So you want to sound like Dave Grohl...we don't blame you so we've put together this quick Dave Grohl gear guide! A whole generation grew up with the Foo Fighters being one of the biggest bands in the world... but when the first Foo Fighters album came out, Dave Grohl had everything to prove! After all, he was known as a drummer (always using TAMA drum kits), not as a singer and guitarist. It's safe to say Mr. Grohl has done rather well... and today he's a true guitar icon, with his own Gibson Signature model.  

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. Here's a quick guide to Dave Grohl's guitar, amp and drum gear through the years. We'll look at how to get a similar tone via amps and guitars, give you a few tips on how to get his sound, and suggest some more affordable alternatives to similar gear which help you sound like Dave Grohl!

DAVE GROHL GUITAR Guide - What Guitars Does Dave Grohl Play?

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 Custom Guitars : 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.


Gibson Les Paul Custom EB Gloss Alpine White

Early in the Foo Fighters career, Dave Grohl used a Gibson Les Paul Custom in (aged) White. 

Gibson Les Paul Custom EB Gloss Alpine White

Other models he's played often were the Gibson Explorer and Gibson Firebird guitars.

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.

Watch him talk about the guitar here from 3:05

“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, and not readily available unless you trawl the 2nd hand market, we'd recommend the budget friendly Epiphone Dot as the best alternative. 


Dave Grohl 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.

DAddario EXL115BT Electric Guitar Strings Balanced Tension 11-50

DAVE GROHL GUITAR AMPS - What Amps Does Dave Grohl Use?

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.

From 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose' onwards, Dave has consistently used the VOX AC30 (pictured). 

More recently, live setups included no less than four amp heads: Two Fender Tone Masters, two Custom Audio Amplifiers. Since he had a switch for each amp, it's fair to assume each of those heads had a different setting. On other more recent pics he's seen using a Hiwatt head amp and the Ac30.

Dave Grohl and his ac30
Dave Grohl and his VOX AC30

'Foo Fighters' & 'The Colour And The Shape' Sound

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 MG50GFX is a good, basic amp to get those early Foo Fighters tones. 

Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier Head Classic Version
The Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier Head Classic Version Was used in the first days of the Foo Fighters
Marshall MG50GFX Guitar Combo Amplifier
The Marshall MG50GFX Guitar Combo Amplifier will help you get that early Foo Fighters Sound

'There Is Nothing left To Lose' Sound and onwards...

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."

The Vox AC30 is also used live, but just for cleans.

Therefore, the Vox Ac30 is the quintessential Dave Grohl guitar amp!

The Vox Cambridge 50 Modeling Guitar Amp is an affordable, and excellent, alternative, for those who want that classic AC30 tone but don't want to stretch their budget to the AC30. 

Vox AC30C2 Custom Combo Valve Amp
The Vox AC30C2 Custom Combo Valve Amp

Dave Grohl VOX AC30 Amp Settings

Dave Grohl told Guitar Player magazine, that during the recording of 'There is Nothing Left To Lose': "We had the bass at 8 and the treble at 6 or 7. I don't know enough about amps and guitars to come up with any solid recipe. I just tweak it until it sounds good."

Live, 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. 

Dave Grohl 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?"

Shure SM57 Dynamic Microphone
The Shure SM57 Dynamic Microphone was used to record vocals on Nirvana 'Nevermind'

Guitar tone tip #3: 

Dave Grohl uses his guitar volume knob to control the distortion of his amp. Watch the video 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 - What Pedals Does Dave Grohl Use?

Dave Grohl is not a big fan of FX pedals and uses them sparingly, in the studio and on stage.  As explained before, his main tone is just guitar + amp and as you can see below, there has been a consistent LACK of pedals on his board with only three main pedals making the cut in the live arena. 

Dave Grohl's Pedalboards throuh the years
Dave Grohl's Pedalboards throuh the years

In summary, Dave Grohl uses these main pedals:

  • Boss DD-3
  • MXR Phase 90
  • Boss TU-2
  • Previously the Boss DM-2 and Keeley Katana Boost

Grohl is a master of simplicity, and onstage he only ever uses to effects pedals: a Delay and an MXR Phase 90. The delay used to be, for many years, a Boss DM-2 Analog Delay (now resurrected as the Boss DM-2W Waza Craft) but more recently he's been using a Boss DD-3, one of the most classic and reliable digital delay pedals you'll ever find! And, of course, Grohl is another big name who won't leave home without a Boss Tuner pedal! He uses one for electric guitar and another for acoustic - which is easier for him to plug into.

