As a music composer/guitarist for television and film, I have to cop many different guitar styles and tones. Recently, I was asked to come up with a CD of instrumental compositions for Telepictures Productions—which produces shows such as Extra, TMZ, and Crime Watch Daily—that incorporated guitar tones from Jack’s 2017 single, “Battle Cry.”
White displays a reckless approach for the song—and that’s meant in a good way—that really brings it to life, gives it a “must listen” seductiveness when it hits your ears, and brings on an almost cinematic, “storytelling” vibe. I particularly like the main riff of “Battle Cry,” because of its unbridled energy, and its ability to give the listener a feeling of an imminent sense of danger. I wanted to capture this attitude in my compositions for the CD, as well as evoke the same types of emotions. My first step was to identify the basic elements of the riff’s tonal characteristics:
● Fuzz tone
● Low-end octave boost
● Long, single-note sustain
● Grungy attitude
● Forward presence of guitar
THE BATTLE BEGINS
There are many excellent amp plug-ins out there, but I used Logic Pro X (via an Avid Fast Track Duo interface). If you use another plugin, you can probably approximate my choices, as many manufacturers provide a “usual suspects” menu of similar amp flavors, even if they go by different patch names. After establishing my sound goals, I choose a 1977 goldtop Gibson Les Paul Deluxe with mini-humbuckers to achieve the necessary sonic attitude, and I put the pickup-selector switch at the bridge position. Then, I got to work emulating White’s sound:
● I auditioned the selections under the Crunch Guitar menu, and the closest patch to White’s “Battle Cry” tone was Chord Burner (Fig. 1). I started there.
● I set the Gain knob at 11 o’clock, which produced the vibe I was looking for.
● I still needed a bit “more,” however, so I switched on Lead Boost Drive, and cranked the level to full blast (Fig. 2).
● For even more distortion, I clicked on Pedalboard, and selected Dr. Octave (Fig. 3). No need for subtlety—I cranked the knobs!
● To capture all of this roar, I chose a Stadium 4x12 speaker cabinet miked by a Dynamic 421 pointing directly at the center of one speaker.
Tone crafting can be a subjective science, of course, but the sonic building blocks I chose got me pretty close to the Jack White sound I was after. I felt that I had dialed in the right tone and attitude from “Battle Cry,” and Tele-pictures was very happy with the result, as well. When you’re dealing with an artist who appears to use lots of vintage and strange gear, it’s a really satisfying feeling when you can simulate their sound “in the box” with digital tools. Like anything else in the world of music production, it’s often a matter of research, attention to detail, the appropriate studio tools, and your ears that will win the day.