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How the Edge changed the sound of guitar playing forever: 17 guitarists share their favorite U2 moments

Edge U2 17 guitarists feature
(Image credit: Scott Legato/Getty Images; Paul Bergen/Redferns; Ollie Millington/Redferns)

Over the past four decades, the Edge has influenced generations of music lovers to go that extra step and pick up a guitar. For many of those music lovers, October and Achtung Baby played important roles in their introduction to U2. 

To accompany our exclusive interview with the man himself discussing those very albums, a host of guitar greats discuss the influence of the Edge, through an October and Achtung Baby lens.

Tom Morello

“The Edge has challenged conceptions of what an electric guitar should sound like – and constantly pushed the boundaries of what an electric guitar can sound like. One of my favorite Edge moments is on Love Is Blindness on Achtung Baby

“Apparently recorded in the midst of a rending divorce, Edge’s playing is deeply emotional and sonically confrontational. The song has two very different solo sections.

“When I first heard it, I was blown away by the second solo, a passionate machine-gun flamenco assault. The first solo, on the other hand, sounded like someone had made a horrible mistake and left the tape running while Edge absentmindedly played a few disjointed notes (maybe left-handed?) and then kinda stopped and dribbled another couple notes awkwardly across the remaining bars. I later realized this was the genius solo on the track, capturing the artist’s broken emotional state in a way no traditional solo could.”

Joe Bonamassa

“There are few guitarists who can identify themselves with chords alone. The Edge can – with a single strum and inflection. Following in the footsteps of Link Wray and Pete Townshend, the Edge and U2 created classic song after classic song based on original, forward-thinking and simple concepts that were based on the classics. He’s an innovator and a humble man.” 

Joey Santiago (Pixies)

“He’s influenced me to try to be different. I didn’t necessarily try to copy his style, but I appreciate the way he stood out. On Even Better Than the Real Thing I liked that octave thing he used. But he was probably using the [DigiTech] Whammy pedal – and I like that effect. Gloria showcases the way he uses his delays. He was really one of the first ones to play with a delay pedal, where he’d use the effect as an instrument.”

Alex Stiff (The Record Company)

“I always look to U2 in my own writing process, in terms of how to turn the basic building blocks of ‘chords and riffs’ into something more interesting. U2 has always made a sound that suggests that they reject anything conventional. 

“The Edge has so much to do with that musical ground that is both avant-garde and rock n roll and is as memorable as the lyrics. They go hand in hand. Bono sings, the Edge answers.

“An example would be Even Better Than the Real Thing. That chorus guitar – ‘dee da da dee da da dee, dah dah dah dah’ – is as vital to the song as the lyric, each answering the other. Anytime I’m working out a new song, I’ll ask myself, 'How do I "Edge" this?'”

Myles Kennedy (Alter Bridge, Slash)

Achtung Baby was a reinvention of sorts. For the most part, musically speaking, the record was a rejection of the identity established during their incredibly successful run in the 1980s. You can hear their evolution on tracks like Mysterious Ways and The Fly, which manifest a hybrid of rock ‘n’ roll with the Euro dance music happening at the time. 

“For me, there was another dynamic that was even more compelling. One, Acrobat and Love Is Blindness showcased a darker side of the band that allowed the Edge to incorporate a melodically haunting and sparse approach. The end result were guitar parts that brought the perfect amount of drama without screaming, ‘Look at my fancy fretwork!’”

Chris Arndt (Jocelyn & Chris)

“I’ve always admired the storytelling approach the Edge brings to his guitar playing. He’s an amazing technical player, but he rarely plays parts that completely show off  his speed or skill; you can tell his primary focus is adding to the music. That’s the approach I try to bring to my own style. 

“I’m a firm believer that the best guitar part isn’t necessarily the fastest or the coolest – it’s the one people remember. Of course, it also helps that he’s a creative genius with effects. It’s kind of impossible to talk about the Edge without mentioning effects.

“He really pioneered new ways of thinking about guitar parts, using effects to turn a simple line into a rich, layered texture. I’m partial to the guitar solo from The Fly on Achtung Baby

“It starts out sounding like a pretty standard – but awesome – guitar solo, but the effects sneak up on you. Before you know it, you’re surrounded by a cosmos of guitar sound, with runs and licks overlapping and melodies popping out here and there.”

