John Frusciante breaks down Dani California step by step

By: GroundGuitar Dan
Posted under: In the Studio

Dani California is one of the first singles released from the Red Hot Chili Peppers’ 2006 album Stadium Arcadium – which ended up being the last one to feature John Frusciante on the guitar. The album produced a great number of hits, such as the very melodic and catchy Snow (Hey Oh!), Tell Me Baby, and the slow-paced balled Desecration Smile.

To remind you, John Frusciante first joined the Red Hot Chili Peppers back in 1988, following the death of the band’s original guitarist – Hillel Slovak. During his first tenure with the band, he contributed his guitar playing to two albums – Mother’s Milk, and immensely popular Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

Highly recommended watch. Funky Monks documentary follows the band as they work on the Blood Sugar Sex Magik album.

Frusciante’s second tenure with the band began in 1998, following his successful rehabilitation from severe drug abuse that almost dragged him all the way to the bottom (a short documentary produced by Johnny Depp shows a glimpse of Frusciante’s life during this period). During his absence from the band, Peppers produced a single album with the Jane Addiction guitarist Dave Navarro called One Hot Minute, which sold fewer than half as many copies as Blood Sugar Sex Magik.

Right after John re-joined the band, Peppers started working on Californication (album released in 1999), which ended up being the band’s most commercially successful studio release internationally, with over 15 million copies sold. Shortly after came By The Way – again a huge success further proving that even in the 2000s when most people considered guitar to be a thing of the past, for many kids watching John was still as exciting as it was watching someone like Jimi Hendrix first introduce the instrument to the public.

Produced by the band’s longtime associate, Rick Rubin, in 2006 came out Stadium Arcadium. One of the songs that many considered to be special, in the same way Californication was back in 1999, was Dani California. The song was built around very familiar timings and chord progressions – for instance, even the band themselves admitted in an interview that the very beginning of the song and the verses sound similar to Lynard Skynard’s Sweet Home Alabama.

What John introduced to this old-fashioned shell was his very clever use of effects and layering multiple guitar tracks over each other in order to produce a much more spacious sound. He intelligently builds up excitement from the very beginning on the song – which starts with just a couple of simple chords, progresses into breaking down chords into triads with some Hendrix influenced hammer-ons, and evolves fully just before the chorus as John steps onto his Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion.

Below is a two-part interview featuring John explaining every single part of the song, including effects, amps, and techniques he used to produce some of the sounds.

Just to clarify for those of you who are not particularly knowledgeable of some of the gear he mentioned in the interview, here a list featuring the equipment John Frusciante used on Dani California (be sure to also check out the full list of John’s equipment on our Gear Page).

1955 Fender Stratocaster

This is the guitar that John is holding and playing during the interview. He notes that he used mainly the bass pickup during the recording – which is the pickup closest to the neck of the guitar. It is rumored that this particular Stratocaster features a stack of Seymour Duncan SSL-1 pickups instead of the original ones.

Marshall Major Bass 200W Model 1978

This is the amp used on the song. Also, this is one of John’s main stage amps used ever since the recording of Californication album in 1999.

Shure SM57

Microphone used to record the amp. Generally regarded as one of the most reliable mics in the industry, and a large majority of professionals use this exact model to record instruments (vocals are a completely different topic).

Envelope and Low-Pass Filter

This is the piece of studio equipment that generates the “wobbly” sound during the second part of the verse, and also during the first solo. In a live setting, John used to have a Moog MF101 Moogerfooger among several other pedals on his pedalboard, with the intent to produce the same sound heard on the studio recording of the song.

Mellotron

An old-fashioned polyphonic tape replay keyboard used on several parts of the song. In particular, it can be heard just before the chorus starts, and during the bridge part after the second chorus.

Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion

Used during the chorus of the song. This was John’s main distortion pedal for the most part of his tenure with the band. Also regarded as one of the most versatile pedals on the market, and perhaps one of the most widely used distortion pedals in general.

Ibanez WH-10 Wah-wah

Used on the final solo – in particular at the very fast-sounding ending of the solo (John talks about this at the end of Part 2 of the interview). The exact model of the pedal used is not mentioned, but based on John’s past use, it is highly likely that he used the Ibanez WH-10. If you’re in the market for one, you’re unfortunately out of luck as the version that John used is no longer being produced. We’ve heard some good stuff about the Ibanez WH10V2 Reissue version though.

That should be it as far as the gear mentioned by John – or at least it should be enough for someone who doesn’t work with studio equipment on a regular basis. Some of the stuff John talks about regarding the studio equipment is relatively complicated, and even trying to explain some of it would be a mistake on our part.

As a final note – it is very interesting to see how someone like John Frusciante thinks and how his mind works out these ideas about harmonies and using stuff like Mellotron in order to build up the excitement in the mind of the listener. Dani California might sound simple to an average listener, but hearing what it actually took in order to produce it and make it what it is, surely is a paradigm shift.

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Nelly kirk

Brilliant description! John truly is the closest as my generation will ever get to Hendrix. Massively inspirational, his whole story from where he has been to where he is going.
I have a fender strat, Marshall amp and can knock out a few tunes but where he is, well… he is light years ahead 🙂

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