Rig tour: Foo Fighters' Chris Shiflett - "There’s something about P-90s"
You may know him as the rock-solid guitarist in Foo Fighters, but what you may not know about Chris Shiflett is that when he’s not packing out arenas for his day job, he’s also a songwriter in his own right.
Chris’ love of country and alt-Americana has led him to what is technically his fourth ‘solo’ album (two as Chris Shiflett and the Dead Peasants, two under just his own name) where he takes the role of frontman, while displaying some slyly hidden guitar chops to boot. With his latest, Hard Lessons, Chris has reached more towards the rock end of the tonal spectrum, using JCM 800s in the studio, but for these gigs - Chris’ first proper solo jaunt to the UK - he’s covering the sonic gamut of his discography.
We caught up with Chris mid-tour expecting a Foo Fighter to have a wardrobe full of guitars and more pedals than the Tour de France. What we found was a utilitarian, but meticulously selected rig.
Fender Chris Shiflett Custom Shop Masterbuilt Telecaster
“When we made the production model of my Fender signature model, I really wanted to keep the price as low as we could get away with. I wanted it to be something where if you’re 15 years old just starting out playing guitar it’d be something you could actually afford to get your hands on. That was the intent. But for a while I’ve been thinking, ‘God, it’d be cool to make a really high-end version with all the bells and whistles’.
“So we did, the Masterbuilt being the best of the best. It’s got the block inlay on the fretboard. The block inlays are a stylistic thing - I just think it’s such a great look. and those noiseless P-90s. It’s relic’d and everything, I didn’t even ask Fender what they’re going to charge! It’s a limited run, and clearly not intended for mass-consumption. It’s for a handful of people who that appeals to. Just a cool little thing.
“I went to Fender and was like, ‘What are some details that we can do to make this really special?’. So I hand- signed the headstocks for all of them. Just like my standard signature model it’s based off that classic ’72 Tele Deluxe, but instead of the Wide Range pickups we put humbuckers in the signature. I’ve always been a humbucker player, especially for loud rock stuff. But then I had an old guitar, a ’68 Non-reverse Firebird that I bought when we were making Wasting Light. I played it for a little while, then it went in the closet for a few years.
"I put those noiseless P-90s in, and I just fell in love with that guitar all over again. I played it a lot again when I made West Coast Town, and then again on Concrete And Gold. When we were getting ready to tour I was like, ‘I need something I can take on tour with those pickups in’. That’s probably the biggest change. There’s something about P-90s; they have that honkyness to them. Even when they’re really hot, you still hear all the details, you still hear all of the notes.
“I talked to [Fender Master Builder] Greg Fessler about the relic’ing, and I said, ‘Just do something light, nothing too over the top’. I didn’t make it out there to check out that process. The one that I have [with me] is the prototype, and I figured we might have to do a couple to get it right where we wanted it to be, but they sentmethatoneandIwaslike, ‘Man, I don’t have anything to add to this - this is perfect. Better than I pictured it, so let’s do this!’
“I mostly use gain off my amp, and some pedals that augment that a little bit. I use the volume knob on the guitar a lot between the verse and chorus. I’m constantly fucking with my volume knob to adjust it.”
Gibson 1971 Les Paul Deluxe
“This was actually a Goldtop. It was a ’71 Goldtop that I bought a long time ago. The headstock was broken when I bought it, and I broke it another 10 times. I kept repairing it and breaking it and finally it broke so bad that I had to get a whole new neck. When I got it, it had been so bastardised. Someone had routed out the pickups and put in all these extra toggle switches, it was really fucked with and you could see all the shit that had been done to it.
“When I put the new neck on it I got it painted, and I kind of regret it now. But what I wanted it to be was like a Silverburst, but with blue instead of silver, which is what it is. But they didn’t really get the burst very well. It’s sort of blue, and then it’s black! There isn’t a lot of overlap. But every time I play it people go, ‘What the fuck is that?!’.
“I don’t play it much for these songs, but there’s one song on the new record where I play a slide guitar solo. I’m a fucking terrible slide guitar player! But the action on this guitar is set really high, so I use it for that. I tried so hard for about two weeks when we went out with Blackberry Smoke to get that slide solo down, but I’m just not a slide player. It’s just not in me right now! So I gave up but I like the way this guitar sounds, so now I just do the slide solo without a slide! I use the slide for some crazy noises instead.”
Vox AC15 Handwired
“That AC15 grits up like a motherfucker! That is a great rock amp for sure. For most of the guitar on my new record I used a Marshall JCM 800, so it’s got more of that crunchy guitar sound. But I’m playing lots of songs from my last record that has maybe a bit more single-coil through a Deluxe kind of tone, so we’re just crunching them up. I have this exact amp at home and I play it all the time, and in Foo Fighters I use the Handwired AC30 head that I play through two 4x12s. I have the Friedman and the AC30 that I go between. Brian [Whelan, guitar] is playing through a Fender Deluxe - a ’65 reissue, I think. He’s playing one of my signature models with the humbuckers in, so the tones are pretty different.”
“When I grew up, I never had pedals. I never played with pedals until I joined Foo Fighters; that was the first time I owned pedals in my life! I didn’t even have a tuner - when I was in No Use For A Name - I don’t even remember how I tuned! I think I just stuck one of those goofball tuners on my amp and pulled the cord out!
