The Black Keys
little amps in the studio, before I even knew
that’s what so many of those old guys did. I
was always trying to make my guitars sound
like Willie Johnson from Howlin’ Wolf’s
early electric stuff. And I think you gravitate
toward that sound if you like those old blues
records, because that’s typically what they
were using—those little tweeds that were
The fuzz on “Next Girl” and elsewhere on
the album has a very glam feel—very fat,
with a lot of low end and buzz. Did you
double those lines with a bass or did you
use some kind of octave pedal?
There’s no octave pedal on the album. It’s
generally doubling, tripling, or quadrupling a
guitar line in unison with the bass.
Did you use many pedals for the album’s
I’ve got shelves of pedals—sick amounts of
pedals. But I swear, I use the same pedals
I’ve always played. I bought an early-1970s
Ibanez Standard Fuzz pedal—the octave fuzz
with the two sliders. I’ve been using it since
the first record, and I cannot top it. It’s got
two basic tones, bassy or trebly, and I use it
on bass and guitar. It’s just wild. I also use
those green Sovtek Big Muffs on the road.
They’re fun for blasting a bigger amp. But
when you want to get character out of a
little amp, you really can’t beat those little
Japanese fuzzes like the ones from Shin-ei.
Those are my favorite—the absolute best.
No matter what size amp I use, I’m generally
trying to find that sweet spot where the overdrive—the tube or speaker or combination of
both—is constant but it still reacts well to pedals—fuzz especially. If there’s too much overdrive, the fuzz pedal farts out, and if there’s
not enough the clean sound is too wimpy.
Do you have a preferred amplifier rig for
Donning cans and a biker jacket, Auerbach takes to the studio to wrangle riffs out of his Harmony H77.
Right now, I’m using a Fender Quad Reverb
along with a Marshall JTM45 and a vintage
Marshall 8x10 cab.
Earlier you mentioned being more of a
team player. And the rhythm on “The Only
One,” for instance, is very inventive, but
unobtrusive and deceptively simple. It
reminds me of Steve Cropper playing in one
of those Cambodian psychedelic bands.
[Laughs.] We actually felt like we were going
for a Mulatu Astatke feel for that song. The
super funky drums, the really tight bass, and
the cheesy organ were the meat of the song,
so I wanted to keep it simple but melodic on
the guitar. It just needed to propel the song
and not get in the way.
How does the open environment of guitar
and drums affect the way you approach guitar—do you need to be more disciplined?
I don’t ever practice, if that’s what you mean by
disciplined! [Laughs.] We just do what’s best for
the record. I guess thinking more about the song
is the discipline. I mean, we’re spending just as
much time thinking about tambourine and handclaps, and then I let that guide the guitar playing. You can’t think about that stuff too much.
You really just need to play and feel it. I was
working with Scott Asheton from the Stooges—
he was coming to my studio to hang out—so I
asked him what kind of drums he needed. He