Clint Lowery (Sevendust)

“The main thing I’ve always been fascinated with – in terms of the Edge’s evolution as a writer/player – is the way he’s incorporated his influences into U2 songs. On Mysterious Ways, it’s the perfect blend of funk and Motown drenched with effects that modernized the sound and made an old blues riff seem futuristic and current. The intro for One has the authentic feel of a Hendrix riff. 

“It has a hook within itself but sets the stage for an amazing vocal performance from Bono. It’s a complex riff, yet it doesn’t distract the listener from the vocal. The Edge is a master at that.”

Zach Blair (Rise Against)

“I had never really heard anybody use pedals, specifically delay, the way the Edge had. I didn’t know what it was when I was a kid – I thought it was just the way he was playing guitar, so it didn’t make sense. I had no idea what was going on, and it blew my mind. 

“Then, to hear where the Edge progressed, and took those initial ideas he was doing, with just simple pedals that everyone else had – and then they became the biggest band in the world.

“Then, on later records, like Achtung Baby – hearing where that went with modern technology, but with the same concepts and genre-pushing ideas, that was equally as mind blowing. 

“I love that he never did what everyone else did. He never was going to go for the patented rockstar thing and do a guitar solo here or whatever. He was going to make what he was doing really interesting and genre-pushing – and he was going to challenge you.”

John Petrucci (Dream Theater)

“I remember hearing Sunday Bloody Sunday on the radio for the first time. I’d never heard a guitar player orchestrate before – and it was so cool. He has such a big, unique and unmistakably identifiable voice on the guitar. 

“It’s the way he orchestrated his guitar parts; it wasn’t the typical way a guitar player would play in rock. Sometimes he’d play power chords and stuff like that, but he’d also do more rhythmic things, using harmonics and muted notes for rhythms. 

“The way the guitar was used on One was so unique; the progression and the lyrics were the focus, with the guitar part just sustaining the high notes – and then the way the delay came in later in the song to build it up was incredible. It’s one of the most incredibly built songs, kind of like a Bolero type of thing. By the end of the song, it’s so huge, but it’s so repetitive in a really hypnotic way. 

“And Love Is Blindness is another great one for sure!” 

Dave Keuning (The Killers)

Achtung Baby is probably my favorite, and I used to play along to every single song on the record. It’s got delay and these great chord voicings – and it’s a whole different thing. It kind of opened my eyes to a different way of thinking and made delay pedals such a cool thing to have on your pedalboard.

Ultraviolet (Light My Way) influenced my playing the most. Funnily enough, I think that’s the one the Killers coincidentally covered for a CD where every band does a song of theirs. 

One kind of influenced some of the way I did things, too. The kind of changing the voicing of the chord as you go – like, he’s playing off the third and the second. That’s something I took with me, for sure.”

Satchel (Steel Panther)

“At a time when guitar acrobatics were the norm, when Eddie and Yngwie and Vai and countless guitar gods where playing as many notes as the human ear could register in a solo, there was the Edge. Fewer notes, more space. Awesome notes. Amazing tones. Vibes. 

“I don’t think there was any guitar player who heard the Edge back then who didn’t get inspired. Who didn’t want to play ‘less’ after hearing him? He came up with two- or three-note riffs that were the sound of U2 – one of the defining sounds of the '80s and '90s as well. 

October is full of classic Edge riffs and sounds. Gloria is one of the most memorable guitar riffs of the era, but every song is a masterclass on the use of space. Listen to the huge tones on I Threw a Brick Through a Window and how he lays out in the verses in all the perfect spots. 

Scarlet gives a taste of where he’s going with his genius use of delay. He’s one of the few guitar players in the history of rock that has defined his sound so clearly. He’s the guy who makes you realize it’s not your fingers holding you back – it’s your mind.”

Timothy Showalter (Strand of Oaks)

“There’s an emotional factor to everything U2 does; it just plays into everything I love. I’m not a shredder, and it’s never been my goal to be an acrobat on the guitar. I want to convey emotion – and that’s what the Edge does. 

“He gave a lot of inspiration to guitarists who may never be the premier shredders of the world – but [they’re] guitarists that know how to play and want so desperately to take the emotions in their heart and move them to their fingers and out of the amp and to people’s ears.”

Josh Kennedy (The Black Moods)

“It’s hard to be a guitar player and not have at least a little inspiration from the Edge, even if it’s subconscious. He’s not up there being flashy and playing a million notes. His ‘flash’ is in the melody and beautiful notes he chooses. His use of his delays and his self-control are unparalleled. 

