipment they use.
The good news is it’s all very accessible so you should have no trouble recreating these sounds for yourself regardless of what gear you use.
Fender Stratocaster Albert Hammond JR Signature Model
Albert started out playing a 1985 reissue of the classic 70’s Fender Stratocaster.
But due to the massive popularity of The Strokes, he was given the opportunity to create his own signature model with Fender simply known as the Fender Albert Hammond Jr Stratocaster.
While fundamentally still built on the 70’s Stratocaster skeleton, it was further customized to his personal preferences.
His signature model used custom-made single coil pickups with a unique pickup switching system where position 4 activates both neck and bridge pickups together.
If the signature model is a bit out of your budget, the Squier Affinity in Olympic White looks nearly identical and will have a very comparable tone.
Favored by Nick Valensi for The Stroke’s first two albums (after which he leant into the Gibson Les Paul Custom) was the Epiphone Riviera.
He removed the stock pickups and replaced them with customized P94 pickups that were brighter and had a higher output.
This guitar was also used as the basis for his own signature Riviera model.
The Strokes use standard tuning (E A D G B E) exclusively on their records.
Although they have been known to adjust the tuning for their live performances a little, presumably to make the songs easier to sing along with.
One thing that makes recreating The Stroke’s guitar tone easy is that both Hammond and Valensi kept their rigs nearly identical throughout their early days.
Things started to deviate a bit around the mid-2000’s though as they began to play larger shows.
Fender Hot Rod Deville
These little 2×12 combo amps pack a lot of punch (and volume) for their diminutive size. Hammond has mentioned he liked the Hot Rod Deville for its “raunchiness”.
They would run this amplifier clean, with just a small boost pedal for solos.
While these might seem like pretty small 60-watt amps, make no mistake they are extremely loud.
So for the bedroom user, something like the Fender Blues Junior or a Boss Katana MkII make fantastic and affordable alternatives.
In more recent years Valensi would play a Carr Slant combo paired with a Fender Supersonic head.
This would also be paired with two matching Fender cabinets.
If you’re on a budget then I recommend the little Vox AC15 which retains all that classic tone but in a nice and quiet package.
The Strokes Amp Settings
The Strokes use a fairly gritty and dirty sound that doesn’t concern itself much with clinical precision and cleanliness.
Gain: 4 – Having the gain at 4 gives you a nice bit of breakup that can be manipulated further based on your picking dynamics. It’s also primed to have an overdrive kicked in for those extra energetic moments.
Bass: 6 – Despite their gnarliness, the Stroke’s tone is quite warm and pleasant, and a small bass boost adds to its richness.
Mids: 5 – Keeping the mids at 5 seems to be a nice balance between allowing the guitars to cut through the mix without becoming overbearing.
Treble: 7 – A reasonable boost to the top end allows that grit and dirt to come through which is an important aspect of the Stroke’s sound.
This is a slightly cleaner and more mellow song that needs the tiniest (and I mean tiniest) bit of breakup on the rhythm guitar and an overall slightly warmer tone.
Late Nite uses a more ‘hollow’ guitar sound. That is to say, there is much less bass presence and it’s more focused on the mid and top end. Careful management of the gain here is also key.
Retillia uses a squelchy and gritted up distorted tone for its lead section. So here you can up the gain a bit. But be sure to really dig in with your pick to get that pick attack coming through.
In their early days, the Strokes kept things to an absolute bare minimum, only using the MXR microamp and Jekyll and Hyde pedals for their distortion sounds.
In recent years Nick Valensi’s pedalboard has expanded a fair bit to include some more interesting pedal choices.
Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay
The now-discontinued Deep Blue Delay was a wonderful-sounding digital delay pedal that aimed to recreate all of those classic analog delay sounds.
It was a great balance between classic tone with new technology.
There are plenty of good alternative analog delay pedals you can substitute this for, including the very affordable Behringer VD400.
Or if you’re one of those players where the very mention of Behringer makes your blood boil you can’t go wrong with the MXR Carbon Copy.
EHX Holy Grail Nano Reverb
One of the most popular reverbs around, the EHX Holy Grail offers a choice of reverbs that you can blend into your natural sound. All 3 reverb algorithms are extremely authentic for how affordable the pedal is.
If authenticity isn’t a major factor for you the Boss RV-6 might make a better alternative.
Old-school Tones for New-school Players
The Strokes have really kept that classic indie/post-punk style around and we have to thank them for showing newer audiences how good a lot of these more vintage guitar tones can sound.
There are no special secrets or trickery to their sound, just great gear that’s been dialed in the right way.