“Holy sh*t, that's good!”: Foo Fighters’ Chris Shiflett on replacing his amps with the Quad Cortex for his solo tour – plus, the lowdown on the other essentials in his current rig

Chris Shiflett interview
(Image credit: Future/Adam Gasson)

Chris Shiflett may not be the first rock star to genre-hop to country, but with a collection of solo albums under his belt and a new EP on the way, he has more than proved that he has what it takes to be taken seriously by the country purists. 

When Shiflett isn’t fighting Foos in arenas and stadiums around the globe, he can be found with a paisley Tele around his neck, delivering authentic country rock that, no matter where you are in the world, will transport you to the bustling music scene of Nashville, Tennessee.  

Despite only releasing his latest album, Lost At Sea, in October of last year, Shiflett is back with an infectious rendition of the Thin Lizzy classic, Cowboy Song – which he’s suitably given the country treatment – and has announced a new EP titled Starry Nights & Campfire Lights. 

Here’s what the Foo Fighters’ axeman had to say about his new single and what we can expect from his latest release.  

“I'm a huge Thin Lizzy fan, and it's a song that I wanted to cover for a long time. I just always thought it would make a good country song. Lyrically, it's perfect to turn it into a country song, but the music side of it was definitely the more challenging part, like how to sort of squeeze that into a country song. Country tends to be a little more, you know, simple, [with] simpler chord structures and stuff, and there's a lot of movement in Cowboy Song. 

“The EP, it's two cover songs. So it's the Thin Lizzy song and we also covered a Hanoi Rocks song called Don't You Ever Leave Me. So there's those. And then we just had some good live recordings of the band. It's always different live when you do stuff.

“We did this Sirius XM acoustic session for the Outlaw Country channel last year, and I just liked the way those songs came out,” notes Chris. “There are also some real stripped-down acoustic versions of a couple of songs from the last record.” 

We caught up with Chris from his hotel room in Washington DC via video link the day after he took to the stage with the Foo Fighters for a private concert at the Anthem Theatre in association with Power To The Patients, a non-profit organisation fighting for more affordable and accessible healthcare in the US.

In this new MusicRadar regular, we ask world-renowned players to choose a selection of gear that is essential for them to make music. Chris chose to shine the spotlight on the newest additions to his solo live rig and even gave us a sneak peek at what is in store for his very popular signature series from Fender.

1. Neural DSP Quad Cortex

Chris Shiflett interview

(Image credit: Neural DSP)

“The big one is that I got a Quad Cortex a few months ago, and I've been spending a lot of time trying to figure out all the nuances. I mean, there are so many options within that little box, you know, for tone and how to build different presets specific to the songs.

“There are a lot of different ways I know that people approach that, but I've just been messing with it a tonne. It's everything right now. That's all my effects pedals. That's all my amps. That's my whole pedalboard at the moment. That's the most essential piece of gear, I guess, right now.”

“The last time I toured [in the UK], I had a pedalboard and the Strymon Iridium was the amp, basically. [The Quad Cortex] is just smaller for my solo thing. I’m trying to figure out how to have the tightest, smallest, most compact set-up. The Quad Cortex is literally the size of an iPad or something. It's crazy how small that thing is.

It's everything right now. That's all my effects pedals. That's all my amps. That's my whole pedalboard at the moment.

“I got one sent to me just to mess around with. My buddy Jason [Shadrick] who's the producer for my Shred With Shifty show, works for Premier Guitar, so he's in the loop on all the guitar stuff, and I think it was born out of a conversation with him. 

“I remember I got a loaner, and I plugged my guitar into it, and the first preset that came up was, I think, a JCM 800, and I just went [makes guitar noise], and I was like, ‘Holy sh*t, that's good!’ I was like, ‘Let me order one immediately.’

“It's been really fun, I like messing around [with it], there are just so many variables. And I keep tweaking and changing stuff around and like, ‘Hey, maybe for this song I'll have two amps in parallel.’ Then when it hits the solo, it'll go to a [completely different sound]. 

“There's a lot built into it that you need to capture. There are so many amps, pedals, and actions built into it, and then there's this whole other thing where people capture different effects and amps and stuff and upload them to the Quad Cortex app. It's just a lot of options, especially for what I do.  

“It's really helpful because my solo records tend to bounce through different sounds. One song might have a [Fender] Deluxe Reverb and one song might have the [Vox] AC15 or a [Marshall] JCM. I like having all those different choices.” 

When asked if he’ll ever go fully digital with the Foo Fighters, Chris assured us that he hasn’t lost his love for loud amps and real tube saturation. 

“I don't know. I mean, my preference is to have a real amp. I just like the consistency of [digital] for my solo stuff. You know, my solo tour, as you would imagine, it's a shoestring budget in comparison to what we do in Foos. So, for big shows, I like having a big amp and all that nice real tube gain and everything that comes with it.” 

