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The Sunday Papers

The Vintage Amps of Dan Auerbach

By Andy Perrin | October 13, 2017

Riff City Sunday Papers Vol.1 No.10

This week we’re having a look at a cross-section of Auerbach’s gear arsenal, with a focus on his amps. To call them vintage is generous—in reality, they’re bordering more on antiques.

Auerbach’s rig is definitely eclectic. At first glance, it looks like the sort of stuff that populates pawn shops. On closer inspection, however, it’s clear that Auerbach’s gear choices are strategic, intentional, and strike the nearly impossible balance between old school and forward-thinking. On his pedalboard you’re likely to find modern stompboxes by EarthQuaker Devices and Electro-Harmonix; yet in his hands are the likes of an original pearly-white 1965 Supro Martinique guitar. Yet it’s what’s on the other end of the patch cord that is arguably the most inspiring and challenging component of Auerbach’s infamous set-up.

Simply put, his amps are just plain old. So old, in fact, that the power requirements of some of them don’t work with contemporary outlets or power supplies. To keep these amps on life support, Auerbach uses a Kikusui PCR1000M Power Supply, which enables some of his vintage amps to draw the preferred 117V of power, slightly less than the modern standard of 120V. Truth be told, the Kikusui unit looks more like a microwave than an item of guitar gear, but it’s this integral component that keeps some of Auerbach’s amps on stage and out of the museum.

Over the years, Auerbach’s amp arsenal has included a few essential loud-makers by Danelectro. While Danelctro has not been in the amp business for some time, in their early days amps embossed with the Danelectro imprint were an essential part of the catalogue.

One such amp in the service of the Black Keys is the 1956 Danelectro Challenger, a combo amp with a 15” speaker loaded in a cabinet made of compressed cardboard. While that form of construction has made these amps a rare breed indeed, their true claim to fame is being one of the earliest amps to include an onboard tremolo circuit, which started to crop up on guitar amps by Danelectro, Magnavox, Multivox, and Gibson in the mid-1940s. If one Danelectro amp weren’t enough, Auerbach’s rig has also included a 1958 Danelectro Commando, an accordion-style amplifier that butterflies open to present two open-back cabs with a total of eight speakers. I mean, who needs a wall of Marshall stacks when you can have an accordion of Danos?

While the Danelectro twins are a key part of Auerbach’s on stage and in studio sound, arguably what makes the guitar tones of Black Keys so chunky and bluesy is the collaborative tone of multiple amps. While his rig evolves and changes, Auerbach is known for blending as many as four distinctly different vintage amplifiers. Other common fixtures in the lineup include a staple Marshall JTM45 and a rarer Fender Quad Reverb (think a super-tall silverface 1968 Custom Deluxe Reverb).

While tending to a rig of this vintage and character is as much an act of artifact preservation as it is tonal creation, Auerbach’ amp arsenal is proof that some of the best new sounds come out of well-worn gear.

And remember, it’s weekend: take a break, turn it up, and have a great #RiffCitySunday.