The playing evolution of the legendary RHCP guitarist
John Frusciante is a rare breed of guitarist – one that has found stadium-filling fame with funk-rock behemoths Red Hot Chili Peppers, but at the same time one that has maintained a creative drive, never afraid to create unusual or experimental music.
In this article, we will of course be taking a look at how this modern day guitar hero gets his classic stadium rock sound, but we will also take a look at some of the more unusual elements of his music making, from synths to drum machines.
Let’s start with the obvious. To get a good, all-round Frusciante sound a Fender Stratocaster is a must. More specifically, a worn 1962 Sunburst Fender Stratocaster with rosewood neck is his most used guitar and has appeared on much of his most famous work. A gift from Anthony Kiedis, he played this Strat on every album and tour after rejoining the Chili Peppers back in 1998 until his departure in 2009. He also has a maple-necked 1955 Fender Stratocaster, which you can see him using in the below video as he explains how he achieved the sound for ‘Dani California‘.
However, Strats are not the only guitars that he has used to great effect and Frusciante will always try and pick the guitar that suits the song. Another classic guitar from the Californication era is the 1955 Gretsch White Falcon, which he used on several tracks on this album, including the wonderful ‘Otherside‘. He also used this throughout the By the Way tour, but if you didn’t get a chance to catch this, the White Falcon can also be admired in all its glory in the Californication music video. A White Falcon will set you back upwards of £2000, so for a good approximation, the new Gretsch Streamliners are both beautiful and affordable!
Another special guitar worth mentioning is the Fender Jaguar; a 1962 red version was the first guitar that Frusciante brought after re-joining The Chili Peppers. More sparingly, Frusciante has also been known to use 1963 Fender Telecaster and a 1969 Gibson Les Paul Custom, and since leaving The Chili Peppers, he has started to use the Yamaha SG range (SG2000s and SG1500s) as his go-to electric guitars. For any acoustic work, he almost solely uses Martin guitars, especially a 1950’s 0–15.
Whatever the guitar used, you can see that they are almost invariably vintage instruments from pre-1970. For a similar feel, you could try this Fender 50’s Sunburst Stratocaster.
Guitars Effects Pedals
Though often achieving astounding sounds using a very clean guitar tone, Frusciante does know when effects are called for. He employs a variety of different pedals, especially for guitar solos where he is often aiming for a more ‘grimy’ sound. His pedal board seemed to grow larger on every album recorded with The Chili Peppers, to the point which it would be a little difficult to cover every single pedal he has used over his long career. And besides, we don’t all have the budget of Red Hot Chili Peppers to play with! However, below are some key ingredients that are cornerstones of John Frusciante’s guitar sound, which are relatively easy to achieve.
For starters, a wah pedal is a must have for anything remotely funky. For the uninitiated, a clear example of Frusciante using wah is ‘Get On Top‘ from Californication, which attempts to emulate the sounds of Public Enemy. Once you get your ear in, you start to hear wah everywhere throughout his career, from ‘Sir Psycho Sexy’ (Blood Sugar Sex Magik), to ‘Don’t Forget Me’ (By The Way) and ‘Dani California’ (Stadium Arcadium). Frusciante has stuck with an Ibanez WH10V2 for most albums, however a Jim Dunlop CryBaby will also do the trick.
Distortion pedals are also a key part of Frusciante’s sound, specifically Boss distortion pedals. The Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion pedal for example can be heard in the chorus of ‘Dani California‘. This alongside the Boss DS-1 Distortion were used extensively throughout Californication. Another distortion pedal that Frusciante employs is the classic Big Muff, for example on ‘Minor Thing’ (By The Way). This pedal was carried over onto the Stadium Arcadium album and various versions of the pedal were used on the songs ‘Strip My Mind’, ‘Especially in Michigan’ and ‘C’mon Girl’.
Finally, the last key addition to a Frusciante-style pedal board should be a chorus pedal. The Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble can first be heard on the outro the ‘Under The Bridge‘ and was used on all subsequent Red Hot Chili Peppers albums.
Other notable effects include:
- Moog MF-105 MuRF (Multiple Resonance Filter Array) – used on Dani California, Stadium Arcadium (which can be emulated using this Moog MiniFooger Ring Modulator)
- Electro-Harmonix POG – used on Snow (Hey Oh), Stadium Arcadium
- Electro-Harmonix Micro Synth with 16-second delay – used on ‘Savior’, Californication. However, you can probably get away with a less pricey and easier to find standard analog delay pedal.
- Line 6 echo pedals and Electro-Harmonix flanger throughout the By The Way album.
In general, Frusciante plays through Marshall stacks to get his sound. His main amp is a Marshall Silver Jubilee 25/55 100W, which he has used extensively for both studio and stage since the Californication tour. A new Jubilee line of Marshall heads and combos has just been released, so it’s not too difficult to get the right sound even if you’re not rocking stadiums (yet)!
The other amp that was extensively used on Californication and beyond was a Marshall Major 200 Watt, often paired with an old 1965 Marshall JTM45 – they’re pretty hard to come by but the new Marshall CODE series has that sound built in. Occasionally, he does depart from Marshall amps, and for By The Way utilised a “big Fender spring reverb from the 60’s“. Something like this would do the trick nicely…
If you really are a purist, or in a Red Hot Chili Peppers cover band, then you might like to know that Frusciante uses orange Dunlop Tortex .60mm plectrums and D’Addario EXL110s (10-46) strings.
And of course, being able to play Scar Tissue properly is often the inspiration for investing in a good quality guitar slide!
Other Instruments and Recording
Over the last decade or so, Frusciante has expanded his musical repertoire and now produces a lot of electronic music. He has spoken extensively about his use of Roland drum machines and the Roland MC-202 MicroComposer, an analog synthesizer/sequencer.
Regarding his solo material, Frusciante has talked about using various synths and controllers, including a Clavia Nord Lead 2, a Casio SK-1, Akai MPC3000 a Korg MS10, and a late-1970s Synare analog drum synthesizer.
Even whilst with The Chili Peppers, he would often use synths and mellotrons to beef out guitar parts. All in all, a very creative and interesting musician that we can learn a lot from.