By Strings Direct – 29 August, 2023
"The electric guitar is an instrument with a future – not just a past!”
Tom Morello forkerrang.com
Exactly halfway through the year and we turn the focus to a player who simply doesn’t acknowledge the meaning of half measures. ⚡️ In this edition of the player spotlight we are genuinely excited to investigate and cross examine this mind-blowing guitar player and icon.
To be defined as a guitar icon or guitar hero you simply have to possess something that truly stands out as unique no matter what you play. This player ticks all of the above boxes and more, a truly exciting and innovative musician that you can't help but be fascinated by. 🎸
His approach to the instrument is so unique and futuristic that he has almost single-handedly created a new and modern style himself for experimentation.
Let's take a journey and get into the head of the intriguing activist and political “master of noise” musician the one-of-a-kind Tom Morello.
Late 6-String Bloomer 🎸 🎧
One of the most intriguing aspects of researching and looking into various guitar players is discovering their background and what prompted them into music, the other key detail that is always fascinating is when they began playing the instrument or being incorporated or surrounded by a musical lifestyle.
Born on the 30th May 1960 in Harlem, New York City Tom Morello kept his mother's maiden name after his father left when he was 16-months-old.
Many artists we have covered generally had a similar experience in their early years with music, influence and encouragement came from the family setting, in some form a generational hand-me-down. From his perspective Tom is unique, he discovered music for himself by himself.
“I was an only child with a single mother and she was not a big music listener. But I listened to the music she had around, like records from The Temptations and that band War. My great uncle Carlo Morello was a violin player in the Chicago Symphony Orchestra for 40 years, so there was some classical music around too. But it wasn’t a big part of the tapestry of my young life. I found music on my own. As a comic book collector, when I first saw the KISS record Destroyer, they were my favourite band before I’d even listened to a note of their music. If I saw KISS on the cover of a magazine, I’d buy that magazine, then read about the other acts in there. Led Zeppelin. Rush. Black Sabbath. AC/DC. I had no older siblings handing me records. In the friend group, it was me discovering music.”
T.Morello - Kerrang Interview
As a young artistic expressionist Morello develop his signature style early-on through experimentation and her desire to be individual, from his perspective being the best was not a competition but being unique was an ambition.
In all respects a late developer, Tom didn’t pick up the guitar until he was 17 - he came to the realisation that the only artist that ever became successful this late learning the instrument was Robert Johnson. As a myth and legend Robert Johnson suspected he sold his soul to the devil for his talents.
Not quite something that Tom Morello was quite down with considering his Catholic background 😉, so the route of determination and dedication was the only option.
“The guitar really matters to me. It’s such an important instrument on the face of the planet but to me personally. While guitar music may not be choking the top of the charts as it once did, it is no less great or important than it’s ever been.”
“I practised playing guitar eight hours a day, every day and amassed a pretty solid technique on the instrument. But I sounded like every other guitar player that could play shredding solos. I thought: If there are three shred guitarists on this shitty college campus stage, there doesn’t need to be a fourth.”
“My guitar playing is solely a product of my determination to explore, rather than any sort of great mastery of technique. A lot of noises I make on the guitar you can make very easily. You just have to think.”
Tom Morello via - guitar.com
“What were you practicing, were you doing scales, were you learning other songs?
“At the time it was, you know, all guitarists, when you first pick up guitars because you admire other guitar players and you want to emulate them. I was very much on board with that. So it was two hours a day of just nothing but technique. Then it was two hours a day of music theory because of course. I was behind, and I stumbled upon a lot of music theory.
My playing was two hours a day of writing songs, coming up with unique sounds, and then my favorite two hours every day was just improvisational jamming. I would basically take the radio dial and go to a random station – classical, jazz, new age, metal, whatever, pop – and just try to fit in whatever music was coming out of the speakers, just keep flipping the dial and try to be in these different bands, and that really helped my growth.”
Rage Against The Machine ⚡️
After youthful experimentation and a number of first band projects Morello found his calling. Through the remnants of many other local band projects Tom Morello crossed paths with Zack de la Rocha through mutual contacts and acquaintances.
Historically as we’ve always come to expect when souls are meant to cross paths and create explosive results are witnessed 💥
Every band has its unique sonic space identity and beliefs that Rage Against the Machine is a truly standout outfit politically charged socially active with a combination of genres that simply makes an evolutionary sound focused on revolution.
This band represents nothing but pure freedom, in every form the levels of expression are off the charts, musical intuition and articulated techniques redefined the terminology new wave. An artistic cocktail of hard rock and metal with elements of hip-hop, dance, funk and rap, the sound cannot be defined in any single genre, they can only be described as RATM!
One of the iconic and truly explosive bands of the last 30-years, Tom Morello’s distinctive sound effects guitar playing completely baffled audiences when they first experienced it, to this day fans and players alike are completely intrigued by his individual and against-the-grain techniques; but aside from this very inventive and distinctive approach Tom is also a monster riff machine! Effortlessly carving out catchy driving riffs with big hooks song after song and evidently Band after Band.
After massive success and Grammy awards Rage Against The Machine parted ways due to creative differences and during this hiatus Tom and the remaining members of the band joined forces with the late but incredibly talented Chris Cornell. Audioslave was born and, to put it simply ,was it absolutely phenomenal!
This riff is arguably one of the best I’ve heard, full stop. ✋
After the dust settled RATM returned with a reunion and they are currently back at it raising the revolution.
Scratch & Strings 🎼
So here we find a player that really relies on a strong and robust string choice, mostly because he is utilising his guitar in quite a unique way using the whammy bar and obviously combining this with pedals to get particularly distinctive sounds, not to mention he's hitting down hard on those low note riffs.
I expected to see quite a heavy and possibly more complex string choice when I first began researching Tom but surprisingly as we keep tending to find with the great players it's fairly straightforward and off the shelf. 😎
Tom completely breaks it down for us here at his latest rig run down, he explains why he uses a straight Ernie Ball 10–46 gauge Regular Slinky and why he uses a Ernie Ball Hybrid Slinky 9–46 gauge on two different instruments.
Tom talks through his main guitar and the guitar he is most associated with he simply uses a hybrid gauge 9–46 to even out the tension for the use of the tremolo system.
His telecaster guitar uses a straight 10–46 and this is simply to keep the tension relative to his other guitar with the tremolo.
There are no clear bells and whistles here and Tom definitely likes to keep things straight-forward with his strings, his guitars, his pedal set up, and his amp but somehow he's creating a truly otherworldly outer space-type of tone and taking things to an evolutionary level, in turn this makes him a complete guitar God. 🤘
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