2. Behringer X32 digital mixer

Chris Shiflett interview

(Image credit: Behringer)

Next up is something that we certainly weren’t expecting, but once Chris explained the need for consistent in-ear sounds night after night in a variety of different venues, we understood fully why this would be an essential piece of kit for a band on the road. 

"I'll tell you another thing, and this is not as guitar-y, but we're really loving it. We got a Behringer [X32], you know, for [our] monitor rig on stage. 

"We've got one of those now where we can control our in-ears on our phones, you know, do that whole thing – and that's freaking amazing, man. Like, this is a game-changer for us. So, I mean, that's a pretty essential piece of gear." 

3. Gibson Murphy Labs ‘59 Les Paul Reissue

Chris Shiflett interview

(Image credit: Gibson)

Moving on to six-strings, and as you’d expect, the Foo’s shredder-in-chief has quite the collection. Chris informed us that having so many favourite guitars can make it difficult to decide which model will accompany him on the road – a decision made more difficult due to the lack of space in the van. 

“I've been messing around with a bunch of different guitars. I'm always kind of tweaking my guitars, switching pickups around and I'm always kind of chasing tone. I'm not really sure what I'm going to bring yet to the UK, but I'm kind of leaning [toward a] really nice Les Paul I got a few months ago, that I'm just kind of in love with right now. So I might be bringing that. 

Les Pauls are fantastic for country. Strats are fantastic for country, you know, of course, Telecasters.”

“It's a Murphy Lab, you know, supposed to be a ‘59, and it's kind of a little bit of a darker burst – it's not the real pink ones. It's kind of dark, and it's really light. It's seven, or a little over seven pounds. So it's just light as a feather, and that thing just, wow. It sounds incredible and plays amazing." 

Now, the Les Paul is hardly the quintessential country guitar, but Chris was quick to quash the notion that this famed singlecut can’t do country as well as the Tele. When asked how the Les Paul handled his country material, this is what he had to say. 

“Fantastic. I love it. Love it for country. I went to go see Hank [Williams] Jr. a few months ago, or maybe six months ago or something, when he played in LA and [he was] playing an SG a lot of the time and [had] real crunchy tones. It was kind of inspiring in terms of guitar choices, amps, overdrives and all that stuff.

“I was standing on the side of the stage, looking at all their gear and pedalboards. I could see Hank's pedalboard, and if I remember correctly, there was either a Klon or a KTR Klon or something like that. I was like, well, ‘All right!’ 

“Les Pauls are fantastic for country. Strats are fantastic for country, you know, of course, Telecasters.”

Naturally, Shiflett won’t purely be accompanied by his new flame-topped beauty on this upcoming tour. He noted that he’ll likely be taking a few Fender instruments on his travels as well. 

“I've been playing my Strats a lot in rehearsals. So I might bring a Strat, and then of course I’ve got to bring one of my Teles – probably bring the Paisley Tele. I might even, at some point – I don't think there's room in the van on this next trip – work one of my Gretsches into our set at some point, too.” 

There's a new version of the Fender Chris Shiflett Signature Telecaster Deluxe on its way! 

Chris Shiflett interview

(Image credit: Getty/Kevin Mazur)

You don’t get to sell out arenas, be inducted into the Rock ‘n’ Roll Hall of Fame, and sell millions of records without getting your very own signature guitar – and in Shiflett's case, it was a hugely popular Telecaster Deluxe. The guitar bearing his name has had two variations, and Chris has given us a teaser of what we can expect from the next iteration. 

“The other big gear thing that's kind of going on is I've got another version of my Fender signature model coming out. I don't know how familiar you are with my signature model, but the original one is a production model that has humbuckers in it. It was really geared towards rock and what I do in Foo Fighters. Then we did a super duper fancy master-built version that had P90s and it was really expensive. One was really affordable and one was really really expensive, so we've got one that's coming out kind of down the middle that's an American-made production version of the one with P90s.

“I just got some prototypes in different colours. We did a Foo Fighters gig last night out here in D.C. and it was the first time I got to play one of the prototypes through my actual touring rig, and sound check with it, tweak it, and really see what it does. 

“It sounds f**king amazing. It sounds really good. The master-built version had noiseless Lindy Fralin P90s in it. The production model has sort of a Fender version of that, I believe Tim Shaw designed them. And it sounds really good. Like, it's very close to the Fralins.”

Chris Shiflett interview

(Image credit: Future)

When pressed to see if fans could expect a more country-themed version of his signature model at some point in the future, Chris disclosed that he had considered it, but there were no plans just yet to make it a reality. However, he did seem to like our suggestion for one dressed up in Fender’s iconic paisley pattern – we guess we’ll just need to wait for that one.  

