Complete Guide to Alice in Chains 'Nutshell'

Everything you need to know about the story behind the song, amp and pedal settings as well as used guitar techniques.

Ultimate Guitar
Complete Guide to Alice in Chains 'Nutshell'

Everything you need to know about the story behind the song, amp and pedal settings as well as used guitar techniques.

Well then, if you like AiC so much we'll give it to you. We considered 5 of their songs to make a guide about, but in the end, 'Nutshell' came out on top.

Enjoy, heavymetal68, this one's for you!

Alice in Chains "Nutshell"

Writers: Layne Staley, Jerry Cantrell, Mike Inez, Sean Kinney
Producers: Alice in Chains, Toby Wright
Album: Jar of Flies (EP) (UG Score 9.5)
Recorded: 1993
Released: January 25, 1994
Label: Columbia
Genre: Alternative rock, acoustic rock, grunge
Length: 4:19

Story behind the song

It is one of Alice in Chains' best-known songs. The song is well-known for its emotional acoustic instrumentation and electric guitar solo, as well as dark lyrics about loneliness, despair, and death. The lyrics are also considered to be an expression of Staley's frustration with a lack of privacy. It is considered to be an essential example of 1990s alternative rock despite not hitting a single U.S. Billboard chart or any charts around the world.

It's also likely that this song is about going through life's path: "We face the path of time," and believing things that aren't true at some point in our lives: "We chase misprinted lies." It is also said that at one point or another, you could wind up without any friends: "And yet I fight, and yet I fight this battle all alone. No one to cry to, no place to call home." You will have to do some things in life without any guidance.

"Nutshell" took on a new meaning after the singer Layne Staley died tragically in 2002. When you listen to this song today, it's difficult not to think about his death, and lines like "I'd feel better dead" are positively chilling. This ballad was never a single and it sounds unlike their popular works from this period, but it touched a nerve with fans and remains one of their most famous tunes. Alice in Chains play it at most every show, and it's a great tribute to the spirit and resolve of Staley. This song became a kind of anthem for people fighting drugs addiction.

Music Videos

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Lyrics video version.

Live version

"Nutshell" is also known for having opened the band's performance on "MTV Unplugged" in 1996. This rendition of the song was included on the compilation album "Music Bank" (1999) (UG Score 9.6), as well as "The Essential Alice in Chains" (2006).

Also, this MTV show marked Alice in Chains' first appearance as a five-piece band, adding second guitarist Scott Olson.

Mike Inez wrote in marker "Friends don't let friends get friends haircuts" on his acoustic bass. This was a stab at Metallica for selling out and cutting their hair.

Notable covers

The song has been covered by numerous bands and musicians.

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Staind's cover, which was included on their greatest hits album.

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Shinedown and Seether perform "Nutshell" in the 97 X Green Room, March 5, 2006.

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Viktoriya Yermolyeva playing "Nutshell" at Democamp in Poznan, October 23, 2010.

Gear and settings


Jerry Cantrell

Jerry Cantrell played both guitar parts for the original record but after bands' reunion, he plays the lead guitar part, while William DuVall plays rhythm guitar part.

Guild JF55

To record his acoustic parts on "Jar of Flies," Cantrell borrowed a Guild acoustic from Mike Inez.

This guitar can be seen during "MTV Unplugged" session.

G&L Rampage

G&L Rampage is equipped with a Duncan SH-4. This guitar is used for the lead part as well as other Jerry Cantrell's guitars.

Mike Inez

Warwick Streamer Stage I 4- strings Bass Guitar

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Mike Inez speaks about his gear in the trailer of "Behind the Player: Mike Inez."

Alvarez Electric-Acoustic Bass Guitar

He plays Alvarez Electric-Acoustic bass during the "MTV Unplugged" show in 1996, but it's hard to define the exact model.

Amps and effects

Jerry Cantrell

According to Jerry Cantrell, Alice in Chains used a lot of equipment for different songs, and he can't precisely recall the equipment he used for the recording, but most likely he used the following gear.

Bogner Fish Preamp

Fender Twin Reverb (UG Score 9)

As of cabinets, Jerry sticks almost exclusively to the Marshall 1960B 4×12 cabs fitted with Celestion 25 W "Greenbacks."

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Alice in Chains' Jerry Cantrell rig rundown.