“If you saw my Foo Fighters rig, it’s a fucking spaceship! I love it. But for this I bring a very abbreviated version of it, as small as I can get away with and still have everything I need. Of course, the first thing that I plug into is a Boss tuner. That’s just sort of the gold standard of tuners. I have a Pedal Power on there too to keep it together.”
Menatone Red Snapper
“I have a Red Snapper on here for this tour, I love this pedal. I don’t normally have one on my ‘board, but because on this run of shows we’re using different backline all over the place. For the UK run I’m using an AC15 that Vox hooked me up with. But I keep this on here because you never really know what you’re getting with the grab-bag that is rental gear. So I threw that on there because I love that overdrive, and if needs be I can just get a good clean tone on the amp and use the Red Snapper to gain it up a little bit. I just leave that on the whole show. My amp died last night during soundcheck, and I had a backup Deluxe Reverb, so that’s exactly what I did last night.
“I just love the tone of this thing, it can get real gritted up, but I don’t ride the gain that high. It’s at about midnight. Then I just adjust the volume so that it’s pretty much the same volume as the amp volume. I like to have it about the same. If I’m using that, I’m not using it as a boost, it’s for the grit, just a little extra hair on the tone. It’ll gain the fuck out of your tone if you want it to! Then I use the cut and the bite... if you’ve got a dull, shitty sounding amp then you can adjust accordingly!”
Xotic EP Booster
“If there’s one pedal I cannot live without, it’s the EP Boost. I think that’s everybody’s go-to boost pedal. I don’t always have it on, mostly for leads. I’ll just kick it in here and there where I need it, if I need a little extra. I also have it set somewhere around 12 o’clock.”
Electro-Harmonix Micro POG
“God, I love this pedal so much! I only use it - I think - on one song right now, but I always have this on any ‘board I have. They’re a total power soak; they fucking kill your ‘board half the time if you don’t have good power, they’re a total mess! But it’s worth it because they’re so great, it’s the Micro POG! I know they make the big fancier version with a lot more shit all over it, but I could never figure that out. This one has the dry, the sub-octave and the octave-up. I have them all pretty even, I just dial it in a little bit. I don’t want too much of anything in particular. We have a song called Blow Out The Candles that has an intro and outro part that’s real chime-y; I can’t remember if I used a 12-string on the record or not, but I just use this with a flanger so I’ve got something on there to fuck it up a little.”
“This next one is actually my favourite pedal right now. I just got this thing, because I love a half-cocked wah, it’s one of my favourite tones. I never use a wah to go ‘wacka-chacka’ I only ever turn it on and leave it in the middle. So, instead of having a wah pedal: this is what this does.
“You’ve got the on/off, and you can set it on different styles of wah. You’ve got Wacked, Jimi or Shaft! I always leave it on Wacked. Then there’s this pickup compensator which I think is like a gain. I’m using this not just for the tone, but also as a lead boost; it sounds fucking awesome. So I keep the volume between 1 and 2 o’clock, then the frequency right in the middle. This pedal is the shit!”
MXR Phase 95
“I have this mini-Phase 95 because I can’t live without a phaser! I love them and the MXR is the go-to one. But the only reason I have this instead of a Phase 90 is because I ran out of room on the ‘board. I don’t have a great story attached to it! But this thing is actually really good because you can see, there’s a button there for switching between Phase 45 or Phase 90. Then there’s also a button to make it the Script-logo version of either of those things. Then you’ve got the speed knob. I keep mine at 9 o’clock pretty much all the time except for on a song called Welcome To Your First Heartache where I crank it up. I just like to have a slow, Leslie flavour to it.”
“Then another pedal that I can’t live without: the MXR Flanger. I’ve had one of these pedals on my ‘boards for years, but recently I just saw somewhere - maybe it was on social media - somebody posted Eddie Van Halen’s flanger settings, and that’s it right there. I just set it to that and I was like, ‘Oh, that is better! [laughs] Yeah, that’s much better than where I had it!’ I use that on a couple of things; in Foo Fighters I use the flanger constantly. I love them - flanger and phaser are probably my most go-to effects. They’re just classic rock-sounding to me.”
“The delay. The Strymon Timeline is just fantastic. You could do so much more with this pedal than what I do with it. I love a programmable delay, and this thing has a gazillion potential settings and different things to it. I pretty much - I’m sad to say - only use it on the tape delay setting. I have a light 400ms, a heavy 400ms and a slapback. And that’s it. One of the 400ms settings is a couple of repeats, and the other is a lot of repeats. But it’s fun, we have a song where I kind of ape an Echoplex kind of feeding back thing. I just crank up the mix, and the repeats 100 per cent and then use the time to fuck with the pitch for a little bit. But for most of the set I have it on the slap, and that makes sense in this band. For something that does this much shit it’s a good size for a small ‘board. I have two of these things on my Foo Fighters ‘board because I’m going into two amp heads. It’s funny, I was at home recently and I set one of these up in my studio. I was watching people on YouTube explaining how to do crazy shit with your delay pedals. It’s really something I need to explore more... one of these days!”
Chris Shiflett’s Hard Lessons is out now on East Beach Records & Tapes/Thirty Tigers