“I have talked loosely to the folks at Fender about someday doing a proper classic Telecaster with the single coils. There are no plans to exactly yet, but that is something on the bucket list that I'd like to do, you know, a real, just traditional classic setup.

“Yeah, someday. It's funny, I mean, it would be cool to do a paisley. The one I have that I play all the time isn't even a Fender; it's a parts guitar. 

“So in the tradition of parts guitars turning into signature models, I mean, it would be interesting to try to do that with a classic Tele because, I would love to try to figure that out. How do you make it classic and not f**k with it, but not just make the same thing that's already been done 8 million times? I guess that would be the challenge. 

“We'd solve that with a Floyd Rose and a Hot Rail! [laughing]” 

Since we were talking about signature guitars, we couldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask about his band leader's new signature Epiphone, whether he’s ever been approached by Epiphone or Gibson, and if so, what model we could likely see. 

“They broke the internet with that announcement [laughs]. No, I mean, I started working with Fender on my signature model around the Wasting Light era, I think. That was when at least the discussion started first happening." 

Chris Shiflett interview

(Image credit: Getty/Gary Miller)

“They were the first and only company that approached me about doing a signature model, so no, but in those years since then, Gibson is an entirely different company. Prior to that, I didn't really have any kind of relationship with the Gibson folks, so it just never came up.

Two of Chris’ most iconic guitars have to be the pair he used when he first joined the Foo Fighters’ ranks way back in 1999 – a white Gibson Les Paul Custom adorned with a loving tribute to his favourite guitarist Ace Frehley and an arctic white Gibson Explorer. It seems that Chris shares our thoughts that his now yellowed-out Custom would make a brilliant tribute model in the vein of the new Adam Jones signature series.

“I know, right? But would we stick the Ace Frehley sticker on it? If it was a signature model, I guess I'd have to. I'd have to share a royalty with Ace Frehley [laughs], but hey, that's fine!”

The Gibson Explorer makes a welcomed return to his Foo Fighters rig

Chris Shiflett interview

(Image credit: Getty/Kevin Mazur)

It’s been a while since his cherished Explorer has made an appearance at live shows, but for the latest Foo Fighters tour cycle, it has returned – along with a Korina reissue, no less. When asked what made him switch back to playing this legendary pointy Gibson, he explained that it may just be the most comfortable guitar to perform with on stage.

“Dave [Grohl] bought that and the white Les Paul [Custom] for me literally the second day I was in the band because I just didn't have enough guitars for the tour.

“Well, you know how it is with guitars. Sometimes, you've got your touring rig and something that you played a lot at one point, and you just kind of wind up switching it out, and you almost forget you ever had it. Then you find it in your studio years later, and you're like, ‘Oh my God, why have I not been playing this?’ And that white Explorer is one of those guitars. 

“Dave [Grohl] bought that and the white Les Paul [Custom] for me literally the second day I was in the band because I just didn't have enough guitars for the tour. So both those guitars mean a lot to me just in terms of sentimental reasons, but they also happen to be fantastic guitars. 

“The Explorer, it's a funny old guitar because you look at it and you think it's this kind of goofy heavy metal thing, but [it] might be the most perfectly balanced guitar for playing live out of any guitar.

“Those things just sit so comfortably [because of] the weight of the neck versus the weight of the body.”

Chris Shiflett interview

(Image credit: Getty/Harry Durran)

“So I started playing that white Explorer again and then also got one of those great new Korina Gibson reissues of the old ones, and that thing's a beast, too, man. That thing is amazing.

“We have an A rig and a B rig and they're kind of floating around the world. So I have one in the A rig and one in the B rig and I love them.”

Of course, frontman Dave Grohl is also partial to the Explorer, but in recent years, he’s favoured his Trini Lopez semi-hollow body and his DG-335 spin on it. When asked if Grohl is likely to bring his famed ‘90s black Explorer out of retirement, the guitarist wasn’t convinced. 

“He has one or two of them somewhere. So, yeah, who knows? That's funny because that's why I got the white one. When we went guitar shopping that day, I knew that he played that black one, and we walked into Voltage Guitar which used to be right up in Hollywood. I spot a white one. I picked it up and I go, ‘Hey, should I get this?’ I was joking. And he goes, ‘Yeah, get it.’ I was like, ‘Oh, for real?’ And so I just kind of got it on a lark, you know, because I knew that he played one. Yeah, so you never know. I'm sure he still has that one somewhere.”

We all have guitars that got away! 

Chris Shiflett interview

(Image credit: Future)

Now, every guitarist has a story about the guitar that got away. This writer’s biggest guitar regret just so happens to be selling my beloved Chris Shiflett signature Fender Telecaster a number of years ago – I actually sold it to a Foo Fighters tribute band!

