Rage Against The Machine is one of those rare bands that came out in the last several decades, who pushed something completely new, and often times political, with great success. You don’t usually see bands taking this route just because of how risky it is, and for most, it has backfired. Not for RATM, though. For a band that has created such powerful tunes, you would think that one guitar simply wouldn’t be enough. That might have been the case if the guitar player in question was anyone other than Tom Morello.
The genius of this man is elusive to a lot of critics. Morello’s ability to use his guitar as more than just an instrument is impressive, to say the least. Listening to any of the RATM hits will show you exactly what we mean. Morello knew how to balance his tone in such way that he could go crazy with solos, but still align himself with the bass for that extra girth. Even though that is pretty much all about skill, having the right equipment definitely plays its part. Today we are going to do a short overview of Tom Morello’s guitar rig, and talk about his primary choice of gear.
Tom Morello Guitar Rig
As we usually do, the first point of business are going to be Morello’s guitars. After that, we are going to quickly jump into some amps and finish the whole thing off by going over his pedalboard. For the most part, replicating Morello’s tone is not that much about gear, but it’s good to know that a relatively simple setup can get you on the right path. Without further ado, let’s dig right in.
If you take a peek into Morello’s guitar storage, you will see a variety of awesome and interesting guitars. There will be some pretty standard models like the Gibson Explorer or SG, but there will also be some that are very unusual, like that Ovation Breadwinner he has. With all that said, there is really only one guitar that is associated with Morello during his Rage Against The Machine years. We are talking about his famous Arm The Homeless custom piece.
Here he is showing Carson Daly some of his ingenious scratching techniques with his famous guitar.
When Morello got this guitar from an LA shop in 1986, he went on to pick and choose every single detail on the guitar. The basis for the whole project was a blue Strat type body. The main difference between this one and any standard Strat comes from the fact that Morello’s choice was loaded from the rear, not the front.
The neck he went with in the end was a Kramer design made of graphite, which is definitely an interesting choice. Hardware wasn’t standard either. The choice of bridge was reduced to Ibanez Edge locking tremolo. Even though this might surprise some folks considering that Floyd Rose would have probably been a more logical solution, that Ibanez design fits Arm The People perfectly.
In terms of electronics, we are looking at an EMG setup consisting of a somewhat standard EMG 85 and EMG H combo. The guitar was used throughout his Rage Against The Machine career extensively, while he also used it recently while playing with Audioslave.
Those who know Morello probably also know that he’s a Marshall man to the bone. Ever since he started playing guitar, he used a Marshall amp of some sort. When his first one got stolen, Morello went on to buy a JCM 800 2205 head, which he used extensively until just recently. The head was paired with a Peavey 4×12 cab, not so much due to his personal taste, but rather pure necessity. That was the only cab available at the store when he went to pick up that Marshall head.
This combo stuck around with Morello for a long, long time. He grew to love the tone, including the cab. Whatever you may think about his approach to amplification, you definitely have to respect his utilitarian style. Lately, however, Morello introduced some different amps. One of the few names that stand out is the Vox AC30, the reissued version, and the Marshall Lead 20 combo.
When it comes to effects pedals, we see that same Spartan approach as well. If there’s a single effect that became synonymous with Morello, it has got to be Digitech WH-1 Whammy.
Ever since he found this modern classic, Tom fell in love with it. After all, you can see just how much of his tone was invested in this unit by listening to a variety of Rage Against The Machine songs.
Aside from his trusty Whammy, Morello also used, and still uses a Jim Dunlop Crybaby Wah. In terms of pure modulation, there’s a small cluster of pedals that include Boss TR-2 Tremolo, Ibanez DFL Flanger, and other. Distortion, or rather overdrive, was always sourced from the amp.
You could say that Tom Morello is one of those guitar players who knows how to do more with less. Whether it’s the simple fact of not having to deal with a complicated signal chain or his love for a pure tone, Morello never really complicated his guitar rig all that much. It just so happens that this type of approach worked out perfectly with his style of playing, and the music he was creating. That also translated well when he moved on from Rage Against The Machine and joined Audioslave.
Getting his exact tone comes down to a pair of EMGs and a decent Marshall amp. This combo is probably as generic as it gets these days, meaning that any fan out there shouldn’t really have a problem replicating Morello’s tone with high levels of accuracy. With that said, the impact this man had on the ’90s music scene is still to be fully revealed. Rage Against The Machine gave a whole generation a common banner to stand behind together. Often criticized for their political standpoints, they are one of the few bands who stayed true to their cause.