The Secrets Behind Jonny Greenwood's Guitar Tone on Radiohead's "My Iron Lung"

(Image: © Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images)

While Radiohead’s second album, The Bends, did not ascend to the creative heights of the band’s subsequent breakthrough masterpiece, OK Computer, there’s no way it was ever a sophomore slump. The seeds of Radiohead’s transformation from Pixies-influenced quasi-grunge music to the atmospheric, ambitious and sometimes experimental style they honed on OK Computer are most evident on “My Iron Lung,” where guitarist Jonny Greenwood more freely explores sonic guitar textures to enhance the song’s mood.

What is particularly refreshing is that Greenwood used a rather primitive, inexpensive and arguably limited rig to craft the sounds that fit that song so well. Even more impressive is that Greenwood still relies on much of that gear today, even after the band has sold millions of records and after his rig started to expand in size only a few years after the release of The Bends. Greenwood’s amp here is a Fender Eighty-Five, a late- Eighties 85-watt solid-state combo with a single 12-inch speaker that was inexpensive when it was new and has remained a dirt-cheap bargain on the used market since the early Nineties.

Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood plays a Fender Telecaster Plus in the mid Nineties

Radiohead’s Jonny Greenwood plays a Fender Telecaster Plus in the mid Nineties
(Image: © Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images)

On “My Iron Lung” Greenwood mainly used the Fender amp as a clean foundation for a pair of pedals: a DigiTech Whammy WH-1 and a Marshall Shred Master. Set to its octave-up setting, the Whammy provides a somewhat harsh, warbling texture that is the product of its primitive 12-bit tracking technology, but in this case what many could perceive as a “flaw” actually enhances the desired effect of the melodic guitar line. The Shred Master is employed for louder and more violent sections of the song to produce aggressive bursts of distortion, although a few overdubs were recorded with just the Fender Eighty-Five cranked up as loud as it could go. The Fender Eighty-Five’s clean tones are also employed on their own for the jazzy chords heard throughout the verses.

ORIGINAL GEAR

GUITAR: Early Nineties Fender Telecaster Plus with Red-Red Dually (bridge) and Blue (neck) Lace Sensor pickups (bridge pickup setting); volume: 10, tone: 10

AMP: Fender Eighty-Five with one 12-inch Eminence speaker (Clean tone - Input 1, Volume: 6, Treble: 7, Mid: 5, Bass: 4, Reverb: 0; Dirty tone – Input 1, Volume: 10, Treble: 7, Mid: 8, Bass: 7, Reverb: 0, Gain: 10, Mid Boost: On, Limiter: 3, Presence: 5, Volume: 10, Select: On)

EFFECTS: DigiTech Whammy WH-1 (Octave +1 setting, foot pedal 100 percent toe down); Marshall Shred Master (Gain: 9, Bass: 8, Contour: 0, Treble: 8, Volume: 6)

STRINGS/TUNING: Dean Markley Blue Steel .010-.046/Standard.009-.040/ Standard

PICK: Jim Dunlop .60mm Nylon Standard 44P

GET THE SOUND, CHEAP!

(Image: © Ebet Roberts/Redferns/Getty Images)
  • Squier FSR Affinity Telecaster HH
  • Lace Sensor Red-Red Dually (install in bridge position)
  • Fender Champion 40
  • DigiTech Whammy Ricochet
  • Joyo High Gain Distortion JF-04

TONE TIP: Set the Whammy Ricochet to 12-bit mode and adjust the Momentary switch to the “off” position for a consistent octave-up effect when the pedal is engaged.