So, with that bad decision weighing heavy on my mind, I had to take the opportunity to ask the man himself if he ever regretted parting with a certain guitar and if he still longs for the ones that got away.

It really wasn't a very good guitar, and it definitely did not work for what I was doing at the time, which was way more high gain and saturated.

“Oh, for sure. There were a couple. I came into a couple of really odd guitars. I remember I always wanted a Gretsch. It was before they had really gotten it together, you know, before all the TV Jones pickups were being put in them and everything, so I bought one, just on a whim at a Guitar Center – it was a Tennessee Rose. 

“It really wasn't a very good guitar, and it definitely did not work for what I was doing at the time, which was way more high gain and saturated. I traded it. Man, I got completely bamboozled out of that guitar. I traded it for a Japanese-made paisley Telecaster that I would love now, but I didn't love it then.

“It was like I traded one guitar that was just not really working well for another guitar that was not really working. I don't even remember what happened to that, so those ones just kind of passed through my fingers briefly." 

But Chris asserts that he was pining after the unobtainable guitars that shone like beacons of disappointment on the walls of his local guitar stores, not the guitars he briefly owned. 

“The real ones that feel like they got away were more guitars back in the day that you saw in a shop. Like, I remember in this shop in Santa Barbara, for years, they had one of those green Gretsch anniversary guitars. It was beautiful. I just dreamt about that guitar. And I think it was like, you know, 500 bucks or something. At the time, it's just like, ‘F**k, I'm never going to have the money’ and I never did, you know, so I never got it [laughs]. 

“So there's a couple of those guitars that I remember like, you know, man, if only I just kind of scratched together [the cash], I'd have whatever, some 1950s anniversary, beautiful vintage Gretsch!” 

Chris Shiflett interview

(Image credit: Future)

Okay, so we’ve covered the fact Shiflett is the guitarist of the biggest band in the world, a respected solo musician in his own right, but we can also add a successful podcaster and internet personality to the list. Chris hosts his hugely popular YouTube series Shred With Shifty, in which he chats to some of the most well-known guitarists of all time, while also getting a one-on-one guitar lesson. 

Previous guests have included the likes of Ace Frehley, Mike Campbell and Alex Lifeson. Talking about dream guests Shiflett declared that he still had a lot of players he’d like to get in the hot seat.

“Oh my God, so many! When I first came up with the idea and started working on it, I made a huge list and, you know, over the last couple of years, I just kept adding [to it]. 

“We reached out to so many guitar players that I grew up listening to. I mean, there are all the classics: Vivian Campbell, Warren DeMartini and we're going to try Brian May. 

"[I’d love to get] all those superstars, like Tony Iommi, Jimmy Page, Richie Blackmore, like that whole era. All of them. I'd love to interview them all, and I don't expect that we will necessarily." 

We enthusiastically suggested that Shiflett should look closer to home for guests and ask his bandmate, Pat Smear, former guitarist of LA punk legends The Germs and touring member of Nirvana. Chris shares our belief that Pat is criminally underrated as a guitar player and would make a great guest.  

“I love this. Well, he’s definitely on the list. I totally agree, and if anybody doubts that, go listen to those two solo records [he made] in the 80s. I bug him about this all the time, 'Why don't you put those up on Spotify?' You can find them both on YouTube, and they're wild records, man. His guitar playing is just unhinged and fantastic on them. I highly recommend them to anybody out there.” 

Chris Shiflett’s latest album Lost At Sea is out now on Snakefarm Records and you can catch Chris and his band on tour throughout the UK and Ireland this month on the following dates:

20 – Academy, Dublin

21 – The Limelight 2, Belfast

23 – Queen Margaret Union, Glasgow

24 – Academy 2, Manchester

25 – O2 Academy 2, Birmingham

27 – Electric Ballroom, London

More info at chrisshiflettmusic.com

Daryl Robertson
Senior Deals Writer

I'm a Senior Deals Writer at MusicRadar, and I'm responsible for writing and maintaining buyer's guides on the site - but that's not all I do. As part of my role, I also scour the internet for the best deals I can find on gear and get hands-on with the products for reviews. My gear reviews have also been published in prominent publications, including Total Guitar and Future Music magazines, as well as Guitar World.

I have a massive passion for anything that makes a sound, particularly guitars, pianos, and recording equipment. In a previous life, I worked in music retail, giving advice on all aspects of music creation and selling everything from digital pianos to electric guitars, entire PA systems, and ukuleles. I'm also a fully qualified sound engineer who holds a first-class Bachelor's degree in Creative Sound Production from the University of Abertay and I have plenty of experience working in various venues around Scotland.