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Tom Morello: “The Top Song That Inspired My Playing and Tone”

(Image credit: C Flanigan/Getty Images)

Prophets of Rage guitarist Tom Morello says one song inspired him more than any other to become more experimental in his playing and tone, including adding the DigiTech Whammy Pedal to his arsenal.

That song? Allan Holdsworth’s 1985 track “Metal Fatigue.”

Morello tells Music Radar he was introduced to the song by a friend. “And admittedly, while the singing is kinda hokey, the guitar playing is insane.

“It was the first time I heard someone go outside of the expected melodic parameters, and that sounded fantastic to me.”

Of course Holdsworth wasn’t using a Whammy Pedal on “Metal Fatigue.” But he did use a harmonizer, and it was Morello’s attempt to recreate the effect that led him to the DigiTech pedal.

“The DigiTech Whammy pedal felt like such a revelation when I got one in 1991,” he explains. “I had been trying to find a way to approximate the harmonizer used on that Allan Holdsworth song. I bought a rack harmonizer but I couldn't even figure it out.”

In the same article, Morello credits jazz saxophonists like John Coltrane, Charlie Parker for inspiring him as well.

“I wouldn’t say I am deeply attuned to all the jazz changes and theory going on in those songs,” he says, “but I could definitely feel how to flow with the music—as opposed to being trapped and locked into particular finger patterns that work in certain keys. That’s been part of my playing for a long time and I love it—it provides the freedom to let go on the fretboard.”

As for how other guitarists can start to think outside the box? Morello says you can get out of your rut by remembering that the electric guitar is still a new instrument, having been invented less than 90 years ago.

“My take is that the electric guitar is a relatively new instrument on this planet,” he says. “You should not assume that the way it’s been played so far is the only way that it can be played. It’s just a piece of wood, six or seven wires and a handful of electronics inside. That’s it!

"When I deconstructed it all in my mind, I realized it wasn’t about learning Chuck Berry licks—it’s more about what sort of sound does this thing make and how can those noises be made into songs? It really took off from there.”

For that matter, he says guitarists shouldn’t practice too much or get caught up in other players’ techniques.

“I had blinders on before by practicing too much, desperately trying to play like Yngwie Malmsteen or Steve Vai,” Morello says. “Those guys cornered the market with their own particular styles. I wanted to have my own style. You could look at it as I didn’t want to just run on the same treadmill as them— I wanted to build a whole new gym!”

You can read the entire interview at Music Radar.

Below, you can watch Morello talk about how and why he adopted the Whammy Pedal.

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Christopher Scapelliti is editor-in-chief of Guitar Player (opens in new tab) 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 (opens in new tab), 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.