The Dave Grohl Guitar 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. Here's a quick guide to his gear through the years - and how to get a similar tone on a budget!
Dave Grohl has truly become an iconic guitarist now. The recently-released Gibson Dave Grohl Signature ES-335 Guitars instantly became hot, collectible items, and two of the most desirable guitars this year: the stunning Gibson Dave Grohl ES-335 Pelham Blue and Gibson Dave Grohl ES-335 Metallic Gold guitars:
It's time, then, to look at what gear he used over the years... and how to get similar stuff on a budget!
FOO FIGHTERS - THE EARLY YEARS
The first Foo Fighter album (1995) was pretty much a solo effort, and Dave Grohl kept things as simple as possible. The album is still an oddity in the Foo's discography: punkier and dirtier, and liked by people who are not fans of the "typical" Foo Fighters. Sure enough, Grohl's setup was a bit different than what we're used to seeing now.
His main guitars at the time were Gibson Les Paul Custom models. At gigs soon after the album came out, he could be seen playing a Gibson Les Paul Custom - Alpine White, as well as a Gibson Les Paul Custom - Ebony.
Live, Grohl also played a Gibson Explorer. However, he also used a red Gibson Trini Lopez in the studio - which is still his favourite guitar! Dave Grohl said:
“This guitar I’ve made every single Foo Fighters record with. 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.”
The dirty, compressed guitar sound was courtesy of a ProCo Rat distortion pedal, and a Marshall JCM900. However, like many guitarists, he also used a mini guitar amp for the sessions! It was a little battery-powered Marshall, placed inside a gas can, for some dirty "grungy" sounds, and which was also used for some distorted vocals, such as in 'Weenie Beenie':
Live, however, his amp of choice was a Mesa Boogie Dual Rectifier. Dave Grohl doesn't seem to be a big fan of distortion pedals, and his main sound then, as now, was an overdriven Mesa Boogie!
The recording session for the first album took place at Robert Lang Studios in Seattle. Mixes were done on a 32 channel API DeMedio console, custom built by Frank DeMedio in 1972 for Wally Heider Recording's Studio 4. A Stephen's 24 track 2" tape machine was used for playback. Processors used in the mixes included an Eventide Omnipressor compressor for vocals and guitar solos, an Alan Smart stereo compressor for "squashing" the drums and mixing them back in as well as being used over the entire mix. Other processors included UREI 1176 and LA3A compressors as well as an Echoplex for delays and a "crappy digital reverb".
GET THE SOUND! BASIC "FOO FIGHTERS FORMULA" # 1
The best way to get a similar early-Foo Fighters tone on a budget is to go with an Epiphone Les Paul Custom (or, for a semi-acoustic choice, an Epiphone Dot) and a Marshall MG50CFX, which can deliver some classic Marshall tones at a cheaper price. No need to bother with distortion pedals!
FOO FIGHTERS - THE STADIUM YEARS
As the years passed, Dave Grohl grew as a guitarist, and is now a bona fide guitar icon. And as any guitarist worth iconic status, Grohl has used quite a variety of gear over the years. The Gibson Trini Lopez remained his main guitar, throughout the years. But he also used several different guitars such as Gibson RD Artist, Gibson Firebird, Gibson SG, and Fender Telecaster Deluxe being the most commonly seen. But he has also used an Epiphone Riviera, Gibson ES-335 and Ampeg Dan Armstrong.
His favourite acoustic guitar seems to be the Gibson Dove. Live pics show him using a black, Elvis signature model, and some studio pics show a natural-finish Dove. Epiphone makes an excellent Dove acoustic.
The Foo Fighter's third album, There Is Nothing Left To Lose, is the album that truly set the template for the band, and in a few interviews to promote the album, Dave Grohl talked extensively about his guitar preferences, and most of it still holds true today, with Sonic Highways.
THE GUITAR TONE GOSPEL ACCORDING TO DAVE GROHL
"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. I enjoy the sound of a guitar breaking up because the speaker is getting its ass kicked. I even like listening to music in my truck because my car speakers are ruined -- everything sounds a little bit distorted, and I love it. If I listen to the same album on a good stereo system, it doesn't sound as good to me."
Is there any trick to recording good, natural guitar sounds?
"The best way to get a natural guitar sound is to eliminate all pedals and find an amp that has a lot of range. With an AC30, for example, you can go clean, dirty, bright, or fat. It's just the amplifier and the guitar -- the most basic combination. I know the [Gibson] Trini Lopez and the Vox is going to have one sound, and the Telecaster and the Twin Reverb is going to have another. Getting basic guitar sounds should be that easy. As far as miking the amps, we used a Shure SM57. That's usually the mic they use on the amps when you play live, so why not use it in the studio as well?"
FX PEDALS KEPT TO A MINIMUM
Grohl is a master of simplicity, and onstage he only ever uses to effects pedals: a Boss Delay and a MXR Phase 90. The dealy 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 a Voodoo Lab Pedal Power.
Compare how little his pedalboard changed over the years:
One of the pics shows a Keeley Katana booster pedal, but this seems unusual for Grohl. One of the few pedals he's used in the studio is the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man.
Ampwise, Grohl still swears by the trusty Vox AC30 in the studio, and live for clean sounds. In the past, he used an A/B Switch to choose between clean AC30 and dirty Mesa Boogie.
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 seem using a Hiwatt head amp and the Ac30.
GET THE SOUND! BASIC "FOO FIGHTERS FORMULA" # 2
Since it might be a bit too hard (and expensive) to get yourself a Gibson Trini Lopez or a Gibson Dave Grohl signature ES-335, you can get yourself a cheaper ES-335, such as the Epiphone Dot, in glorious cherry red. Dave Grohl's favourite fx pedals are easily available, the Boss DD-3 and MXR Phase 90 are not too expensive. As for the amp... it has to be an AC30, of course! The Vox AC30VR is a more affordable version, that looks the part - and sounds great, too!
DAVE GROHL GUITAR TIP
A few Foo Fighters songs use alternative tunings: Drop D (songs such as 'Monkey Wrench' and 'Everlong') and Drop A ('Stacked Actors'). But, for extra heaviness, Dave uses extra thick strings on the bottom E and A strings: gauges .60 and .42, respectively. Anyone who wants to sound as close as possible to Dave Grohl's tune would be advised to get his favourite set of strings (D'Addario EXL 115) and replace the bottom two. If you don't find spare strings, the D'Addario EXL 116 and D'Addario EXL 148 include those strings.