Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine have both benefited from the unique playing style of Tom Morello, not to mention his contribution to the supergroup Prophets of Rage and his own project the Nightwatchman. The prime reason why I decided to write an article about this distinguished musician is his individuality. The way he plays, the music he creates really stands out and makes you wonder, where is the limit of creativity. Tom Morello has never been someone who enjoyed playing by the rules or following the given paths. He has always strived for creating something different in his own style. Today I am going to talk about his playing techniques, the tricks he uses to achieve his sound and everything that makes him so different.
Tom Morello had a lot of influencers, who made him the musician he is now. The chance of playing in Led Zeppelin cover band at the age of 13, performing next to Adam Jones of Tool, being inspired by Run-D.M.C has shaped his character as a guitarist. Tom has stated many times that he loves Piece of Mind, Led Zeppelin, Alice Cooper, Black Sabbath, as well as Kiss and Iron Maiden. Morello’s specific style has been greatly influenced by punk rock bands such as Clash, Sex Pistols and Artists, Bruce Springsteen and Bob Dylan.
Tom’s performance itself is quite diverse. He characterizes in using tapping and picking techniques, as well as feedback noise and a lot of sound effects. Apart from that, Morello plays and messes around with a toggle switch. He employs it to turn the guitar on and off or cancel out the signal, which creates the sound with a lot of sustain and character. Just listen to the intro of “Know Your Enemy” from Rage Against the Machine and you will know what I am talking about. Tom’s performance also includes sonic manipulations in order to imitate different sounds. With a mere guitar, he can create any tone you could think of (take Bulls on Parade for example). He likes to mimic DJ’s scratching sounds by using a pick to scrape and tap the strings, while sending the signal through a Whammy pedal. Morello does not limit himself in anything, which drives him to open the doors of experimentation. He has stated in the interview with the Guitar World Magazine that he used to listen to the sounds that surrounded him and tried to recreate them with his guitar.
As I have already mentioned, Tom utilizes sound effects quite frequently. His signal chain is not something you normally see among other musicians. This is what it looks like: Amp FX Send à Dunlop Crybaby (wah pedal) à Digitech Whammy (phaser pedal) à Boss DD-2 (delay pedal) à DOD FX40B (equalizer) à Ibanez DFL (flanger pedal) à Amp FX Return. He makes the use of all of them during his performances and combines them in order to achieve thick, vibrant tones with a lot of definition. Tom also sets up his amplifiers in various ways in order to achieve different results. In the Revelations, he employed 50-watt Marshall 2205 head and a 4×12 Peavey cabinet along with a 100-watt Fender Bassman head and an Orange cabinet. With this combination he was able to send the delay to one amp while the other was unaffected, making the sound ping-pong between the units.
Apart from having unique playing techniques, Tom Morello is also a political activist. He uses his music in order to protest against the issues he does not believe in. His project, the Nightwatchman, features his acoustic songs that carry the message of “raging against the machine”. The Nightwatchman is his “political folk alter ego”.
All in all, Tom Morello is truly someone to be inspired by. He is an adventurous guitarist who is not afraid to step out of comfort zone and take a new path leading to individuality. His performances encourage you to take your instrument and just keep playing until your search for unique sounds is terminated. Tom has made the history by being different, playing with amazing artists and recreating the sounds around us. I am sure that he will be remembered as one of the most creative guitarists.