Tom Morello Tells Guitarists, “Gear Doesn’t Matter”

(Image credit: Meh Akpanudosen/Getty Images)

Attention, gearheads: Tom Morello has a message for you. “Gear doesn’t matter.”

The Prophets of Rage guitarist joined Red Bull TV on the latest edition of its Gearheads series, and he didn’t pull any punches.

“My take on gear,” he says, “is that it does not matter—at all—ever—in any circumstance.”

The former Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave guitarist says he’s been using the same gear “for about 28 years.” He notes that his custom “Arm the Homeless” guitar—which features four illustrations of smiling white hippos—was professionally crafted for him years ago at great expense.

“And it stunk,” he says. “It was the worst piece of crap that any guitar player has ever played!

“And so through the years I dismantled it, and it’s had about 10 necks on it. The only thing remaining from that original piece of crap is the body of the guitar and the hippos. I settled on the final version of it sometime around 1990, and it’s stayed the same since.”

Like most players, Morello spent a good amount of time working on his tone when he was starting out.

“I was sort of chasing this elusive tone,” he says, “and finally one day I gave up. I spent a couple of hours at rehearsal, I marked the settings on my amp. I got it as good as I could.”

In the end, he decided, “This is the tone I have, so what are the songs that I’m gonna make with this?”

As Morello explains, he almost certainly wouldn’t have written many of Rage Against the Machine’s songs if he’d had a different guitar. He recalls how eight years ago Rage were rehearsing for a South American tour using rented gear, as their own equipment had already been sent ahead.

“And we sounded horrible,” he says. “I was like, ‘Wow are we really gear dependent?’ And it dawned on me: ‘No—if we had had this gear that we sound bad on today, we would have written different songs that sound great on this gear.’”

In the video, Morello also take us through his amp and pedal board. Take a look, and let us know your thoughts on his comments.

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Christopher Scapelliti

Christopher Scapelliti is editor-in-chief of Guitar Player magazine, the world’s longest-running guitar magazine, founded in 1967. In his extensive career, he has authored in-depth interviews with such guitarists as Pete Townshend, Slash, Billy Corgan, Jack White, Elvis Costello and Todd Rundgren, and audio professionals including Beatles engineers Geoff Emerick and Ken Scott. He is the co-author of Guitar Aficionado: The Collections: The Most Famous, Rare, and Valuable Guitars in the World, a founding editor of Guitar Aficionado magazine, and a former editor with Guitar WorldGuitar for the Practicing Musician and Maximum Guitar. Apart from guitars, he maintains a collection of more than 30 vintage analog synthesizers.