Arguably one of the most well-known guitarists of the last 20 years, Jack White has a rather odd relationship with guitars – he likes them cheap and nasty…
If you have millions in the bank, the potential for deals and endorsements with every major guitar brand on the planet, choosing to play god-awful guitars that make your life harder isn’t just admirable, it is totally punk rock. And this is exactly what Jack White did back when he was quickly becoming one of the most famous musicians on the planet with his stadium-filling band, The White Stripes.
Regardless of your opinion on Jack White or The White Stripes, it is nigh on impossible to have lived during the mid-to-late 2000s and have not encountered or heard the band. For many, The White Stripes were the soundtrack to the mid-to-late 2000s. White’s stripped-down blues rock, comprised of just himself on guitar and Meg White on drums, proved that rock music didn’t need to be fancy, polished, or complex. It just needed soul.
Since disbanding The White Stripes, Jack White has played and continues to play a wide range of guitars. He loves his Fender guitars for instance, as well as Gibsons, Gretsch, and Crestwood’s. I’ve seen him play more than a few times with The White Stripes and The Raconteurs and he does have a pretty nice selection of guitars in his arsenal, including some really beautiful-sounding acoustics. But the guitar he is most famous for using looks like something you might find in a Japanese toy shop…
Jack White’s Guitar of Choice For The White Stripes
Part of The White Stripe’s allure was its water-tight image. Every detail was meticulously planned out – the colors, the recording techniques, the sound palettes, even his choice of guitar. During his tenure in The White Stripes, Jack was mostly known for playing a 1964 Montgomery Ward JB Hutto Airline – perhaps one of the ugliest guitars ever created.
But Jack didn’t play it because it was odd-looking or because it was red and white, although I’m sure this was also a major motivating factor. No, Jack White chose to play a 1964 Montgomery Ward JB Hutto Airline because it was old, extremely difficult to play, and didn’t sound quite like anything else on the market. As guitarists go, you will not find many players that deliberately go out of their way to make their lives more difficult. But this is EXACTLY what Jack White did and it is the sole reason why he used the 1964 Montgomery Ward JB Hutto Airline.
I always look at playing guitar as an attack. It has to be a fight. Every song, every guitar solo, every note that’s played or written has to be a struggle… Every song, every guitar solo, every note that’s played or written has to be a struggle
The idea behind using the Ward’s Airline in the White Stripes was to prove that you don’t need a brand-new guitar to have character, to have tone, and to be able to play what you want to play. You can do it with a piece of plastic.Jack White
Jack White’s Musical Philosophy
Jack rightly believes that music is not just about what you play; it is about where it comes from. He believes – and always has done – that music should come from the heart, from the soul. And it doesn’t matter what you have at your disposal to create it, it could be a $5000 Gibson Les Paul or a $120 Squier Bullet Strat. If you’re good, and your music has heart, it will resonate with people.
I am a huge fan of Jack White. He is an exceptional songwriter, a brilliant businessman, and a hell of a guitar player. But the thing I have always admired most about him is that he’d rather swim upstream than go with the current. This applies to the guitar he plays and uses but also how he goes about recording, his love of vinyl, and his appreciation of older, more traditional forms of music distribution, promotion, and consumption.
White’s focus on older recording techniques, using less to do more, and creating music with as little fuss and/or pomp as possible is what made The White Stripe’s sound so unique. When everybody else was going for ultra-polished-sounding records, Jack and Meg were recording to tape using hardware from the 1960s, complete with all the requisite noise, hisses, and imperfections.
And it worked too. The White Stripes sold more records than pretty much everybody else during their time as a band, proving that A) you don’t need fancy gear to make important records, and B) you can do a HELL of a lot with just guitars, drums, and vocals. What’s the moral of the story here? Simple: be more like Jack White – stop stressing about gear and what type of guitar you have (or don’t have) and just write some goddamn music. Put your heart and soul into it and get out there and play. Who knows, maybe you could start something like Jack and Meg did back in the early 2000s?