Jack White is perhaps the least likely guitar hero of the past twenty years. His status as a killer songwriter and singular artist was never in question, but it always seems to come second to the praise he gets for his six string work, even though White is famously averse to flash: he dislikes excessive effects and expensive guitars, often sticking to junky plastic Airline models and cheap DigiTech Whammy pedals to sculpt the gigantic tones of songs like ‘Blue Orchid’ and ‘Seven Nation Army’.
Inspired mostly by the bare-bones blues of Son House and the ragged energy of hometown heroes The Stooges, White’s guitar playing is rooted in simplicity. During his tenure with The White Stripes, the lack of additional instrumentation meant that his playing could rarely venture off into meandering solos or indulgent experimentation. He needed chords, fuzz, and volume to fill in the spaces, aided by his penchant for raw production that took the sound he produced at face value instead of punching it up with multiple overdubs.
The most impressive guitar parts from White’s career are well documented: the legendary riff of ‘Seven Nation Army’, the distorted screech of ‘Hello Operator’, the fantastic blues runs of ‘Screwdriver’, the sultry strut of ‘Lazaretto’ and the ear-piercing assault of ‘Sixteen Saltines’. But if you want to truly appreciate what makes Jack White such a great guitar player, check out the isolated guitar work from ‘The Hardest Button To Button’.
Built around a simple chord progression and some well-picked arpeggios, ‘The Hardest Button to Button’ is Jack White working in his ideal space as a rhythm guitarist, providing both the foundation and direction for Meg White’s feverish thump. The track’s guitar part is the ultimate summation of the unique nature that White provided to music in the early 2000s: the takes were live, they contained occasional mistakes, and prioritised forward momentum over indulgence.
White has much more conspicuous guitar work than what he does on ‘The Hardest Button To Button’, but the stripped-back nature of his playing on this track is probably the kind of work he’s more proud of. It’s easy to play, unpretentious, driving, and works exactly for what the song needs. Imagine how distracting a guitar fill would be in between the stop-start rhythms. What White demonstrates on ‘The Hardest Button To Button’ is the most essential tool for any guitar player to wield: restraint.