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How to Capture John Hiatt’s Guitar Tone

The next in a series of step-by-step guides to home recording

Jim Dalrymple


I love John Hiatt. His bluesy, soulful guitar playing and songwriting on albums like Slow Turning will soothe your savage soul if you’re having one of those bad days.

The 56-year-old Hiatt has been around the music industry for 35 years and is still rocking.

Hiatt first came to the attention of record labels when one of the songs he wrote was covered by Three Dog Night. Since then he hasn’t looked back, writing many more classics that have been covered by music industry greats like Eric Clapton, Buddy Guy, Iggy Pop and others.

If you haven’t listened to Hiatt lately, fire up the 1988 classic Slow Turning album. Sit back and listen to “Is Anybody There?” Everything from the guitar playing to the singing is bang on what it should be. Not too much, nothing is over the top, you just feel the music.

Even faster numbers like “Paper Thin” and “Slow Turning” follow that same formula. And for good reason ― it works.

Hiatt is known for playing his Gibson J-45 acoustic guitars for his many acoustic songs, but he also plugs in and plays electric too. Hiatt’s electric tone is just like the rest of his music ― tasteful.

John uses Genz Benz amps, which was an interesting challenge for me to make the tone because Native Instruments doesn’t have a comparable model in its Guitar Rig 3 software. Don’t worry though, I found something that worked really well.

When I first started playing around with the tone, I used everything from a Jazz amp to the Vox AC30 model and nothing sounded just right. What I ended up using was the Hiwatt model and it gave me just what I was looking for.

While Hiatt’s tone is pretty clean there is a hint of some crunch in there too. That’s not something we can make up for using an effects pedal because it would add too much to the tone.

Here are the settings I used on the amp: Master 8; Normal 7; Brill 6; Bass 7; Middle 8; Treble 6; and Presence 4. On the cabinet I left the Mic position all the way on Mic A and the Dry/Air slider on 2. The cabinet volume is on -26.3db.

On its own that should be enough to give you the tone for Hiatt’s electric guitar music. I still wanted to add some color, so I added a chorus, but turned the settings way down, so there’s just a hint of it mixed in with the amp.

The chorus settings are Speed 2; Intensity 1.5; and Width 2.

There are a lot of songs that you can play with a tone like this. Enjoy playing John Hiatt, but use this tone to try out lots of other music too.

John Hiatt's Guitar Rig 3 tone

Download this preset here.

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