The Gear of Dan Auerbach
This is part one in a series on the Black Keys. Be sure to check back next week for our tips on achieving great fuzzed out blues-rock tone on any budget.
by Daniel Brooks
For the past decade, the Black Keys have gone from strength to strength, creating a deep, soulful form of original music deeply rooted in some of the greatest facets of the blues and rock and roll traditions, earning the genuine admiration of critics and drawing an ever-increasing audience of inspired fans. Singer/guitarist Dan Auerbach and drummer Patrick Carney formed the Black Keys in 2001. They recorded a collection of demos in Carney’s basement that formed their self-produced, blues-drenched 2002 debut. The Big Come Up sounded like a long lost blues classic. A deceptively simple record that highlighted Auerbach’s voice, aged far beyond his 23 years, a fuzz-infused guitar whose every note oozed a sweet, primal menace, a few well-chosen covers and some original writing that rang with the authenticity of old songs heard for the first time. Now, eight albums and countless shows into what may well turn out to be a legendary career, the Black Keys’ creative reach and critical recognition continues to expand with each successive record.
Like many guitarists who earn such success, Dan Auerbach can now collect those instruments that inspire his creative imagination. He has dozens of guitars, and a complete exploration of his collection is beyond the scope of this article, but there are a few that merit special attention. His appreciation for unusual quality, which has informed his musical sensibilities so well, is on display in his collection of odd guitars. He is a fan of instruments that many regard as old, obscure, beginners’ guitars, and others see as collectible. He owns several Harmony, Silvertone, Teisco Del Rey, National and Supro guitars. With so many unusual instruments, it is probably inaccurate to say any one of them is his signature guitar, but his Harmony Stratotone has appeared on every Black Keys album. It has been re-equipped with a pair of Lindy Fralin P-90 pickups and a Bigsby tremolo, and he currently keeps it in an open-G tuning.
Another favorite is his Harmony H78 with hot D’armond single coil pickups, a hollow body and a Bigsby tremolo that lends a distinctive sound.
He has a favorite 1964 Guild Thunderbird with a truly funky body style and a Supro with a Fiberglass Body. With all his quirky collectibles, it somehow seems a little strange that he has picked up a beat up 1953 Les Paul and used it extensively throughout their El Camino tour.
For his onstage amps, Dan Auerbach is known for keeping three amps going all of the time, and blending their outputs into a single, layered sound. A Victoria Double Deluxe cranks our 40 watts with no effects. A Fender Quad Reverb, which is essential a Silverface Fender Twin with four 12-inch speakers, layers a bit of reverb for a little extra dimension, and the Marshall JTM-45 with a tape delay through a vintage 8x10 cabinet for even more depth. He recorded El Camino with a Magnatone and an Ampeg V-92 with a blown JBL D-130 speaker.
Dan Auerbach’s signature sound is shaped by a combination of fuzz, pitch shifting effects and delay. He has claimed to own and use more than a hundred different pedals at different times, so his fuzz sound is anything but simple. He always has several different fuzz boxes, each chosen for its signature tone, and a few have proven to be favorites. One of his workhorse pedals is the Shin-ei Companion Fuzz, a rare pedal full of raw, raspy, lo-fi grit. To cut some of the abundant lows and boost the reduced mids lost to the Companion, Auerbach stacks this pedal with an MXR ten-band EQ.
Image Credit Aronnelson.com
An alternative to the companion is the Shin-ei Fuzz-Wah. Auerbach never uses it as a wah pedal but the fuzz has a big, midrange-laden sound that offers a completely different to from any of his other fuzz pedals.
Image Credit EffectsDatabase.com
Of course, Auerbach’s collection of fuzz pedals includes a Big Muff Pi. He has an old green Sovtek version with all of the legendary overwhelming sound for which the pedal is famous.
Image Credit Fuzz Box Girl
And at the other end of the spectrum, Auerbach has an Analogman Sunface, which is a custom-built Fuzz Face clone housed in a much smaller enclosure and crafted for reliable operation. It perfectly captures the warm sound of the earliest Fuzz Faces. He has also been known to play the Earthquaker Devices Hoof for the past few years
Image Credit Analog Man
Modulation effects are another major factor in Auerbach’s sound. Here his effects are much simpler. He relies on his Boss OC-3 Super Octave looped together with a Boss PH-3 Phase Shifter for some truly otherworldly layered pitch-shifting effects, and a Boss TR-2 Tremolo for that classic, vintage wobble effect.
The third important facet of Auerbach’s Pedal train is the Fulltone Tape Echo for that inimitable warble, that wow and flutter and tape head saturation that comes from the imperfections of old tape. He runs the Fulltone through the Marshall to give the overall sound of his gear that mysterious depth.
Image Credit Fulltone
So, what is the next creative stretch of the imagination can we expect from the Black Keys? And what kind of funky old guitars will Dan Auerbach use to create it? No one but the Black Keys can know, but a few million fans and I are eagerly looking forward to it, whatever it is.