What guitar tuning does Jack White use? Here’s a look at all the different tunings he used in The White Stripes, The Dead Weather, and The Raconteurs, as well as his solo records…
Jack White’s new album Fear of The Dawn has just landed and it is as weird and eclectic as you’d expect. As his solo albums go, I’d go as far as saying Fear of The Dawn is one of his best records in years. And for a man that penned one of the greatest rock albums of all time – The White Stripe’s Elephant – that is high praise indeed.
Jack is most well known for his work in The White Stripes. But he’s been in a bunch of bands since then, including the excellent The Raconteurs, and The Dead Weather, and he’s now on his fifth solo record. I’m a huge fan of his playing, his songwriting style, his voice, and his overall musical philosophy – he prefers traditional recording techniques, gear, and distribution (meaning vinyl).
As one of the most celebrated and well-known guitarists in recent history, a lot has been made about Jack’s playing. People have called him sloppy and/or over-rated which is frankly insane. Yes, his songs might be easy to play, but they’re certainly not easy to write, a distinction that is lost on far too many people. You don’t need to have Steve Vai-level skills to sell millions of albums – you just need to be able to write good songs.
Jack White is the antithesis of the “modern guitar player”, the guy with a room full of amps and guitars with varying amounts of strings on them. He plays classic blues with a twist all of his own making. It ain’t complex and it certainly isn’t difficult to replicate. But he is orders of magnitude more successful than nearly every other guitarist you could name. So, yeah, maybe being able to rip through your fretboard at 200MPH isn’t that important, after all? Nor is constantly changing your guitar, thinking it’ll make you a better player.
To understand Jack White’s playing, you have to know a few things about the man himself and his most well-known band, The White Stripes. The subject of guitar tuning is usually pretty dull. But with Jack White, it is actually pretty interesting. The reason for this is because, on most of his most well-known songs, his guitar is often out of tune – or not tuned precisely at all.
Jack White Guitar Tuning – The White Stripes
Jack White once famously said, “I love it when my guitar is out of tune.” Normally, like when you’re playing with a full band, this would be a problem. The bass guitar would either have to tune up or tune down to ensure it was in tune with the guitar. But The White Stripes didn’t have a bass player, so it didn’t matter – it was just Jack and Meg on drums.
When it comes to guitar tunings, Jack White mainly sticks to standard blues tunings for his guitar: Standard tuning, Open D tuning, and Open G tuning. He also dabbles with Drop D from time to time too. The vast, vast majority of The White Stripe’s most well-known songs are, however, recorded and played in standard tuning – EADGBE.
Jack has used Drop D on a few songs, though. The most well-known and fun to play one would be Icky Thump. If you want to play Icky Thump, you’ll need to drop your low E string down to D, then leave the rest of the strings alone. This tuning is known as Drop D. Jack even has a guitar, a modified Telecaster, that has a Drop D switch on it that automatically drops his low E string down to D. Pop it again and it goes back to E, as you can see below.
When Jack recorded Stripe’s albums, he didn’t necessarily tune his guitar correctly or just did it by ear. For this reason, it is often quite hard to play a long with White Stripes tunes because your guitar will sound out of tune. To remedy this, you’ll need to tune your low E string to whatever Jack has his at, and then tune your other five strings to the E string. It’s a pain in the butt, but if you want his actual tuning this is the only way to do it.
If you just want to learn and play White Stripes songs, however, just keep your guitar in standard tuning – nearly all of his White Stripes era songs are in standard.
The Raconteurs Guitar Tuning
I was lucky enough to see The Raconteurs play at Glastonbury in 2008. They were fantastic, one of the high points of the festival for me. The band itself has three records out – Broken Boy Soldiers, Consolers of The Lonely, and Help Us, Stranger. Described as classic rock, the band has two guitarists, a bass player, a keyboardist, and a drummer.
And like all classic rock bands, The Raconteurs predominantly play in standard tuning, so EADGBE. And the main reason for this is that A) Brendan Benson tends to play in standard, and so too does Jack White, and B) nearly all classic rock, from KISS to AC/DC, is in standard. Some bands tuned down half a step which gives the sound a slightly lower register – Jimi Hendrix used this tuning, as did Kurt Cobain – but as far as I’m aware, all of The Raconteurs’ songs are in standard tuning.
Jack White’s Solo Stuff – What Tuning Does He Use?
As noted in the introduction, Jack White tends to stick to three main guitar tunings: Standard Tuning, Open D tuning, and Open G tuning. Most of Jack’s material – solo or otherwise – is usually in standard tuning, so you don’t need to worry too much about Open D and Open G.
Open D tuning is NOT the same as Drop D tuning. This is important to remember. With Open D tuning, your low E string is lowered to D, your A string and D string stay the same, your G string is tuned F#, your B string drops to A, and your high E string to D.
As for well-known Open D songs by White, Seven Nation Army is perhaps the most well-known. It is also the most popular and listened-to White Stripes song of ALL TIME. It’s basically the band’s Smells Like Teen Spirit. But isn’t there a bass guitar in that song? It does sound like on the record, and when played live. But Jack does ALL the bass parts with his guitar which is tuned to Open D.
To get the “bass sound” on Seven Nation Army, Jack uses a DigiTech Whammy that has an octave switch on it. When activated, the DigiTech Whammy will drop the signal a full octave which is what makes Jack’s guitar sound like a bass guitar in the intro and verses. In the choruses, he simply switches it back, and the guitar reverts to Open D tuning, completely changing the dynamics of his guitar tone.
Jack also uses the DigiTech Whammy on other tunes too to create that bassier, weird guitar tone. A few obvious examples are The Hardest Button to Button and Blue Orchid. In order to play either of these tunes or Seven Nation Army, true to the record, you’ll need a DigiTech Whammy pedal. As pedals go, it is one of the most useful you can have on your pedalboard. And if Jack White’s a fan, you know it is well worth your time and money!
RichardRichard has been playing guitar for over a decade and is a huge fan of metal, doom, sludge, and rock music in general – though mostly metal. Having played in bands and worked in studios since the early 2000s, Richard is a massive music production geek, a fan of minimalist recording techniques, and he really likes old-school guitars.
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