How does Dave Grohl gets his tone? Here's a few tips to help you along the way...
Last weekend, our batch of the newly-released Gibson Dave Grohl Signature ES-335 guitars sold out before they'd even arrived at our warehouse! Another proof of the undimmed popularity of Dave Grohl as a true "Guitar God".
It's hard to believe but the Foo Fighters have been going for almost two decades now! The most impressive thing is that Dave Grohl successfully shifted from being one of the world's greatest drummers, to becoming a real guitar hero. True testament to his talent, versatility and style - just as with drumming, he managed to carve his own niche as an admired guitarist. So let's have a look at his gear, and give you a few tips on how to get his sound, besides suggesting some more affordable alternatives to similar gear.
DAVE GROHL GUITARS
In almost 20 years, Dave Grohl has used a lot of different guitars. In the early years of the Foo Fighters, the most commonly used guitars were two Gibson Les Paul Customs: a Gibson Les Paul Custom Electric Guitar in Alpine White and a Gibson Les Paul Custom Electric Guitar in Ebony. If you're looking for a more affordable option, check the Epiphone Les Paul Custom models.
But, one guitar stands out from all the others: The Gibson Trini Lopez ES-335. This is his favourite guitar, and the one that inspired his signature model. He owns many of those - in red, pelham blue and black. Grohl's used the Trini Lopez on every Foo Fighters records. On an interview, he said:
“This is a beautiful guitar. I saw this in a guitar shop in Bethesda, Maryland. I think it was 1992, ’93 or something like that. I think I was still in Nirvana when I bought it. I thought it was unusual. It looks like a Gibson ES-335, except it has diamond-shaped f-holes and has this different headstock on it. And I didn’t really know anything about Trini Lopez, the artist, when I bought it. This is the sound of the Foo Fighters...On every record, I might use different guitars now and then. For the most part, it’s just this.”
Considering it's pretty much a fancier, modded version of the standard ES-335 semi-acoustic, if you're on a budget we'd recommend the Epiphone Dot as the best alternative.
Guitar tone tip #1: Dave Grohl uses extra heavy bottom guitar strings, for added power! He uses a set of D'Addario EXL115 strings, but the bottom E and A strings are replaced for heavier gauge ones: .60 for the E, and .42 for the A-string. No string pack comes with such a combination of strings, hence the fact that his guitar tech says Grohl's has "Frankenstein strings"! The D'Addario EXL116 comes with a .42 A-string, and the D'Addario EXL148 comes with a .60 E-string.
DAVE GROHL GUITAR AMPS
Dave Grohl doesn't like distortion pedals. He's a purist, and his main guitar tones, since the first album, have always been achieved by the combination of using different amps, and how his guitars interact with them. The amps (and how he uses them) vary wildly between his recording and live set ups.
On the first album, Grohl used a Marshall JCM900 guitar amp, besides a small, battery-operated Marshall amp for some 'grungy' sounds and also to record some distorted vocals. Oh, and that little amp was fitted inside a gas can!!! There's no record of which amp it was, but Marshall still makes some great mini amps, which are fun to use and can, indeed, be used for some dirty, lo-fi sounds. Live, however, Grohl relied on a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier, during those first years.
The Marshall MG50CFX is a good, basic amp to get those early Foo Fighters tones.
The game changer for Grohl was the Vox AC30 amp. He's been using AC30 amps since the third Foos album, "There Is Nothing Left To Use". On record, it's his most used amplifier - either for clean sounds, or overdriven to the max for a warm, tube distortion. Grohl explained:
"We focused on not using too many distortion pedals, and went for a cleaner, fatter, more natural overdrive. We used a Vox AC30 for pretty much everything on the record, tweaking the sound so that it broke up nicely when played loud... We wanted to move back to that huge, warm, sludgy sound and get something a little more garagey - not something so well-produced and pristine. So rather than play through a distortion pedal and an amp with its volume at 5, we wouldn't use a pedal at all. We cranked up the amp to 10 so that it sounded like the speakers were screwed up."
Guitar tone tip #2: Dave Grohl uses a Shure SM57 to record guitar parts. He explains: "That's usually the mic they use on the amps when you play live, so why not use it in the studio as well?"
Therefore, the Vox Ac30 is the quintessential Dave Grohl guitar amp! The Vox AC30VR is an affordable, and excellent, alternative, for those who want a similar tone.
The Vox AC30 is also used live, but just for cleans. His distorted sound relied, for a time, on a Mesa Boogie Road King, with an A/B switch to change between the clean AC30 and the Mesa Boogie distortion.
However, he's also been seen using a Hiwatt head, and a four-amp setup consisting of 2x Fender Tone-Masters, and 2x Custom Audio Amplifiers, each with a different setting, selectable from his pedalboard.
Guitar tone tip #3: Dave Grohl uses his guitar volume knob to control the distortion of his amp. Watch the video below, of Foo Fighters performing 'Everlong' at Wembley. For most of the song, his guitar's volume knob is rolled back a bit. At 5:11 he rolls the guitar volume up, and this makes his amp get more distorted, when the rest of the song kicks back in!
DAVE GROHL EFFECTS PEDALS
Dave Grohl is not a big fan of FX pedals and uses them sparingly, in the studio and on stage. He reportedly used a ProCo Rat distortion on the first albums, but nothing suggests it was anything major, just some overdubs. As explained before, his main tone is just guitar + amp.
Only three pedals have been consistently used by Grohl: Boss DM-2 Analog Delay (now resurrected as the Boss DM-2W Waza Craft Delay), Boss DD-3 Digital Delay, and the MXR Phase 90 phaser pedal. He also uses a Boss Tuner pedal.
So what are you waiting for? You've read the article, PMT can help you get the gear - it's time to get your Grohl on!
By Ivan Silva