“Hearing his style progress from October to Achtung Baby – it’s amazing. It’s akin to watching a childhood actor grow up in film or TV in front of your eyes then go on to become this amazing artist and win an Oscar.”

Scott Holiday (Rival Sons)

“Diving deep into the Edge’s sonic environment and his interesting percussive approach was something to behold – and to really relish in all its ‘freshness’. This was at the height of hair metal and big, decadent power-rock ballads. What the Edge was doing couldn’t have had less to do with all of that. And that idea, the idea of going right when everyone else was going left – it stuck with me. It really got in my heart. 

Achtung Baby is just a monster album – a beautiful monster at that. From the first seconds into Zoo Station, the giant aggressive guitar off  the top, we can hear that something different is about to happen. Even before the album is 30 seconds deep, I’m thinking, 'Would we have a Radiohead without this album? Not likely.’ 

“Then again on Even Better Than the Real Thing, right outta the gate, there’s that huge Whammy riff, something very new and progressive at this point in the game. There’s so many interesting, radical, forward-thinking tones and riffs on just the first two songs alone!

“I’ve always been partial to Tryin’ to Throw Your Arms Around the World too. A tonal callback to a classic Edge tone – that classic bouncing clean delay sound. His sonic palette grew so exponentially. To accomplish that expanse of tones, the Edge seemed to employ just about every new gadget and toy available, while simultaneously incorporating all the good ol’ stuff  too. 

“Technical stuff aside, I’ve always considered the Edge a ‘painter of sound’ – a description I’ve shamelessly pointed to in my own work. I say ‘painter of sound’ as he’s not so much a ‘technical virtuoso’ in the way that we don’t listen for tricky scales or runs, modes or arpeggios. Yet he’s using sound like color. It’s this sonic atmosphere we’re swimming in when we listen to U2.”

Zac Barnett (American Authors)

“There’s no denying that the Edge is one of the greatest guitar players of all time. And when you listen to his playing on Achtung Baby, one could argue it’s his best. Not only does the Edge bring his classic signature U2 sound we all love from The Joshua Tree, but the way he experiments with melodies, effects and an overall darker tone elevates his playing to a new level. 

“From the counterpoint melodies on One to the overly unique tone you find opening Mysterious Ways, the Edge pushes guitar playing and riff writing to an epic new level. American Authors have always idolized his iconic sounds, but most importantly, his parts act as another vocal melody, proving that every element of a song is equally important.”

Sammy Boller

“The Edge has one of the rarest hallmarks in music: no matter how many times you’ve heard his playing on records, you can always pick up something new. There is so much depth and nuance in everything he plays, it’s just endless. I fell in love with U2 when I started playing in a band and writing music for the first time. 

“The way the Edge composes and orchestrates guitar parts is something I admire and look up to. October is my favorite U2 album, and the main riff of Rejoice is one of my favorite recorded guitar tones of all time. Achtung Baby is another favorite; his playing and composition shine throughout. One is one of the first songs I ever learned on guitar.”

Jon Foreman (Switchfoot)

“I remember sitting in the back of our parents’ car as my dad drove through the suburbs north of Boston. The radio was playing, and I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For came on. My dad pulled the car over, looked back at my brother and me, and said, ‘This is what real music is.’ It must’ve made an impact because years later I convinced the other guys in our Led Zeppelin cover band to step outside of the Zep catalog to play Sunday Bloody Sunday

“Fast forward a few years to when Achtung Baby came out. I was a young kid who was supposedly getting ready for my heat in a local surf contest. But instead of suiting up, I was transfixed by what I was hearing. Dumbstruck. Standing there in the cold, letting the music wash over me. 

“I had never heard guitar tones like that. So intentionally irresponsible, so perfectly irreverent. There was distortion and consonance, chaos and beauty. That opening riff! What a feeling! I could close my eyes and imagine a piano falling down a distorted stairway. Zoo Station, Until the End of the World and The Fly were songs that felt like a beautiful collision.”

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Josh is a freelance journalist who has spent the past dozen or so years interviewing musicians for a variety of publications, including Guitar World, GRAMMY.com, SPIN, Chicago Sun-Times, MTV News, Rolling Stone and American Songwriter. He credits his father for getting him into music. He's been interested in discovering new bands ever since his father gave him a list of artists to look into. A favorite story his father told him is when he skipped a high school track meet to see Jimi Hendrix in concert. For his part, seeing one of his favorite guitarists – Mike Campbell – feet away from him during a Tom Petty and the Heartbreakers concert is a special moment he’ll always cherish.