Muse guitarist and lead singer Matt Bellamy is one of the last of a dying breed of bona fide rock stars.
Bellamy’s credentials include selling out London’s Wembley Arena, smashing a world record 140 guitars during Muse’s Absolution tour, and even getting engaged to Penny Lane (Almost Famous actress Kate Hudson). Pretty rock 'n' roll.
It’s no surprise than that his signature Manson MB-1 guitar is one of the most tricked-out instruments ever made. Bellamy designed the guitar with renowned luthier Hugh Manson, who has also built custom models for other players including John Paul Jones, Yes and Ben Harper. The MB-1, which goes for about $5,000, features a number of unique built-in effects that Bellamy utilizes to create Muse’s epic sound.
The first striking element of the guitar is its red glitter finish complimenting Bellamy’s glam-rock stage persona. It also features a custom Manson MBK-2 humbucker bridge pick-up that produces the high gain crunch heard on tracks like “Hysteria” and “Super Massive Black Hole.”
The MB-1’s toggle kill switch is a cool feature that allows Bellamy to create Tom Morello-style rhythmic stutters by toggling the switch between the live and kill positions. The switch works by momentarily routing the guitar’s signal to the ground wire instead of to the pickup, silencing the volume when toggled to the kill position.
The built-in Fernandes Sustainer unit is an incredible device that causes a string or group of strings to vibrate indefinitely, allowing a note to sustain and/or feedback for as long as a player frets it. The sustainer works by creating a magnetic field that drives the vibration of the strings at their own specific resonant frequencies. Unlike the handheld Ebow, which creates the same effect, this built-in circuit allows the player to achieve sustain without having to hold a separate device above the strings. Live, Bellamy uses the sustainer to create lush violin-like textures as well as Hendrix-inspired feedback freak-outs.
The coolest feature on the MB-1, however, has to be the built-in MIDI touch pad, which can used to remotely control an effects processor, digital synthesizer or even stage lighting. By touching, tapping and running his finger over the touch pad, Bellamy manipulates the parameters of an effect processor called the Korg Kaos Pad, which he runs his guitar through via a MIDI connection.
The Kaos Pad is an effects sampler with a number of effects such as filters, phasers and delays that can dramatically alter the guitar’s audio signal. As Bellamy runs his finger across the touch pad, he is able to manipulate these effects by opening and closing a filter or lengthening and shortening the delay time, resulting in some very spacey sci-fi sounds.
In this video of Muse performing “Super Massive Black Hole,” check out Bellamy click on the sustainer during the intro and then take an awesome MIDI touch pad solo at 2:50.