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Jack White on the Art of Playing Guitar

Daniel Eriksson
|
06.19.2013
Jack White

Jack White has a minimalistic approach to guitar playing. When it comes to music equipment Jack goes for a "less is more" approach. But the vintage fanatic White does make use of modern technology when it comes to effects like pitch shifters. Here we take a look at some of White’s ideas and influences behind his guitar playing style, as well as some insight in how he achieves his very unique sound.
 
1. Jack White’s guitar playing is often characterized by a very raw sound, and an intense delivery. When White described how he approaches the guitar to GuitarPlayer it became clear that it’s every bit his intention to sound the way he does:
“I always look at playing guitar as an attack. It has to be a fight. Every song, every guitar solo, every note that’s played or written has to be a struggle. It can’t be this wimpy thing where you’re pushed around by the idea, the characters, or the song itself. It’s every player’s job to fight against all of that.”
 
2. In an interview with The Guardian, White shed some light on why old blues guitarists like Blind Willie McTell and Robert Johnson has had such an influence on his music:
“As a songwriter, even if you're singing about other people or making up characters, it's still your job to be against the world and that all began in the 1920s and 1930s with these blues singers. It was the first time in history that a single person had been recorded to tell whatever story they had to the world.”
 
3. For Jack White, playing guitar is all about feeling the music. In an interview with Guernica White explained what he is looking for in a guitar solo:
“I’m not impressed with somebody playing a blues scale at blinding speed, but I am impressed with Son House when he plays the ‘wrong’ note. Somehow it’s more meaningful to me when I hear him miss a note and hit the neck of his guitar with his slide.”
 
4. Here’s what Jack White had to say about what type of guitar pick he prefer, as told to GuitarPlayer:
“Any heavy pick, so I can strike the string harder. Anything other than a heavy gauge just feels wrong. I end up throwing it away, and plucking with my fingers.”
 
5. In the August 2007 issue of Guitar World, Jack talks about how he came to incorporate the Whammy pedal in what is now his trademark sound:
“I was in a band in Detroit called the Go, and nobody at the time was doing any kind of leads. But then I got a Whammy Pedal and I thought, Okay, you don’t have to do solos, but it would be nice if once in a while the guitar broke out and had a moment for itself and then went back to the band. The Whammy enabled me to get an octave higher than everybody else, so I could break through for a few seconds and do a lick and then come back to the song. And now I just want solos to be an octave higher and piercing.”
 
6. In that same Guitar World interview Jack talks about playing acoustic guitar, particularly on his Gibson L1:
“Yeah, I played a Gibson L1 [on The White Stripes’ album Icky Thump]. That’s the Robert Johnson model. I have one from 1915. There are clips of me using that one all over the place on the last tour. We just put a surface-mounted pickup on it, one of those you tape on, like they use on a violin. It was hard to pull off live. But we do have songs where Meg wouldn’t play so loud and it would be okay. I love that guitar a lot. It’s probably my favorite.
 
7. Jack White was asked by Collider if he had any advice for beginners on what type of guitar to get:
“I think starting with whatever you can afford is the best thing to do. Starting with a top-of-the-line guitar won’t facilitate anything. It will be less of a struggle and, especially someone who’s young, should have a little bit of a struggle because they’ll find their own relationship with the instrument. And, all the kinks that are in the bent neck, or the out-of-tune string, or the nut that’s broken, they need to have. It has to become their own.”
 
8. White talked to GuitarPlayer about how he achieves his unique tone:
“Your tone alone can speak volumes for you. You can also make a statement without over-thinking it. It’s hard to relate that to modern guitar players, though, because they put too much gear between their fingers and the amp. Too many players feel their effects are supposed to craft their tone for them. It really comes from the fingers, of course.”
 
9. Jack White spoke to Guitar World in their July 2002 issue about how stage presentation play a major part in a band’s success; something he and Meg White used to its full potential with their red, white, and black color scheme in The White Stripes:
“Anything involved in presenting yourself onstage is all a big trick. You’re doing your best to trick those people into experiencing something good, something they haven’t thought about before or haven’t thought about in a long time. I’m doing my best to be that vaudeville trickster, to help that happen.”
 
10. In an interview with GuitarPlayer, White explained how come his licks and solos often have a sliding sound to them, even when he is not using a slide:
“Maybe I go up to attack the note. Also, I like to manipulate my DigiTech Whammy pedal starting with the low octave. I love low octaves. I’ve always loved playing octaves on the piano, even as a little kid. So when they came out with that pedal, and I heard Tom Morello use it in Rage Against the Machine, I knew I’d finally found an interesting pedal. All I used in the White Stripes for seven years was an Electro-Harmonix Big Muff and the Whammy. So you might be hearing me building up to the note with the pedal.”
 

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