It’s rare to find a guitar player who single-handedly innovated the instrument in the modern-day quite the way that Tom Morello has. With his work in Rage Against the Machine, Morello was able to replicate the sounds of DJ scratches, sirens, and even gunfire with a six-string, and soon he accrued a reputation for innovation.
Despite his penchant for noise and atypical sounds, Morello started off like any other guitar playing: practising scales, using acoustic instruments, and learning the basics of the instrument. Once Morello got an electric guitar, his curiosity was piqued by the new dimensions that distortion and overtones gave him, but at first, he was still following in other people’s footsteps.
“After my punk rock beginnings, I put in my ten, fifteen, twenty thousand hours shredding, like we all did back then,” Morello told the Fender guitar company in 2020. “Trying to be Randy Rhodes or Eddie Van Halen or Yngwie Malmsteen. The electric guitar is a relatively new instrument on the planet, and I remember every article I read, my favourite guitar players would say, ‘It’s all been done on the guitar.’ And I’m like ‘Has it? How would we know that?’”.
From then on, Morello was insistent on finding his own voice on the instrument. Sometimes it happened out of necessity: Morello most iconic guitar, the ‘Arm the Homeless’ Stratocaster copy, was built to Morello’s exact specifications… except he absolutely hated it. Everything but the original body was swapped out, and at one point, Morello simply stopped and decided to make the best with whatever he had. That wound up forming the sound that he pioneered with Rage on their first album.
What came out were buzzes, beeps, waves of white noise, and washes of sounds that had no distinguishable musical aspect to them. Morello was still a great guitar technically gifted player, as he proved with his stints in Audioslave, The Nightwatchman, and The E Street Band. But his signature sound came from creating tones that no one had ever heard a guitar play. Often, it looked like he was barely even playing the guitar. Other times, he didn’t even need the guitar at all.
As was the case when he came into the Fender Signature Sessions. Accompanied by just a bass player and a drummer, Morello took the reigns by busting out every last technique he had in his arsenal: shredding, melodic runs, tapping, harmonic work, and of course his signature killswitch noises. But then he pulls out the guitar chord and begins pressing it with his hand, creating a guitar solo without even touching the guitar. Morello is such an adept player that he doesn’t even need a guitar to bust out a killer solo.
Watch Morello’s non-guitar guitar solo at the three-minute mark of the video down below.