Artist Gear Feature: The Black Keys

FL: Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney

As any normal music fan, we sometimes aren’t satisfied with simply the songs when it comes to our favorite bands. Some of us want to know their back story, some of us want to know who they’re dating, and some of us even want to know their favorite food! While some fans are simply casual and other are downright fanatical, musicians are a different breed of fans, more like brothers in arms actually. Rather than wanting to know things that have little to do with music and more to do with the trivial personal matters in the artist’s life, musicians want the gear info! And why not? It’s a chance to look at the tools in their repertoire, compare it with themselves, or even just gain a deeper sense of what makes the band work. This week, we’ll be taking a look at a little duo from Akron, Ohio, known as The Black Keys. Consisting of long time friends Dan Auerbach on guitar/vocals and Patrick Carney on drums, The Black Keys have gained a healthy following through their brazenly addictive blues rock sound and heavy song licensing. Read on and take a look at their humble beginnings, rise to success and the gear that got them there!



The Birth of The Black Keys

The beginning of the band that would eventually become The Black Keys has its start in Akron, Ohio, with the friendship of Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney. The two first met at the young age of eight while living in the same neighborhood but did not become close friends until attending Firestone High School a few years later. Although the two were part of different crowds at school – Auerbach was the captain of the school soccer team and Carney by all accounts was a self professed social outcast -  the duo would regularly jam together as Carney owned a drum set and a four-track tape recorder while Auerbach was learning guitar.

After high school, the two attended the University of Akron but dropped out soon after. It was after that moment that Auerbach began pursuing a career in music while trying to make a living playing at local bars. He soon realized that if he ever wanted to play outside of town he would first need to record a demo. Carney agreed to help him out in his pursuit of demo by providing the recording equipment as well as his basement while Auerbach enlisted musicians for his backing band. Unfortunately, none of the musicians showed up on date of the recording date so Auerbach and Carney decided to just jam instead which eventually led to the formation of a band and a six song demo. The two sent the demo to about a dozen record labels before they received and accepted an offer from a small Los Angeles based indie label called Alive Records, as they were the only label that had agreed to sign the band before first seeing them live.


First Two Albums and Initial Success

The Black Keys performing at Coachella on April 15, 2011

Their first album, The Big Come Up, was recorded entirely in Carney’s basement using an 8-track recorder which gave the band an admittedly low-fi sound. The album was released on May of 2002 and consisted of eight original tracks and five covers which included songs from notable acts such as Muddy Waters, The Beatles, Junior Kimbrough and R.L. Brunside. Two singles from the album were released – covers of The Beatles’ “She Said, She Said” and the traditional blues standard “Leavin’ Trunk.” A week after the album’s release, the duo played their first show at Cleveland's Beachland Ballroom and Tavern to a crowd that Auerbach claims consisted of about four people. Although the album sold poorly, it garnered plenty of positive attention from both critics and the entertainment industry – such as HBO eventually deciding on their song “I’ll Be Your Man” for use as the theme song of the series Hung – landing The Black Keys a contract with Fat Possum Records.

Soon after signing with Fat Possum Records, the group released their second album, Thickfreakness, which was again recorded in Carney’s basement although this time they had used a higher quality recorder, a Tascam 388. The entire album was recorded in a single 14-hour session and released April of 2003, receiving mainly positive reviews and generated three singles: "Set You Free", "Hard Row", and a cover of Richard Berry's "Have Love, Will Travel". That same year, the duo received an offer of ₤200,000 (roughly $312,940) to license one of their songs for use in an English commercial for mayonnaise. On the suggestion of their manager, the group decided against it to avoid alienating their fan base by being perceived as sell-outs.

Although the band was regularly receiving positive reviews from critics, by early 2004, the group was struggling to sell records and gain airplay on the radio. To make matters worse, the group was making very little money, so little that they had to absorb a $3,000 loss from their European tour. This led to their decision to begin licensing their songs, the first being the track “Set You Free” which was used in a Nissan commercial. This was the beginning of one of the more successful aspects of the Black Keys’ career, an eventual 300+ song placement in video games, films, TV shows and TV commercials, giving their music a  much broader audience than touring and radio ever gave them as well as garnering the band for the first time a substantial amount of compensation.

To this date, they have released seven studio albums and have achieved both commercial and critical success, removing themselves from the constant comparison to another two piece color-coded blues rock band and making a name for themselves in their own right. Their latest release, El Camino, became the duo’s most successful album to date, peaking at No. 2 on the album charts while the group continues their lucrative song licensing gig and tours.



The Gear behind The Black Keys


Known Guitars used by Dan Auerbach:

Fender Jerry Donahue Telecaster

Gibson Firebird VII

Auerbach at Coachella on April 13, 2012

60's Gibson SG Junior

70's Gibson Les Paul Deluxe

Guild Thunderbird

Harmony H78 Hollowbody

Harmony Heath TG-46

Harmony Rocket

Harmony Stratotone H47

Ibanez Rocket Roll flying v copy

Ibanez SG copy

National Map

Rickenbacker 360

Silvertone 1454

Silvertone U1

Supro Martinique

Tiesco Del Rey SS-4L



Ampeg B12XT 2x12 combo amp

Fender Hot Rod Blues Jr

Fender '65 Twin Reverb Reissue

Fender Musicmaster Bass

Fender Quad Reverb

Fender Super Reverb

Hiwatt head

Marshall JTM45 and vintage Marshall 8x10 cab

Victoria Double Deluxe



[Auerbach has said that he has over 100 pedals in his collection. These are among the most notable.]

Analogman Sunface

Analogman TR-2

Arion analog delay

Boss RV reverb

Boss Supershifter

Boss TR-2 Tremolo Pedal

Boss TU-2

Demeter tremulator

EarthQuaker Devices Hoof Fuzz

Electro-Harmonix Deluxe Memory Man

Electro-Harmonix Russian Big Muff

Foxx Tone Machine Black

Fulltone SoulBender

Fulltone TTE Delay Effect Tube Tape Echo

Ibanez Standard Fuzz

Line 6 Tonecore Echo Park

Maestro MFZ Fuzz-tone

Rehoused Jordan Bosstone

Solasound Tonebender

Tubeplex tape delay


Drum Equipment used by Patrick Carney:

Paiste Cymbals:

14" Giant Beat Hi-Hat

18" Giant Beat Multi-Functional

22" 2002 Ride

18" 2002 Crash


Ludwig Drums



And don't forget to visit The Black Keys artist page for more gear here at PAL!

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