After the more piano and percussion-based stylings of 'Get Behind Me Satan' (2005) The White Stripes' latest album is a return to guitar’n’drums alchemy. Jack White plays like a broken and gnarled, but incredibly well-stocked, jukebox; mixing shamanic blues, hysterical country music licks and folkish devilment into a rock’n’roll whirlwind.
Jack used his iconic 1964 Airline guitar for the recording of 'Icky Thump'. Made out of fibreglass, it was nicknamed the "Jetson" because of its space age look. If you like the aesthetic, get an Eastwood Airline 2P (and change its humbucking pickups to single-coils to be more like Jack) for under £500. For slide parts on 'Catch Hell Blues' and the like, a Kay Hollowbody was used, whilst solos were done with a Fender Telecaster. He sparingly used Electro-Harmonix BigMuff and MXR Micro Amp pedals, but when he wanted a guitar sound to cut through the mayhem he went for an Electro-Harmonix Polyphonic Octave Generator or a Digitech Whammy. A Gibson L1 acoustic was also strummed. Jack stayed with his 100W Silvertone and 100W blackface Fender Twin amps.
In The Studio
'Icky Thump' was recorded in Nashville’s Blackbird Studios. Jack White produced it and Joe Chiccarelli (Frank Zappa) engineered, recording to a two-inch 24-track tape machine. The main guitar and drums, except the bass drum, were recorded together. Some overdubs were done later, but kept to a minimum. Jack White uses ambient mic’ing; i.e. sticking mics in strategic places in relation to the guitar and amp to get a broad spectrum of sounds. The Electro-Harmonix and Digitech pedals listed were utilised to change the octave of a guitar part. For a lot of leads, the guitar is made to go two, sometimes three octaves higher to cut through. Conversely, on 'I'm Slowly Turning Into You' the pedals made the guitar lower than a dead dog’s dangler.
On The Stage
How do you make one guitar sound like many live? Well, don’t use a knackered guitar like Jack White’s Airline; it’s plastic body means the notes don’t really sustain. So how does he do it? Well, the reverb on his amp helps fill out the sound, and because the intonation (consistency of pitch) of his guitar isn’t great, he uses the buzzes, snarls and squeals to augment the actual notes he plays. The use of the octave-changing pedals to lower the sound is also a nifty way of getting some ‘fake’ bass guitar-type tones.
Playing rhythm, lead and bass all-at-once isn’t easy. Start off by strumming a chord and then, say every eight time, change from strumming to picking out each individual note in the chord before returning to strumming. Also have a go at some Jack White slide parts, either in open A (one version is, thick to thin strings, E A E A C# E) or open E (thick to thin, E B E G# B E). "Open" means you can strum the chord named without fretting any strings, and you can play other chords by pressing ("barring") the strings using a glass or metal slide – or, at a push, an empty beer bottle.
Jack’s ability to cradle his plectrum with his middle finger when he’s fingerpicking, and then flipping it between his thumb and index finger and back again at warp speed when required.