Tom Morello is famous for his mixture of styles (blues based rock riffs, funk, heavy metal, punk, hip hop…) as well as an innovative use of guitar sound effects. His revolutionary guitar playing comes from the whole new approach to it. Besides classical playing (strums, riffs and solos) he makes music of scratches, beats, noises, feedbacks etc. He embraces all those things that most guitarists try to avoid in their sound and turns them into music. His ideas and sounds, in his own words, come from constatnt experimenting. He rarely (when onstage during the jam part of the show) thinks of what to use or what to do to get a new sound. It is rather that he thinks of what he didnt use last night and is still there for him to try it up.
However, no matter how complexed the sounds he produces are, his setup is pretty simple and all these sounds emerge from unortodox playing.
The catchy riff of Sleep Now In The Fire is very simple and the sound of that riff can be achieved with almost any decent guitar and an overdriven amp. For this song I used Fox Stratocaster (with single coil sized humbuckers) and a Marshall JCM 800 (the amp that Morello uses. The only difference is that he uses 50 watt half stack while mine was a 100 watt).
The settings on JCM I use for this song (and I belive they are very close to the ones Morello uses):
Presence: between 2 and 3 o clock
master vol: as loud as the circumstances allow
bass: between 2 and 4 o clock – for this song it is important to dial the basses correctly and the exact setting depends on an amp wattage and the space where its being played
mid: about 3 o clock
treble: 2 o clock
volume: at will
gain: almost all the way up
Rage Against The Machine – Sleep Now in the Fire
As this is a simple overdriven sound, you dont have to use a Marshall JCM 800 to get it. You can get it with many different tube amps and an overdrive or distorsion pedal which has a fair amount of gain. Marshall Guvnor, Fulltone Full Drive II, Visual Sound dr.Jackill & mr.Hyde to name just a few.
The settings on Marshall Guvnor (old MIE) that I use for this song are: Gain – 11 o clock, Bass – 3 o clock, Mid – 9 o clock, Trebble – 2 0 clock, Level – 1 o clock.
What is important is that the sound of your pedal isnt very saturated. You need to keep some kind of transparency. Althrough Morellos riffs are very powerful and heavy, one can always hear that dirty TUBE sound in his riffs. You must be careful that you do not eliminate that tube feel with too much distorsion.
The second part of the song is based on a single note (C) floating above the tight funk groove that bass and drums produce. The secret is in Digitech Whammy pedal that harmonises that single note and produces that dark atmosphere. The C note is fretted at the 15th fret of the A string and Whammy pedal is set to harmonise the note a major third below (A flat). At the end of the each phrase you can hear another note which is C again but played on a G string (an octave higher) and picked very fast.
The same sound can be produced with pitch shifter like a Boss PS-5 Super Shifter (which is basically the same thing as a Whammy but without the foot pedal) set on Harmonist mode and 3rd pitch (I dont know about the balance) or most other harmonisers with similar settings.
If you dont have a Digitech Whammy pedal you can try to get away with a lot of feedback while holding that C note. The sound just isnt the same and it has a lack of atmosphere, but can be effective as well.
The solo shows innovative technique of Tom Morello. What he does is that he creates a lot of feedback , presses the tremolo bar up and down with his left hand and flicks the toggle switch from off to on very fast all the time. He has two ways of doing this regarding the toggle switch. On one of his guitars he has a custom built in switch that actually turns the guitar on and off, and on the other guitar he has no custom built switch but a regular one that changes between two pickups (one position for each pickup). He turns the volume on the bridge pickup all the way up and the volume of the neck pickup off. Therefor, by flicking the toggle switch between the two pickups he creates the same on/off effect as above.
I found a way to get a pretty close sound in case you dont have a built in on/off switch (most guitars dont), floating tremolo and two volume knobs. All you have to do is put your left hand across all six strings somewhere in the middle of the neck, but do not press them. Just lean the hand gently over the strings. While pulling your hand up and down the neck in a rhytmic pattern the song requires (which is pretty fast) turn the volume knob on and off in the same tempo. This will take some practise to get done properly, but in the end it will produce an effect very close to the one Tom Morello uses.
Again, Tom Morellos setup is very simple and is made of just a few basic pedals. It only shows that with the right use and different combination of small number of effects one can produce enormous number of huge sounds. The stepping stone is not owning the huge ammount of gear, but innovative approach and imagination in using the ones you got. Thats what this site is all about.
Want to sound like Tom Morello – well FUCK THE NORM!!!
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