Classic Tones: “Smoke On the Water” – Deep Purple

Ritchie Blackmore playing guitar with Deep Purple at Nippon Budokan, August 17th, 1972.
(Image credit: Koh Hasebe/Shinko Music/Getty Images)

Infamously strummed using fifths in guitar stores for decades, Ritchie Blackmore’s “Smoke On the Water” riff (adapted from Beethoven’s “Fifth Symphony” according to the Deep Purple guitarist) is one of the most memorable and anthemic electric guitar moments in the entire history of hard rock.

Tracked during the sessions for Deep Purple’s 1972 Machine Head album Blackmore managed to glean this touchstone tone by plucking (rather than strumming) double-stop fourths using a large-headstock CBS-era maple ‘board Fender Stratocaster.

1st NOVEMBER: Guitarist Ritchie Blackmore from Deep Purple performs live on stage during the band's American tour in November 1974

(Image credit: Fin Costello/Redferns)

While he was using both Marshall and Vox amps at the time, a Hornby-Skewes Treble Booster unit was also employed to produce a more biting top end and a subtle touch of distortion. Interestingly, the band’s keys player, Jon Lord, also used a Hornby-Skewes Treble Booster in tandem with a Marshall amp to thicken the already harmonically rich tones of “Smoke On the Water.”

Ritchie Blackmore of Deep Purple performs on stage on the Perfect Strangers World Tour at the Entertainment Centre, Sydney, 12th December 1984. He plays a Fender Stratocaster guitar

(Image credit: Bob King/Redferns)

Recorded using a mobile studio belonging to The Rolling Stones, the bulk of the guitar tracks were cut in an empty theater in Switzerland, giving the sound a unique ambience. Having been moved on by the local police for making too much noise, however, the band set up again in an empty hotel where Blackmore then cut his solo using a Stratocaster neck pickup with his amp isolated in a separate space.

For some instant Ritchie Blackmore-inspired tones take a look at Catalinbread’s new Dreamcoat and Skewer pedals.

Deep Purple Machine Head album artwork

(Image credit: Deep Purple)

Buy Deep Purple’s Machine Head here.

Rod Brakes

Rod Brakes is a music journalist with an expertise in guitars. Having spent many years at the coalface as a guitar dealer and tech, Rod's more recent work as a writer covering artists, industry pros and gear includes contributions for leading publications and websites such as GuitaristTotal Guitar, Guitar WorldGuitar Player and MusicRadar in addition to specialist music books, blogs and social media. He is also a lifelong musician.