U2's The Edge Discusses Gear and 'The Joshua Tree' in 1987 Guitar World Interview
The quiet U2 guitarist opens up about the evolution of his gear, his recent discovery of American blues and U2's latest (and some say greatest) album, The Joshua Tree.
A sampling of cuts on The Joshua Tree highlights a band approaching a songwriting stratosphere that knows no peak. To complement such material, Edge found that, despite his desire to keep things' simple, there still was a need for some new guitar tools.
"I try to remain pretty conservative, in a sense. I mistrust new devices unless they're pretty impressive. On 'With You Or Without You,' though, I'm playing a Fender Stratocaster which I've modified to be used for a new device called the Infinite Guitar. It's not really produced, as such, it's an invention of a friend of mine named Michael Brooks, who I collaborated with on the Captive soundtrack.
"It does something similar to what an E-Bow does but with a great deal more subtlety, and generally it's more useful than an E-Bow, which is either on or off -- usually a wild sustain and then nothing, you know? With the Infinite, it's all different.
"The Infinite gives you great control, so you get all the highs, lows and midpoints. The E-Bow, of course, would tie up your right hand, so unless you're an Indian rubber man there's only so much you can do. The Infinite is all electric, so it actually leaves your right hand free and you can choose to either pluck the strings where you want, or you can just fret the string. There is a bit of technique involved, though, because it'll go from nothing into sustain if you don't dampen certain strings down. I'd like to take it on tour with me, but I haven't finalized anything yet. If I can make it roadworthy I will, if not, then I'll try to adapt the E-Bow to give me the proper effect."
From his earliest days, which saw him slinging Gibson Explorers, to his current Strat leanings, Edge has always viewed the guitar in an unorthodox manner. Be it the way he holds his pick (upside down) to his attack, it's all part of a blissfully blind process by which the guitarist summons the unknown. New equipment fits into the picture, but only if The Edge can find something to do with it that hasn't been done before.
"I'm interested in abusing technology," he chuckles. "There's a revolutionary new guitar called a Bond Electric Light, which is a very finely-crafted guitar without proper frets. Instead it has little serrations. I tried to incorporate it into my playing armory and I found that it wasn't working, until I discovered the things you can do if you really sort of abused it! I got fantastic results. Like the sort of heavy fuzz guitar at the end of 'One Tree Hill,' and the last three tracks on the middle of side two — that sound is from the Bond.
"It's an English guitar. I don't know if they're still made [Editor's Note: They're not], but I got it three or four years ago. Naturally, with us, we try to approach anything without preconceptions, we just control the room without the windows. Now, this Bond guitar, it wasn't meant to do what I do to it. Its neck is some kind of plastic, so it's more flexible than most wooden necks.
"I discovered that I could bend the neck so that the strings started to vibrate on the fretboard as I played, and-the guitar having no frets -- it created a different kind of effect. It was an attempt to sound obnoxious. You know, you can wind up a Marshall, and it starts to sound better the higher you go. Well, this was a transistor amp and the sound was compressed to the hilt. I had it very loud and it just kind of had that edge of a sound that you don't normally get. People complained bitterly about it'''
Coaxing pained squalls from the speakers does play a large part of Edge's sound these days, but on the other end of the aural spectrum he does, and always has, held the function of electrified acoustics in the highest regard. In much the same way that the Beatles relied on acoustics during their Rubber Soul and Revolver period, Edge has literally saturated The Joshua Tree with the lush, warm tones of the hollow-body.
"We've always used acoustics. The Washburn acoustic I have is one of my favorite guitars -- live, I use it a lot. You know, you always get these run-off instruments. I don't know if the other versions of this guitar are particularly great, but this one is the only one I've come across, it's so musical. That's how I really judge the quality of an instrument, it's how I find myself playing on it, whether I'm inspired by it, if I can just pick it up and produce music. The Washburn is one of those guitars that the minute I pick it up it's a natural thing.
"I also use a new Yamaha guitar that I've recently been given called an AE2000, which is a big, almost-jazz guitar in style, the big cello wide-body, single-cutaway and F-holes. It uses really tough, big gauge flatwound strings and it sounds sort of classical. I fell in love with it."
Though Edge's work as a rhythm guitarist stands as some of the finest recorded (evidenced in the stunning "Pride (In The Name Of Love)" and "Two Hearts Beat As One"), the realm of the solo is one that he does hold some reticence about. When he does unleash obvious solo passages, they're firecrackers like "New Year's Day" or "Gloria," characterized by quarter-note delay and a preponderance of snarling bass notes.
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