He uses a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power 2 Plus FX Power Supply to supply power to his pedals and what looks like a custom switching system that will engage certain pedals at a particular time and switch between amplifiers. 

One of the pics shows a Keeley Katana Keeley Katana Booster Pedal, but this seems unusual for Grohl. as it's no longer part of his rig.

One of the few pedals he's used in the studio is the Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man Delay Pedal. He uses this on the tracks 'Breakout' and 'Headwires' due to its modulation settings.

The Pro Co Rat Distortion pedal also played an important part in the Foo Fighters sound. Dave was quoted as saying: "Sometimes we'd double a track using an old Pro Co Rat, and then hard-pan the parts so that a super-distorted guitar was in the left channel and a grindy guitar was in the right. Then we'd sprinkle in lots of clean guitar overdubs." This was during the recording of 'There Is Nothing Left To Lose'. You can also hear it on the track 'Weenie Beenie'. 

Here's a closer look at his main pedals. 

MXR M101 Phase 90 - Orange Phaser Pedal

The MXR Phase 90 - Orange Phaser Pedal has been a mainstay on Dave Grohl's pedalboard. This phaser pedal is a classic phaser that you can hear on tracks like the intro of 'Breakout' and during Dave's freakout solos when playing live.  

MXR M101 Phase 90 - Orange Phaser Pedal

Boss Waza Craft DM-2W Delay Pedal

The original Boss DM-2 delay pedal, which has now been replaced with the Boss DM-2W Waza craft version, was seen on Dave's pedalboard for many years. This analogue delay was loved by guitarists thanks to its beautifully natural analogue decay and slightly unpredictable oscillation as heard on 'Stacked Actors'.

This was eventually replaced for the digital Boss DD-3 (below)

Boss Waza Craft DM-2W Delay Pedal

Boss DD-3T Digital Delay

The Boss DD-3 was an industry-standard digital delay pedal, which has now been updated to the Boss DD-3T with tap tempo. 

The key reason this is relied on is the fact that the digital delay is completely spot-on - you get exactly what you want WHEN you want without any nasty oscillation creeping in. The cool feature about the new version is that it has a handy tap tempo feature - ideal for those who want to create the sound of 'Rope'. 

Boss DD-3T Digital Delay

Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner Pedal

The Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner Pedal is an industry standard tuner pedal that you'll find on almost every professional pedal board across all genres. 

Dave is using a TU-2, which is an earlier version that he's likely had for decades - they just never stop working!

The updated Boss TU-3 Chromatic tuner simply features a 21 segment LED simplayas well as higher brightness and an outlet for more pedals. Either work perfectly fine! 

Boss TU-3 Chromatic Tuner Pedal



In summary, Mr. Grohl's go-to kit for live set-ups is the Drum Workshop Inc. Jazz Series kit. It includes a 13” tom-tom, a 16” and an 18” floor tom-tom (Remo white-coated emperor heads), 24” bass drum, 20” gong drum and 2 toy drums (custom painted by DW). The live snare he uses is by DW again; a 14"x6 1/2" aluminium. Well we’ve had a good old look at his kit for live-set ups and it looks pretty fantastic to be honest in its gorgeous Pelham Blue finish, which matches his Gibson DG-335 Trini Lopez guitar.

The sticks

Zildjian ASDG Dave Grohl Drumsticks Hickory

The Zildjian ASDG Dave Grohl Drumsticks Hickory are the official Dave Grohl Artist Series Drumstick model. These signature Dave Grohl drumsticks feature metallic, two-colour artwork of Grohl’s famous tattoos on both of his arms. The Dave Grohl drumstick was released in September 2011 to coincide with the 20th anniversary of the release of Nirvana’s ground-breaking album, Nevermind.

Zildjian ASDG Dave Grohl Drumsticks Hickory

The Cymbals

Grohl uses all Zildjian cymbals, including:

Zildjian Avedis New Beat 15" Hi-Hats


And guess how Grohl gets his power, velocity and volume when he’s playing? He uses the lowest DW throne possible and has it all the way down. If you want to sound like Dave Grohl, it might be worth trying to get lower down! See what Dave Grohl has say to say on his DW kit for himself with this video from Drum Workshop Inc.

All in all, Grohl’s drum kit is a serious beast, and yes, it’s damn expensive beast. But remember, even Nirvana started in a garage – so set your dreams high, and for the time being get yourself some Dave Grohl Signature Zildjian ASDG Dave Grohl Drumsticks in Hickory to tide yourself over until you hit the big time.

View a complete range of guitars, amps and effects over at the PMT website.

Updated 2020-09-25