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.
Lately, Edge has been readdressing the need for the solo spotlight, The Joshua Tree containing fewer lead guitar breaks than ever (a notable exception being the jarring, Sergio Leone excursion that graces "In God's Country"). As far as solos are concerned, it's an area in which The Edge remains happily egoless.
"The solo for 'In God's Country' is a pretty tricky one to talk about. The Sergio Leone reference is a fascinating one because I'm a fan. The end of the song has a new kind of rhythm solo guitar thing mixed in with a new technique I'm working on. So maybe the solo comes through because it's so Duane Eddy-ized. Again, it's the AE2000 sound, sort of country, early rock 'n' roll. The idea that this song would have a broad unashamed overdub inclusion rather than it being part of the original take, as a sort of splash of primary color "It goes in with serving the songs on this record in a way that, in the past, we felt no such obligation.
"I don't think we intended to create an album of 45's, but each song was complete and didn't need that much. Now, on a song like "New Year's Day," it was perfectly right to put a solo in because it fit in with the concept of War. On this record, I think solos would only have been permitted had they worked within the context of the song itself; there are some, but I've been moving against solos because I didn't feel the need to play any."
Coinciding with Edge's team-player instincts is his insistence that, although he is generally regarded as the principal guitarist in U2, he champions the contributions that Bono provides on his occasional forays with the six strings.
"I never set out to be the only guitar player. When we started, Bono played quite a bit. His playing is ... well, I don't know. See, our styles are so different, there's never a conflict. Bono's a field player, nothing really amazing -- I'm nothing amazing either. The whole point is that, whatever you're going to do, do it with flair. Bono is very much like Neil Young in that he turns in some incredible guitar things. Danny [Lanois] really loves his playing. We all really like it. There was some important stuff that he did on 'Exit' and 'Mothers Of The Disappeared.' Some of the things he did on the end of 'With You Or Without You' we didn't put in the mix because the arrangement was shorter on the final tracks, but it was great stuff."
The influence that The Edge has had on young players worldwide could probably account for the great number of delay units sold during the past five years. Aware of the effect his playing has had on aspiring guitarists, Edge is equally watchful to guitar scenes he might not necessarily be a part of, like heavy metal.
"It's a difficult world and I wouldn't presume to condemn or sort of say that it's not valid. It's just something I'm not interested in. I mean, someone has to be the fastest. Fair enough. Music to me is a whole creative world of possibilities. Pure dexterity or technique is such a myopic view of what music is all about-just too rigid. Technique, to me, is knowing enough and being able to do enough to play what you want. I think all my favorite musicians are probably similar to me in that way.
"I'm not a fan of the million-miles-an-hour players. I'm more into Keith Richards or Jeff Beck. See, music is such a great communicator. It breaks down linguistic barriers, cultural barriers, it basically reaches out. That's when rock 'n' roll succeeds, and that's what virtuosity is all about. If you are great and amazingly talented, it's something else.
"I'm not saying it wouldn't be great to be a really fast player, sometimes that kind of riff can be really great, but it can be a cul-de-sac, very limiting. It's not such a high priority."
One immediate priority is the current world tour, which will see U2 playing to perhaps one of the largest collective audiences that a rock band has ever entertained.
The Edge's choice of guitars is certainly not among the most elaborate ever assembled -- he doesn't view himself as much of a collector -- but it might be the most essential. You won't find any custom-made jobs contoured in girlie shapes, nor do The Edge's axes light up in the dark. Reliability and sound quality are Edge's prime concerns.
"In the beginning I was interested in Gibsons because I used a lot of high treble chords -- they had a fatter treble sound. Fenders I always thought were a bit thin when concentrating on those highs. Recently that's changed because I've been getting into some other things. I've been getting into Stratocasters a lot.
"Again, I try to keep things simple. Guitars haven't been improving. Quite the opposite, they've been losing character and getting more homogenized in sound and feel. So generally I steer towards older designs and styles.
"I use Superwound strings on all my guitars. I think standardization is very important in that department -- to know where you stand. I vary the gauges from guitar to guitar, usually light to medium. I have an arrangement with Superwound that allows me to buy the strings at a good price."
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