Matt Bellamy is one of the 21st century's bona fide guitar heroes. Over a near-three-decade career with Muse, the UK guitarist and frontman brought progressive playing, classical influences and outlandish tones into the mainstream, building an unlikely bridge between Radiohead, Rage Against the Machine and Rachmaninoff.
Given the band's propensity for selling out stadiums, the response to our poll of the best Muse guitar tracks was similarly well-attended – 10s of thousands of you made your voice heard.
Below, we present Matt Bellamy’s 10 greatest Muse guitar moments, in reverse order, and starting with an Origin of Symmetry classic…
10. Bliss – from Origin Of Symmetry (2001)
How exactly do you go about following the crowd-conquering and era-defining perfection of Plug In Baby and New Born?
For the third single from Origin Of Symmetry, it was a case of adding even more experimentation to the mix, with futuristic synth lines warring against jangly minor chords from the very start and continuing through the hard-strummed, open position shapes of the chorus – which interestingly go into double time after the initial opening cycles.
Although it’s a simple enough technique for songwriters to use, this change of pace really adds to the dramatic tension of the build, making for a climactic rise that ends on a suspenseful F minor barre-chord.
And, while they’re not actually played on an electric guitar, the opening and closing keyboard arpeggios – which move from Cm to Bb to Fm – actually make for an excellent sweep picking exercise, particularly for those interested in moving down one area of the neck and coming back up in a different position before each chord change.
9. Time Is Running Out – from Absolution (2003)
A high contender in the list of Muse tracks your bassist keeps asking to run through, and one of the last to be composed for Absolution, this top 10 single was the sound of Muse embracing a more mid-tempo and groove-oriented take on alternative rock.
Oddly enough, the members have even revealed it was partly inspired by the Michael Jackson hit Billie Jean, a song which they felt made listeners want to click their fingers and shake their hips – and in that regard they most certainly succeeded.
During the pre-chorus where he sings “Bury it, I won’t let you bury it”, Matt Bellamy incorporates elements of the vocal melody into his chords, often simply changing just one note at a time to allow his guitar to not only support but also mirror his voice.
If tremolo-picked octave shapes after the chorus sections are reminiscent of the kind of things that Jonny Greenwood played on Radiohead’s Pablo Honey and The Bends, it’s probably because Greenwood was a big influence on Bellamy early on.
8. Butterflies And Hurricanes – from Absolution (2003)
Their first-ever top 10 single from their first album to top the charts on home soil, Butterflies and Hurricanes is the sound of a band with all the creative wind in their sails.
With Bellamy’s octave shapes providing a counter melody to Chris Wolstenholme’s bass lines, it’s another track that carries a strong progressive and space rock influence, with no shortage of keyboards adding to the atmospheric collage.
There have been several live arrangements of the track over the years – some closer to the original and others with Bellamy replicating the opening synth line on guitar by playing a standard Dm chord and holding that shape while lowering the note played on the B string one fret at a time.
It’s this knowledge of chords – where to use majors, minors, dominants and half-diminisheds – that has allowed Bellamy to break out of conventional rock guitar riffing and into more modal, classical and film score-esque grandeur.
7. New Born – from Origin Of Symmetry (2001)
Debut album Showbiz certainly had its fair share of fiery moments, but it was on second album Origin Of Symmetry where Muse started cranking the gain and showing us just how loud they could be when they wanted to.
Its second single was incredibly deceptive in that sense, starting out as more of a twinkly, keyboard-led number reminiscent of their earliest work before a detuned fuzz riff arrives out of the blue and roars its way through your eardrums.
The more extreme guitar tones heard on this and prior single Plug In Baby were thanks to a Z.Vex Fuzz Factory acquired by Bellamy while on tour in Japan, which soon became his go-to fuzz/distortion – to the point where he was even having its circuit built into his custom Manson guitars.
With its classical-inspired chord movements, clean funk strumming in the verses and alternate picked, Tom Morello-esque shred guitar solo, it’s another example of Bellamy mutating different styles into his very own beast.
6. Map Of The Problematique – from Black Holes And Revelations (2006)
It’s no secret that Muse have been responsible for some of the most dazzling tones of the past two decades – and this 2006 track could be the pick of the bunch. If its opening guitars sound more like a distorted synthesizer, that’s because it was originally written and demoed on keyboards.
“I really wanted to hear it on guitar, but there was no way to play the keyboard part on the guitar,” recalled Black Holes producer Rich Costey in 2007. The band spent the next two days reverse-engineering the idea, using a range of equipment to make Bellamy’s guitar react like an arpeggiator.
