In the early Nineties, something completely unexpected happened. Against a backdrop of Guns N’ Roses and grunge, an unknown band from Los Angeles released a single with a Jimmy Page–worthy riff and a solo unlike anything previously heard in rock music. The song was “Killing in the Name,” the band Rage Against the Machine and the guitarist Tom Morello. These days, Morello wields his ax in the service of Audioslave, and while the hip-hop elements of RATM are gone, Tom’s riffs are as deadly as ever, while his solos continue to explore new dimensions in guitar craft.
For a player who sounds so unique, Morello uses a meager setup, getting the maximum impact from the minimum equipment. The key to his style is in his fingers and imagination. Players have been using his variety of equipment for years, but they’ve never used it like Morello does. If you’d like to put your own talents and imagination to work in a similar way, here’s some gear to get you started on the right foot. No matter what guitar he plays, Morello favors using a single-coil pickup in the neck position to create a big, crunchy sound that doesn’t sear the ears. A Fender Telecaster will do the job here—Morello has always used a Mexican version for his drop-D riffs—and you can snap up a Fender Standard Series example for $527. If that’s too much, the Squier Standard Telecaster comes in at just $332.99 and should supply all the raging tone you need. For Morello’s more whammy-heavy moments, a guitar equipped with a Floyd Rose tremolo is the key. As he’s used Ibanez models in the past for this, it’s worth looking at any of Ibanez’s RG series of guitars, which range in price from $479.99 to $899.99. For amps, try to stick with Marshall tube amps. A Marshall 2203X JCM800 100- watt tube head will cost you nearly $2,800, while a corresponding 1960 A/B 4x12 cabinet can be picked up for $1,150. The AVT50 Valvestate costs about $750, while the cheaper (and solid-state) MG50DFX runs for approximately $529.
Morello produces his wicked synthlike tones via his DigiTech Whammy pedal. If you don’t have the bucks for an original Whammy like Tom’s, check out the reissued version. It features a new divebomb effect and MIDI control and costs $249. To produce phase and delay tones like Morello’s, get the MXR M101 Phase 90 ($137) and the Digi Tech Digidelay ($144).