2003 April What Guitar?


#1 John Frusciante of Red Hot Chili Peppers

Every issue we show you how to get a star’s sound on a budget…

The Band

Formed in California in 1983, The Red Chili Peppers’ unique musical mix of funk and punk rock not only challenged the established LA rock scene, but went on to fuel a new style of music. The musical influences in the band ranged from LA punk outfits such as The Germs, Black Flag, Fear and Minutemen, to established funk giants Parliament/Funkadelic (see picture, right), and Sly And The Family Stone.

Their self-titled 1984 debut album failed to set the world alight, but Bloodsugarsexmagik C’91) was a massive hit, selling seven million copies and producing the band’s first Top 10 single, Under The Bridge.

Their latest, By The Way, was one of the biggest-selling albums of 2002, spawning the hits The Zephyr Song and Can’t Stop.

The sound

For most of his Chili Peppers career, John Frusciante’s tone has been simple and sparse. But it takes more just learning the right notes or having the right equipment to create a sound. Watching the player live, on video or DVD is very important to understanding their technique. Watch how Frusciante uses his pick (if he even uses one), how hard he attacks the strings, look for close-up shots of pickup selector, and make sure you read his interviews.

Frusciante’s sound can be regarded as ‘classic strat’ but it’s cleaner and mellower, with a lot less overdrive than would seem normal for the band’s style. Playing live, John wears his guitar very low and this has the effect of placing his strumming/picking hand around halfway between the bridge and the neck. This creates a warmer, fuller sound than picking by the bridge, so bear this in mind when playing. He also favours the neck pickup, which is important to his tone.

The gear

In recent years, Frusciante has been seen with a Gretsch White Falcon and Fender Telecaster, but he mostly favours Fender Stratocasters- mainly a 1962 sunburst. With the Strat he uses two Marshall amplifiers- a 200w Major and a 25/50 Jubilee head into 4×12 Marshall cabinets. When he lays the Gretsch he prefers a Fender Snowman, again into Marshall cabs.

John’s sound is relative, light on effects. Although he has BOSS and Electro-Harmonix overdrive and fuzz pedals in front of him, along with MXR Phase 90 and Roland CE-1 chorus, it’s a trusty Ibanez wah-wah which is put to best use, both for its obvious wah effect but also as a tone control. Setting the pedal half-way gives a boost to the mid-range, adding extra sustain and a distinctive overall ‘nasal’ qualify.

The cost

So what would John’s rig really cost to buy? Well, aping his vintage Strats, old Marshalls and rare pedals will take you way over £10,000. But being slightly more realistic, let’s go for a basic Marshall/Fender combination, plus a BOSS overdrive and Dunlop Crybaby wah-wah. A ’62 Fender  Vintage Reissue Strat will set you back around £1,250, while one 100-watt Marshall DSL 100 head and 4×12 cabinet would cost the thick end of £800. Add £150 for the pedals and it’s starting to look like you’ll need well over £2,000 for a professional (single amp) set-up LONG Frusciante’s lines. The good news is that it can be done a lot cheaper. But the great news is that you can come close to it with almost any guitar/amp combination.

Clone the tone!

To get John’s sound it will help to have a guitar with single-coil pickups. If you have humbuckers, you need to use lower settings on your amp — in general, one number lower than suggested for a single coil instrument. If you’re using a practice amp with no built-in overdrive, you need a distortion pedal. The following settings are based on a Strat-type guitar…

Plug your guitar into the overdrive pedal (if you’re using one), then connect that to your wah-wah and plug that into your amp. If you have a multi-effects processor, set it for light distortion and use the amp’s clean channel. Select your guitar’s neck pickup and turn volume and tone to full and your amp’s master volume to 5.

If your amp has clean and overdrive channels, select overdrive. If you have a single channel practice amp, you’ll need an overdrive pedal. Some amps have just bass and treble controls — set the bass to 6 and the treble to around 8. If you have a middle control also, set the bass to 5-6, middle to 1-2, and treble to 8.

If your amp has a ‘gain’ or ‘drive’ knob, turn it up (3-5) until you get mild crunchy distortion. If using a distortion pedal, same applies: don’t set the pedal’s distortion or drive knob far above halfway. If there’s a tone control on the pedal, set it around halfway. Start to strum: you should hear a warm, crunchy distortion. Turn the neck pickup’s volume control down until the sound gets cleaner, and you should have a tone very close to John’s basic rhythm sound — clean, but edgy, with a warm bass tone and bright treble. For solos or power chords, turn the volume back up to full. To get that nasal lead sound with even more drive, click on the wah-wah pedal and lodge it halfway up.

Great budget buys!

If cash is short, fear not. These products will get you close to that Frusciante tone for relative peanuts. These are recommended retail prices, so check our dealer ads for the best possible prices!

? Squier By Fender Standard Strat: £199.99

? Marshall AVT20 combo: £261

? Dunlop Crybaby wah-wah pedal: £110

? BOSS SD-1 overdrive pedal £39.00

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