Gear Rundown: Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik

The Making of one of the Rawest, Funkiest Albums of the '90s

27 years ago, two of the finest alternative albums of the '90s were released on the same day - Nirvana's era-defining grunge opus Nevermind, and the funky, raw genius of the Red Hot Chili Peppers' Blood Sugar Sex Magik. Recorded with super producer Rick Rubin in the now-famous surrounds of The Mansion, Blood Sugar Sex Magik saw the Peppers at their absolute peak, fusing the hardcore energy of their funk-punk roots with the soulful energy of a young John Frusciante, who infamously left the band while touring the record and spiraled into a six year stint of heroin addiction. In celebration of one of the most influential records of the era, we revisit the record to dig deep into the gear favoured by Frusciante, Flea and Smith to record the Chili Peppers classic.

GUITARS

1959 FENDER STRATOCASTER

It's no big secret that John Frusciante is a Strat man, and no album exemplifies that like Blood Sugar Sex Magik, with the raw, gritty sound of a Strat reaching breakup point being at the sonic core of the album. Around this era, Frusciante tended to favour a beat up late '50s model with a rosewood fretboard, which features on almost all of the main guitar tracks on the record. 

 

1962 FENDER JAGUAR

Although this guitar is best known as Frusciante's instrument of choice for the iconic opening scene (and recorded intro) of the Chili's video for 'Under The Bridge,' this 1962 Jaguar does make an appearance at various points on the album - namely for overdubs when chasing a specifically gritty tone by recording directly into the mixing desk, as well as for their album closing Robert Johnson cover 'They're Red Hot.' Nowadays, you can find this guitar stored in the prestigious glass surrounds of Hollywood's Hard Rock Cafe, enshrining the significance of the instrument within the story of alternative rock.

 

FRETLESS FENDER STRATOCASTER

Around the recording of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Frusciante was renowned for his eccentricity, but the fact that he still chose to voluntarily get the frets removed from one of his vintage Fender Stratocasters still manages to bamboozle me. Speaking to Guitar Player Magazine in 1991, Frusciante explained how his fretless Strat, heard on the mind bending solos in 'Mellowship Slinky in B Major' and 'Suck My Kiss' came about. "Well, the frets on this guitar were completely shot, so I took it to Nadine’s [an L.A. music store]. Actually, I took it in for something else, but the guy says, 'Man you gotta get new frets', and he put on these huge frets, jumbos. Which were like shit. So wimpy. When I play, I press down hard on the strings. And when I did that with the jumbos, it didn’t even sound in tune. So I just told him to make it fretless."

 

GIBSON LAP STEEL

You know that really jarring, gross slide sound that opens 'The Righteous and the Wicked?' That's a vintage Gibson lap-steel, which Frusciante apparently played with a jam jar to achieve maxmium filth. There's also reports stating that this track was one of the few that John played a Les Paul on, which would make sense given the heavy, shredding tones of the guitar solo.

 

MARTIN D-28 ACOUSTIC

This deluxe Martin D-28 was used across Blood Sugar Sex Magik's more tender moments like 'I Could Have Lied', as well as featuring heavily on Frusciante's first solo album Niandra Lades and Usually Just a T-Shirt, which was recorded solely by Frusciante throughout the same sessions. Frusciante is reported to have recorded the entirety of 'I Could Have Lied' without a G string on the guitar - whether he was going for a specific sound or if he was just really lazy is still unknown. 

 

MATON 12 STRING ACOUSTIC

Although there's no solid evidence of this, Frusciante has claimed that he played a vintage 12 string Maton while recording 'Breaking The Girl'.

 

BASS GUITARS

WAL MACH II

While he was best known around this era for performing with an assortment of Music Man Stingray basses live, Flea's distinctive, punchy mid-range tone on Blood Sugar Sex Magik actually comes courtesy of a Wal Mach II, which he favoured for almost every track on the record. Despite its heavy use on record, Flea never ended up taking out the Wal Mach II on tour.

 

ERNIE BALL MUSIC MAN STINGRAY 5

For the stomping, stank groove of 'Funky Monks' and the low end thump of 'The Righteous and the Wicked', Flea used a 5 string Music Man Stingray, which also makes an appearance in the band's 'Under The Bridge' video.

 

AMPLIFIERS

In an interview with Guitar Player around the release of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Frusciante detailled the assortment of methods used to record his guitars on the album, noting the prominence of a cheap Fender HOT practice amp and DI as the sonic foundation for much of the record. "For most of the basics, I used two Marshalls: a guitar head for edge and a bass head for punch and low end. I split the signal with a DOD stereo chorus pedal. For some overdubs I used a Fender H.O.T. practice amp, but for a lot of parts, even solos, I just went straight into the board. You can get amazing, funky tones that way. In fact, a lot of my distortion is from overdriving the board."

 

For the recording of Blood Sugar Sex Magik, Flea utilised the sheer power of his massive live rig, combining Gallien-Kruger Heads with Mesa-Boogie cabinets for a huge, booming sound.

 

EFFECTS

Compared to much of the Chili Peppers later work, Blood Sugar Sex Magik is quite barren of effects - relying instead on the raw musical chemistry of the instrumentalists to add colour to the mix. 

Around this era, Frusciante favoured only a handful of pedals, using a Boss DS-2 Turbo Distortion, an Ibanez WH-10 wah-wah (which he played in the bass mode for 'Naked In The Rain') and a Boss CE-1 Chorus Ensemble, which was primarily used to split the signal between amps - as well as making a prominent appearance on the cult classic B-Side 'Soul To Squeeze'.

WIth the exception of an old EHX Q-Tron Envelope Filter on 'Sir Psycho Sexy', Flea's bass tracks are totally void of any effects treatment - the absolute madman.

 

DRUMS

There's no doubt that Chad Smith is the most underrated element of the Red Hot Chili Peppers, and no album proves this like Blood Sugar Sex Magik - his presence on the album is like as if John Bonham guested on a James Brown record. Throughout the documentary Funky Monks, Smith can be seen playing what appears to be a Gretsch kit with a 4" Tama Bell Brass Snare, and relied upon an assortment of Paiste and Zildjian cymbals.

 

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