In a pop music sphere that sees fewer and fewer guitar-centric groups every year, The Black Keys are one of the few contemporary torch-bearers of riff-heavy, guitar-centered pop rock. Sure, there have been radio hits here and there with semi-memorable guitar parts, but aside from Jack White or St. Vincent, few acts have turned heads with their distinct tone and riffs like The Black Keys. The architect of their sound is Dan Auerbach, and their track "Lonely Boy" from the 2011 LP El Camino is a great case study in how he approaches riff-making and tone-shaping. As you dive into this lesson, pay close attention to how staying simple helps riffs become memorable.
The Gear Of Dan Auerbach
Dan Auerbach is part of what you might call the "new old school," players (Jack White and Annie Clark among them) who choose to play vintage guitars that fall far to the left of the traditional Telecaster, Stratocaster or Les Paul.
Part rejection of tradition, part financial necessity (traditional vintage models are unattainable now for most unsigned working musicians) and part tone-seeking, the reframing of old Silvertone, Kay and Harmony models as preferred rock weapons has impacted the used market and the mindsets of younger players for better or worse. They didn't grow up seeing Keith Richards with a Tele. Give it twenty years, and the market is going to look very different.
If you're looking to approximate Auerbach's rig, good luck. He tours these days with a cornucopia of gear, including four amps - a 50W Marshall JTM 45 MkII (through an 8x10 cab), a Fender Quad Reverb, and an array of '50s Danelectro amps - that he plays through simultaneously.
Drawers full of effect pedals are activated in various combinations through a professionally built switching system, pairing icons like the Green Russian Big Muff and the Shin-Ei Companion Fuzz with humble standbys like the Boss TR-2 Tremolo and Boss OC-3 Super Octave. When it comes to guitars, Auerbach switches nearly every song, pulling from an aresenal of exclusively vintage Harmony, Supro, Custom Kraft and Guild guitars. He's become associated closely with the Harmony H78 and Stratotone models, and usually has his '64 Guild Thunderbird on hand.
That said, an old Supro, Harmony, Kay or National model - especially one with gold foil or P-90-esque pickups - put through an old 5 to 30-watt vintage amp with working reverb (check out Silvertone, Danelectro, Gretsch or Supro models) will get you close at apartment-friendly volumes. Throw in a Muff-style fuzz and an octave pedal, and you'll be ready to riff along with any of The Black Keys albums.
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