Dan Auerbach Pedalboard and Rig Breakdown
Dan Auerbach’s guitar-centric, dirty blues-infused, soulful picking has helped establish The Black Keys as one of modern rock’s most hard-hitting acts and launched him into the upper tier of current rock guitarists.
Raised in the industrial city of Akron, Ohio, Auerbach grew up listening to his uncles play bluegrass music and his dad’s old blues records. He flunked out of college because he was busy practicing guitar and, by his own admission, listening to way too much Junior Kimbrough.
Few bands can say that their guitarist’s tone is as important as Auerbach and The Black Keys. After all, The Black Keys started out as a guitar/drum duo. What’s particularly surprising is the relative simplicity of Auerbach’s rig. That’s not to say it doesn’t come with a few unique pieces, or that it’s not subject to change at a moment’s notice. Let’s take a look.
To pull off a power duo, Auerbach needs a beefy, thick and crunchy sound. The first step in achieving this is with his amplifiers. Auerbach plays through three amps simultaneously, all effected differently. His sound techs then blend the combined amp output to create a unified sound. Auerbach’s pedal board sits in a rackmount unit offstage, before all three amps in the signal chain and connected by a custom-built midi board at his feet—but we’ll get to that later.
Auerbach’s Marshall JTM-45 with a vintage 8×10 cabinet is always effected by an analog tape-delay. According to Auerbach’s guitar tech, Dan Johnson, the tape delay gives his Marshall “fullness and differentiates the tone between [the amps].”
Second, Auerbach runs a Fender Quad Reverb with—no surprise here—reverb running constantly. Lastly, Auerbach runs a Victoria Double Deluxe with no effects. The Fender allows Auerbach a more trebly chime to complement the low-end provided by the other two amps.
Guitar tech Johnson has said that Auerbach’s pedal rig is subject to change, but there are a few he won’t leave home without.
For his signature, sloppy fuzz sound, Auerbach uses a rare, boutique Shin-ei Companion Fuzz in combination with an MXR ten band EQ to boost the mids. Clearly a fan of the Shin-ei sound, Auerbach also runs their Fuzz-Wah, though not as a conventional wah, rather as an augment to his fuzz setup. To ensure that his fuzz will never go dry, Auerbach threw a Big Muff Pi fuzz into the mix as well.
In a single, separate loop, Auerbach runs three Boss pedals—the Super Octave OC-3, the Tremolo TR-2 and Boss Phase Shifter PH-3. Combined, these three pedals provide Auerbach with that swirling melody at the end of the song, “Tighten Up.”
For a boost, Auerbach uses a Tonebone JX2 Switchbone.
All of the pedals mentioned so far are offstage in a rackmount unit. To toggle them, Auerbach uses a modified, stainless steel RJM Mastermind with eight footswitches. The major modification is more space between the footswitches. Along with a Mission expression pedal for volume control and a Boss Chromatic Tuner TU-2, the only hardwired pedal Auerbach has at his feet is a Boss Super Shifter PS-5. The PS-5 gives Auerbach that famous octave drop in the intro of his song, “Lonely Boy.”
Perhaps Auerbach’s most famous guitar is his modified Harmony H78 hollow body. There’s clearly a lot of love for this guitar and worn paint where his arm and stomach rub against it has never been repaired. It has three D’armond single-coil pickups and a Bigsby tremolo.
Auerbach has also been known to extensively use a 1964 Guild Thunderbird with a fiberglass body distinctive asymmetrical body and headstock as well as a 1953 Gibson Les Paul.
So, despite some quirky and rare pieces, Auerbach keeps it fairly simple, letting the music and energy speak for itself. It is, however, no surprise considering the traditional qualities of his music that much of Auerbach’s gear is old—pre-70s old even. He’s truly sticking to his roots.