Today’s PedalsAndEffects Song Dissection focuses on a song by a group that pushed musical boundaries and blurred the lines of musical genres back in the nineties. Their political styling, the onslaught of sonic aggression and groovy beats still resonate with listeners to this day. There can be no other such group as Rage Against the Machine, and today’s song dissection is for their song “Guerrilla Radio” off their album “The Battle Of Los Angeles.” As always, our disclaimer: some bands/artists are very protective about their sonic secrets so some of these dissections are based solely on our own knowledge of the capabilities of effects pedals, a little internet research and of course the songs themselves.
Rage guitarist Tom Morello has gone on the record as saying that his guitar sounds are modeled after the street DJ’s that were so prevalent during the rise of hip-hop. Heavily influenced by hip-hop, Morello would try to emulate the production techniques of Geto Boys and Dr. Dre on the guitar. Morello’s pedalboard has been well documented, and it’s a marvel to behold as he pulls such unconventional sounds from such a (relatively) small board. Morello rocks the original Digitech WH-1 Whammy pedal and an OG 80’s Dunlop Crybaby Wah which are two key pedals in his arsenal for pulling the wacky sounds that he does. (Honorable mention to the DOD EQ that he uses as a boost!)
From l-r: Brad Wilk, Zack De La Rocha, Tom Morello, Tim Commerford. Photo Credit: allmusic
Morello often uses the wah as Jimmy Page did, occasionally activating it solely as a treble boost having it set in one position as opposed to using the full sweep. He describes using the wah for “white noise” in the down setting so the treble and the harmonics really stand out (almost like a pre-amp) . The real magic of Morello’s technique is employing a “killswitch” in his guitars that cut off the signal of the guitar. This effect can also be achieved if you have two separate volume control knobs on your guitar by having one completely rolled off and then switching between the two with the pickup selector.
Photo credit: Modern Guitarist
In the case of the guitar solo in Guerrilla Radio, the solo almost sounds like a harmonica! To achieve this effect Morello uses a fair amount of amp driven distortion (no overdrive, distortion or fuzz pedals in his setup) sets his Whammy to an octave up, all the while making good use of the wah’s sweep and rocking the mute/killswitch for each note in the solo.
One of Morello’s many unconventional solos. Photo credit: Scott Penner
Morello’s playing is surprisingly minimalistic, often riding on one motif for a majority of a song. What makes him stand out is his unconventional approach, often using an Allen wrench or his hands to brush up against the strings to simulate DJ scratching, manipulating the string tuners, and even pulling the cable out of his guitar and pressing it up against the metal bridge creating a feedback loop. He’s not doing any fancy tap dancing with his board and he has said that he prefers cheaper/inexpensive gear as he is quoted as saying that unique character that they provide. He values the rattles and noises that come from lower quality equipment. In his words “It’s not about being clean, proper, or correct. It’s about being unique.” We’re all guilty of coveting the new, highly priced (or vintage and still highly priced) pedal, but sometimes it’s best to really make do with what you have and see if you can’t “unlock” any sounds other than what was intended for your gear! That sort of sonic circumvention really lets you cut through the mix, and stand out in the endless sea of music.
Really dissecting a bands or artists sound is a good way to attempt to figure out their songwriting mentality and apply it to your own. If there’s a song you can’t quite figure the effect out and want us to try dissecting what pedals are being used, feel free to email us at email@example.com Until next time!
Words by Max Kane