“It’s a guitar going through three different modular synths that are opening up at different times,” explained Costey. “Two of the synths are routed into different pitch shifters – one is an octave up, the other is an octave down. The guitar was split into three: the ARP 2600, a Korg MS-20 and an EMS Synthi AKS.”
5. Stockholm Syndrome – from Absolution (2003)
When Matt Bellamy writes a song in drop D, chances are it will sit among the heavier Muse offerings. Stockholm Syndrome is a down-tuned affair that captures the band driving at full force, with more of a metallic style of riffing that bounces off the open low D and notes fretted an octave up around the 12th fret.
Those intervals include a minor 2nd, a major 3rd, a perfect 4th and a minor 7th – built from the D Phrygian Dominant scale (the fifth mode of G harmonic minor, theory fans!).
Another key feature of the song is the tempo shift between its verse sections and choruses, going into more of a half-time groove for the most anthemic moments where more space is needed for vocals.
And to bring it all to a thunderous close, the main riff is played open, loose and slower more in the style of Tool guitarist and fellow Diezel VH4 enthusiast Adam Jones.
4. Plug In Baby – Origin Of Symmetry (2001)
As Bellamy himself admits, he might never have written Plug In Baby without his trusty Manson Delorean. What a shame that would have been, given how quickly it became the group’s biggest anthem.
Although often incorrectly tabbed in the open position, the main theme which starts the song is played around the 7th fret – sequencing passages from the B harmonic minor scale before adding in a Dorian major 6th flavour played on the 9th fret of the B string, which then gets bent up half a step into a minor 7th and released.
For the verses, Bellamy leaves most of the heavy lifting to the bass, save for a few pitch-shifted triads which ring out before the full-chorded strums of the chorus. Each section involves its own unique approach, which is precisely what makes it such an effortlessly dynamic track. A masterpiece!
3. Hysteria – from Absolution (2003)
A contender for the best song called Hysteria ever written, this is probably the Muse song your bassist most wants to cover. Absolution was the album that lifted Muse to arena level, and Hysteria was the song that got musicians talking.
Naturally, it’s Chris Wolstenholme’s gargantuan bass riff that gets a lot of the attention, but there’s no shortage of guitar excitement. Bellamy’s whammy bar nudges enhance the chorus powerchords, and the sequence of octaves and bends he plays over the main riff is almost as iconic as the bass riff itself.
The most fun part is the monstrous variation on the main riff that comes after the second and third choruses, where guitar and bass sync up to provide one giant tone. The solo is comprised of two parts – the first where notes are double picked on the higher strings up around the 14th fret and the final part which consists of C, G, Dm and Am triads ringing out from the same area high up the neck.
2. Knights Of Cydonia – Black Holes And Revelations (2006)
Like Bohemian Rhapsody, Knights of Cydonia is an epic whose defining guitar riff doesn’t arrive until near the end of the track. Also like Bohemian Rhapsody, it’s guaranteed to have all occupants of any vehicle headbanging in unison when it kicks in.
The spaghetti western guitar tones at the beginning recall the surf guitar greats, with a ton of Fender-style reverb and tremolo, and the tremolo-picked descending slide at 0:47 is pure Misirlou. But there’s actually less pedal trickery than you might imagine.
The frantic vibrato on the riff that arrives moments later, for example, is created simply by waggling the hell out of a whammy bar with the picking hand while using hammer-ons to fret notes on the A string.
If you don’t have any guitars fitted with a tremolo arm, you could always use a dedicated vibrato pedal like the Boss VB-2W or TC Electronic Shaker – or even check to see if any of your vibe or chorus pedals have a vibrato mode.
1. Citizen Erased – Origin Of Symmetry (2001)
Total Guitar readers’ favourite Muse song, Citizen Erased was also for many years the band’s longest track, and is also one of the rare instances where Matt has used a seven-string guitar – which ended up being his very first Manson instrument.
“On Citizen Erased, Dom came in one day with this funky James Brown beat and Chris just started playing along,” Matt revealed at the time of release. “I then applied a chord structure that I already had and it suddenly became a full-on metal track out of nowhere. Because it was so heavy for so long we decided to add another song on to the end of it.”
The opening riff is played using the open seventh string – tuned to A – and artificial harmonics on the higher A-string. If you don’t have a seven-string, you can tune your sixth string to A, though remember there will be less tension and overall resonance than with the thicker gauges used on extended range instruments.