Nuno Bettencourt explains what’s underrated about Tom Morello’s guitar playing – and why it “pisses me off a little bit”

Tom Morello and Nuno Bettencourt perform live
(Image credit: Rich Fury/Getty Images for iHeartMedia / Lester Cohen/Getty Images for The Recording Academy)

Resurgent Extreme guitarist Nuno Bettencourt has shared some choice thoughts on what he admires about his friend and guitar contemporary Tom Morello as a player – and what he’d like to see more of from the Rage Against the Machine legend.

Bettencourt and Morello were speaking at a press conference ahead of the Best of Blues and Rock festival 2023 in São Paulo, Brazil, when journalist Igor Miranda asked Bettencourt what he admired about Morello.

“It’s funny because when we heard Rage Against the Machine for the first time, we loved it so much that we hated them,” he laughs of Extreme’s initial reaction to the band.

“We have this saying that Jimmy Page – and I said this to Jimmy Page, I thought Jimmy Page wrote all the great rock ’n’ roll riffs and threw the rest of us all the scraps, the bones. And that was until I heard Rage Against the Machine. Every riff was monstrous; it was everything. And the fact that they had a rapper took it to a whole other level of genre and changed the game.”

At this point, Bettencourt hones in on what he loves about Morello’s guitar playing and what he believes is underrated – and why it frustrates him.

“Tom can actually play as well,” he explains. “The thing about Tom that to me gets a little underrated – and pisses me off a little bit, because he tends to pull back and I want him to do this more; he did it more in the early days – you think that he’s got one of the most iconic, inventive, innovative styles with electronics and making sounds like a DJ, but then all of a sudden, he starts really playing playing… like, go fuck yourself, because he’s a dangerous player that way.”

When RATM’s debut dropped in 1992, Morello was known as much for his shred chops as his unconventional sonic bombast. Take the Power Back and Know Your Enemy boasted awe-inspiring alternate picking and legato guitar solos, reflecting Morello’s religious eight-hour practice regime while attending Harvard University.

From 1996’s Evil Empire onwards, the guitarist leaned heavily into ‘noise’ solos that combined toggle-switching, whammy bar warbles and DigiTech Whammy pitch-shifts to bonkers effect, sometimes even embellished with slides and Allen keys. And while Morello’s virtuosic tendencies cropped up in a handful of choice Audioslave cuts, much of his post-RATM recorded output hasn’t reached for the warp-speed licks of Rage’s debut. (Although we’d argue his best-ever solo wasn’t on any album.)

On hearing Bettencourt’s plaudits for his technical abilities, Morello quipped, “It’s because I practiced all the Nuno solos!”

The RATM guitarist was also effusive in his praise for Bettencourt, noting: “He's been a huge influence. Combining funky music with heavy music and then musicianship with abandon are things that have been involved in this band [Extreme] and I think in Nuno's playing from the very start.”

The pair have played together on several occasions – most notably on their Fender-orchestrated cover of the Game of Thrones theme tune – and reconvened at the Best of Blues and Rock festival that evening to perform Audioslave classic Cochise with Extreme frontman Gary Cherone.

Morello’s collaborative spirit was in full force at the festival, as he also traded blues licks with Buddy Guy, wielding the Strat legend’s trademark spotted Fender.

Bettencourt, meanwhile, brought out social media star Mateus Asato for a killer guest spot on Extreme staple Get the Funk Out.

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Michael Astley-Brown

Mike is Editor-in-Chief of GuitarWorld.com, in addition to being an offset fiend and recovering pedal addict. He has a master's degree in journalism from Cardiff University, and over a decade's experience writing and editing for guitar publications including MusicRadar, Total Guitar and Guitarist, as well as 20 years of recording and live experience in original and function bands. During his career, he has interviewed the likes of John Frusciante, Chris Cornell, Tom Morello, Matt Bellamy, Kirk Hammett, Jerry Cantrell, Joe Satriani, Tom DeLonge, Ed O'Brien, Polyphia, Tosin Abasi, Yvette Young and many more. In his free time, you'll find him making progressive instrumental rock under the nom de plume Maebe.