From the White Stripes to the Raconteurs, from Dead Weather to his solo work, Jack White has managed to balance prolific output with a very distinct sound and feel. Despite having authored a hefty catalog of music that has been performed by a wide variety of lineups, it's always easy to hear Jack's sonic fingerprint on a song. He's an artist with the rare ability to be stylistically flexible yet always recognizable.
For those looking to capture some of that Jack White vibe on a tight budget, you're in luck: there are several main components to his rig that haven't changed over the years. But don't think that just putting these elements together will give you instant access to Jack's sound: as always, the most crucial ingredient is to work on your playing. With that said, here are a few good, relatively inexpensive components that'll help an aspiring White acolyte begin their journey.
As always, we need to find a good platform on which to build our sound. Over the course of his career, you could argue that Jack has played three main guitars: a 1964 "JB Hutto" Res-O-Glass Airline; a heavily modified 1950s Kay hollowbody; and more recently, an equally heavily modified Fender Highway One Telecaster. Of course, he's been spotted with far more instruments than these, but the main point is that White has always tended toward a vintage-meets-modern sound, if such a thing can be said to exist. He seems to prefer guitars that deliver cutting, punchy tones, yet retain a lot of dynamic response.
With that in mind, a good guitar with a price point that won't have you declaring bankruptcy might be a Squier Vintage Modified 72 Thinline Telecaster (retails new at Amazon.com for $299.99). While this isn't a guitar Jack necessarily utilizes himself, the combination of a semi-hollow ash body and the wide-range humbucker pickup configuration can easily produce a great garage rock tone. It's a very touch-responsive guitar, capable of being both brash or sensitive, and is very playable for a relatively inexpensive instrument.
Cost so far: $299.99
Now we come to what might be the most crucial ingredient in our quest for Jack White lightning. While various solid state and hybrid modeling amps could get you into the ballpark, the truth is that nothing short of a good old-fashioned tube amplifier will really do. To that end, a great suggestion would be the Fender Excelsior Pawn Shop combo (retails new at Amazon for $349.99). Aside from the obvious draw of the vintage stylings--which extend from the amp's appearance to the fact that it has inputs for a guitar, a microphone, or a harmonica mic--this 1x15", 6V6-powered combo has a very dry, bluesy vibe to it. It's really easy to get some ratty, Jack White-esque tones by simply cranking the volume knob. Tone controls are limited to a "Bright/Dark" switch, and while that may initially seem limiting, it's perfectly in keeping with the minimalist ethos we're pursuing. After 30 minutes playing through the Excelsior, you might be surprised by how little you miss your old High, Mid and Low tone knobs!
Cost so far: $649.98
Mr. White relies on two main effects, the first being fuzz. And while he's more inclined toward an EHX Big Muff, let's think outside the box for a moment to maximize our bang-for-the-buck. The Wampler Velvet Fuzz (retails new at Amazon.com for $199.97) is a really high-quality pedal. It's incredibly versatile, and can easily produce everything from smooth, singing lead tones (try the "Big" setting) to gnarly, heavy-on-the-mid-range grit that adds extra weight to single-note riffs (easy to dial in via the "Tight" mode). The Velvet Fuzz is very easy to use but there's a lot of depth to this unit; it's always tempting to find one great sound and park the knobs there forever. But this Wampler effect is full of awesome tones, and it's worth spending some time to learn how to dial in different settings for rhythm and lead parts to get maximum mileage out of the pedal.
The second major component to Jack's sound would be pitch-shifting effects, which he deploys frequently--both the Digitech Whammy and the EHX POG2 have figured prominently in his rig over the years. For our purposes, let's look at the Boss OC-3 Octave pedal, which can be purchased brand new via Amazon.com for $113.86. Mr. White often utilizes pitch-shifting tools for sonic reinforcement, and the OC-3's tight tracking on a one-octave-down setting pairs extremely well with the Velvet Fuzz. While you won't have the ability to create those crazy octave-up leaps that come via a Whammy's expression pedal, this pairing makes it exceptionally easy to create a massive, garage-rockstravaganza of gritty tone.
Final cost: $963.81
We managed to come in under budget, and if you're able to find any or all of these items on the used market, you're likely to save even more money while still achieving a great tone. That'll also give you some flexibility to look for a bigger, better amp or perhaps a higher-end guitar. Or maybe you can buy yourself a fence post, a nail, a guitar string and a single-coil pickup and build yourself a backup instrument