Mike Inez

Mike Inez uses bi-amped Ampeg rig: Two SVT-2 PRO heads (UG Score 6.7) into four 1x18 cabinets for the lows ("They're 8" deeper than the 1x18 cabs Ampeg used to make"); Two SVT II PRO heads into two SVT-810E cabinets laid on their sides atop the 18s for the highs.

Amp settings

Note, that this song has 2 popular versions: original and unplugged. For the unplugged version, only the acoustic instruments are used.

For the original version, an overdriven electric guitar is used for solos.

Assuming all tone knobs are 0-10, amp setting should be:

  • Gain 6
  • Bass 5
  • Mids 5
  • Treble 6
  • Reverb 3


These are the top tabs rated by the UG community:

Chord version: Nutshell chords
Tab version: Nutshell Tab, Nutshell Bass Tab
Interactive versions: Chords Pro, Guitar Pro, Tab Pro


Guitar: half-step down tuning (Eb Ab Db Gb Bb Eb)

Bass guitar: half-step down tuning (Eb Ab Db Gb)

Song key

E minor, or Ebm, assuming that guitar is tuned down a half-step.


In fact, this song shows, that for creating an awesome song you are not obliged to use a lot of complicated techniques. The song is played mostly with open chords on an acoustic guitar.

Song breakdown

Intro: 0:00 - 0:59

Intro presents the main chord progression, which is used throughout the whole song. The trickiest part of this progression is timing and the usage of hammer-ons and pull-offs on the Cadd9 chord.

Verse 1: 0:59 - 1:41

The first verse continues the main chord progression.

Break: 1:41 - 2:02

Break introduces the short version of Jerry Cantrell's overdriven solo, which is played with bends and releases, and vibrato. These breaks also contain a vocalised line.

The following verse and break part repeat the previous ones.

Verse 2: 2:02 - 2:44

Break: 2:44 - 3:05

Solo: 3:05 - 3:57

Here Jerry Cantrell performs an extended version of a solo, which is based on the techniques used in the short version with an addition of slides.

Fading: 3:57 - 4:19

Fading continues the main riff.

Recommended lessons

Chords and a short solo (Unplugged)

Probably the trickiest part of mastering this song is the chord progression timing. This video lesson stresses on a point how to feel the rhythm instead of counting it. The chords are very simple.

Also, in this video, you can see Jerry Cantrell's first guitar solo. Remember, this lesson describes the Unplugged version of the song so the solos are played on acoustic guitar.

This solo is very melodic and has numerous arpeggios and single-note melodies. It sounds great over the underlying chord progression.

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The main solo (Unplugged)

This solo is very similar to the short solo, but a lot longer, which gives Cantrell more time to spread his wings and play several excellent soloing lines.

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Bass lesson with tabs

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25 comments sorted by best / new / date

    How about doing a guide to Comfortably Numb? Also, I've always been a huge Fear Factory fan. Not sure if would anyone else would care, but a Zero Signal guide would be awesome. Dino's tone on Demanufacture is really good.
    This is the first song I learned note for note several year ago. It's a wonderful tune to play, especially for beginners.
    Me too and I couldn't think of a song that would have been better. AIC is my favorite and it's sad that because him and Kurt share a death date (yes by many years but still) we see Time magazine and everyone else put it Cobain editions but rarely a Layne edition.
    These complete guides are great! I'm probably gonna get down voted but this & similar new ideas is what you guys should be doing instead of reposting Blabbermouth news
    I have a doubt though, what is the criteria you guys have for choosing the songs you will include in this "Complete Guide" series? Or is it mostly arbitrary?
    The songs seem to be chosen from the comments section of each "How to.." If you want a song to be chosen, just suggest it and get enough likes.
    I love Nutshell, but quite frankly, I would've rather seen Rotten Apple or I Stay Away from Jar of Flies. Just more grandiose IMO.
    I'm glad to see lessons from Carl Brown in this rubric. His videos are concise and easy to follow.
    So this gave me an ideas for a joke... What is another name for a jock guard? A nutshell! Yeah sorry that was pretty bad...
    If you can do Vermillion pt2 by Slipknot on the next one,it would mean the world to me
    Shit hair metal band like Warrant, then "Oh this GRUNGE thing is pretty popular- let's do that!" Yup lyrical genius Layne Staley: "I Ain't No Queer, Go Fuck A Steer"
    Call me picky but, why the picture of the band with Mike Starr still in? One job.....