Build a rig to emulate one of the most revered modern guitar heroes
Probably best known as founder, lead guitarist, co-vocalist and primary songwriter of Alice in Chains, Jerry Cantrell has been influential figure across rock and metal for decades. Boasting the writing credits for some of the – arguably – most memorable riffs of the past couple of decades, Cantrell has knack for writing tracks that tug at the heart strings one minute, and then make you want to smash a loud of furniture the next (in a cathartic way, of course).
Hand in hand with his superior playing skills lies his enviably epic tones. Clean cut acoustic lines apparent on tracks such as “Over Now” combine with chunky overdrive for hints of clarity with a rough edge. However, it’s tracks like “Would”, “Man in the Box”, and “Dam That River” (especially “Dam That River”) that are held aloft as ‘classic Chains’.
Cantrell has famously said in the past “mostly your tone is in your hands and that’s just the way it is”, but let’s take a look at some gear that’ll get you closer to producing those stadium-filling tones anyway, you know, for the sheer hell of it.
Guitar tone worthy of a Rock God
Before we get going, it would be remiss of me not to note that Cantrell benefits from his fair share of G&L Signature models, and beautiful guitars they are indeed. However, he is also known to favour a Les Paul when strutting his stuff on stage.
The Gibson 2019 Les Paul Studio Tribute offers a versatile tonal palette to play, thanks to the pairing of 490R and 490T humbuckers. You can take your sound anywhere from thickened bluesy tones to tight and articulate with exceptional depth across the board.
If you fancy something a little more affordable but want to stay with a Les Paul, then you can’t go with the Epiphone Les Paul Standard Plustop Pro. Kitted out with a pair of coil-tapped ProBuckers, the range of tone available to you is nothing short of astonishing.
Amps that don’t hold back
Throughout his career Cantrell has involved a Bogner in his rig in some way or another, be it a Fish, Shiva, Uberschall or a Bogner-modded Marshall. Nowadays, he counts a Friedman amongst his toys. Some people have it all, eh?
However, rather than going too far into the boutique direction we’re going to lean towards the Blackstar Studio 10 EL34, which offers a hefty mid-range clout with a darker side when cranked. You’ll still get those searing highs that you’re after but the in your face tone you’re after – without breaking the bank – will come easy with the Studio 10 EL34.
First off, we have to cover wah. The Jerry Cantrell Cry Baby Wah was made for the man himself, complete with tribal Orca tattoo and distressed black housing. There darker response and side-mounted knurled control knob enables fine-tuning of the toe-down frequency, so if you want to it exactly as the man himself, then hit up that pedal.
For those seeking something less lavish but close to the nose, we present the Jim Dunlop GCB95 Original Cry Baby Wah, favoured by Cantrell before his signature model came along, as can be heard on the intro to “Grind“.
Now then, a pair of BOSS Chorus pedals feature on Jerry Cantrell’s pedalboard, the CH-1 and CE-5. They are both tried and true Chorus’ but the CE-5 tends to offer more in the way of shimmering beauty. The filter controls allow you to shape and tend to the effect with greater dexterity, so if you’re going for one or the other, might be best to trump for the CE-5 in this case.
With the amps at his disposal, you’d wonder why he includes a hand-wired Tube Screamer in his setup. The answer is, why not?! To push your amp into filthy territory but still sticking to budget, then the Ibanez Tube Screamer Mini infuses bags of power at the click of a switch. Indulge thyself.
Working in tandem on his pedalboard are a pair of MXR Smart Gate Noise Gates keep everything delightfully quiet. As we don’t currently have the Smart Gates (apologies), then the ever-faithful BOSS NS-2 Noise Suppressor will make light work of any unwanted hiss at high volume. If you’re playing loud and proud and want total control, then a noise gate like the NS-2 is an absolute must.
Not saying that you have to match the man with regard to strings exactly, but he has confessed in previous interviews to using gauge 10-46. We can’t say fairer than that. Also, if you want a set that will last, then the D’Addario NYXLs last longer than most.
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If you want to know more about different guitars amp for heavier styles, check out our Best Metal Amp article.
For ideas on what guitars are best suited to hard rock and metal, we’ve even covered that too in this aptly titled guide, Best Guitars for Metal.
Uncovering the gear behind the artist is a privilege and a pleasure. Check out our articles on The 1975, Brian May, Mumford & Sons, Squarepusher, Deftones, Jimi Hendrix, Tony Iommi, with more to come!
Jon is a multi-instrumentalist with a passion for inspiring others to get involved in making music. After spending many years playing venues here, there and – pretty much – everywhere, he joined the Dawsons’ Music Web Team before progressing into his current role managing the Dawsons Blog.