Nailing it: Achieving the Tones of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante

John Frusciante has had, and lost, more vintage guitars than you. Beautiful Stratocasters, Jaguars, and many others, have passed through his hands since he joined and quit the Red Hot Chili Peppers — twice. His collection has included Les Pauls, a ‘55 Gretsch White Falcon, a ‘30s Martin 0-15 and a D-28, as well as a handful of less obvious choices, like his Yamaha SGs and plenty of others.

In short, dude’s been through some changes and he’s had several opportunities to rethink his tone since avoiding induction into the 27 Club, that unfortunate list of creatives whose lives were cut short at age 27 as a result of their bad habits. And yet a Marshall amp and Stratocaster with vintage-voiced pickups — he’s partial to Seymour Duncan SSL 1s — goes a long way toward capturing his signature RHCP sound. For an exhaustive list of Frusciante’s guitars and gear through the decades, check out Ground Guitar.

The story of Frusciante joining RHCP is well known: He was a young super fan, met his idol, who died young, and got a short, straight shot to fame and fortune as RHCP’s guitar player. In terms of his playing, there was only one issue.

"I wasn't really a funk player before I joined the band,” Frusciante said in “Fornication: The Red Hot Chili Peppers Story,” a band biography by Jeff Apter. “I learned everything I needed to know about how to sound good with Flea by studying Hillel [Slovak's] playing and I just took it sideways from there."

In addition to Slovak, classic rock icons, such as Frank Zappa, Jeff Beck, David Gilmour and Jimi Hendrix can clearly be heard in his playing. Both Hendrix and Frusciante covered lead and rhythm responsibilities, and one of Frusciante’s more frequently-used techniques is his Jimi-like approach to string muting: he uses his thumb over the top of the fretboard. Much of his playing is built around the five pentatonic boxes, and his playing seems to favor box four and minor keys.

“An iconic move I notice is his tendency to bend the two into a minor third in his lead playing, ” says Reverb’s Tibor Tapiansuri. “In terms of style, that’s what I focus on when trying to steal his sound.”

Recreating the Sounds of Red Hot Chili Peppers’ John Frusciante

In this video, we're looking at some basic combinations of pedals and settings you can use to achieve Frusciante’s tones without buying his exact chain.

Key Gear: Fender Stratocaster, Marshall Amps

In this video, Reverb recreates Frusciante’s tones from several iconic songs and solos with pedals we had around the office, and you may find that you can achieve similar results using the tools you already have.

Check the video for suggested combinations and settings. As you can see, it shouldn't be hard to locate the same or similar effect pedals that Frusciante uses. You can get close with an SSS Stratocaster, a good overdrive, a high-gain distortion and modulation to taste. Here are some easy substitutes:

Alexander Jubilee Silver Overdrive

Alexander Jubilee Silver Overdrive

MXR Micro Amp

MXR Micro Amp

Boss CH-1 Super Chorus

Boss CH-1 Super Chorus

Boss DS-1 Distortion

Boss DS-1 Distortion

Ibanez WH10v2 Wah

Ibanez WH10v2 Wah

TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb

TC Electronic Hall of Fame Reverb

Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi

Electro-Harmonix Big Muff Pi

Pigtronix EP2 Envelope Phaser

Pigtronix EP2 Envelope Phaser

Line 6 DL4

Line 6 DL4

Line 6 FM4

Line 6 FM4

"Scar Tissue" introduction, from the video Live at Slane Castle

"Can't Stop," from By the Way

  • MXR Micro Amp
  • Boss CH1 Super Chorus

"Look On," from his solo album Inside Of Emptiness (2004)

  • Alexander Silver Jubilee
  • MXR Micro Amp

"Around The World," from Californication

"The Sides," by ATAXIA, off Automatic Writing

"Wet Sand," from Stadium Arcadium

"Throw Away Your Television," from By the Way

As with anything, be sure to use any effects or tone shaping in moderation. It's easy to get carried away with some of these effects, especially when used in combinations. You will want these tones and effects to come through prominently, but you don't want to lose yourself in a wash of overdrive and modulation.

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Frusciante has been relatively consistent in terms of his pickups if not his guitars and amps, the single most important component of his sound throughout his career has been his hands. So, if you’re really intent on nailing his sound, plan to invest some real time and effort in listening and practicing.

While it’s interesting for fans to speculate as to what Kurt Cobain, Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix, and the many others, would have created had they survived, Frusciante has answered that question with a growing list of smaller scale, more challenging and highly personal recordings, guided by an innervision rather than the drive to sell albums.


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