I'm excited today because we are going to unpack the magical tone of my favorite guitarist - Tom Morello. His work with Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Prophets of Rage, and his individual work, on the The Atlas Underground has been shaping the musical landscape for decades.
He's made such a significant impact on my playing, and he is the main reason I picked up the guitar. If you are here to dial in on his tone like me when I first picked up the instrument, I want to help you accomplish that same goal.
Keep in mind, Tom has way more guitars and pedals then what will be covered here so the intent of this video is get you about 80-90% there.
At the core of Tom's tone magic is his Marshall JCM800 head in conjunction with his Peavey 4x12 cabinet. Tom does not have a distortion pedal and gets all of his distorted tone through only using the overdrive channel on the Marshall. Now, if don't own a Marshall JCM800 and want to save a few bucks then I would suggest purchasing a pedal in a box like the JHS Angry Charlie or something similar. There are a plenty of great options out there. If you can get your hands on the JCM 800 or a pedal, here's a rough place to start with the settings.
Tom has gone on record that he has basically kept his settings the same for years. In fact, they have stayed the same since 1988. After tinkering with his gear for 2-3 hours trying every possible combination, he settled on something similar to what I am about to share with you. The lesson for us all is that he drew a line in the sand so he could focus on creating rather than tinkering.
Here's a good place to start whether you are messing with a Marshall JCM800 or amp in the box pedal like the JHS Angry Charlie:
Master: Noon or 5 on a Marshall amp
Preamp or Drive: 2 o'clock or 7 on Marshall amp
Bass: 11 o'clock or 4 on a Marshall amp
Middle: 11 o'clock or 4 on a Marshall amp
Treble: 5 o'clock or all the way up on a Marshall amp
Tom often likes to have his EQ on the higher end. The reason why is because Tim Commerford's low bass riffs go well with it.
So, that's all you need as a foundation. You can start with a JCM 800 which will cost you about $3k street price or if you want to save several bucks, start with a pedal for about $200.
Let's talk about his guitars.
Tom has a ton of guitars including his Gibson Explorer, Budweiser Les Paul, Grammy winning Creamy guitar, and special Guerrilla Radio guitar but we don't have the time in this video to go through every single one. What we will do is spend a few minutes talking about the three most popular ones from his collection.
Arm the Homeless Guitar
The first is his famous Arm the Homeless guitar which has used on a majority of his work that has been done in standard tuning. This guitar was custom-built at a shop in Hollywood and over the years he has changed almost everything about it except the body. It has an Ibanez Edge Floyd Rose and a knock off Kramer neck. Tom has always been a fan of Woodie Guthrie who loved to illustrate on his guitars so Tom has followed suit here with his "Arm the Homeless" message and hippos.
The pickups he is using on this guitar are EMGs. The neck has an EMG H pickup which is actually a single coil disguised as a humbucker and he has an EMG 85 in the bridge.
Soul Power Guitar
After Tom's time with Rage Against the Machine, he wanted to essentially press the reset button and refresh his creativity a bit so he picked up the next guitar for his work with Audioslave.
This is his Soul Power guitar. It's a heavily modified Strat from the Designer Series of the 2000's. It includes two Fender Noiseless pickups in the neck and middle position along with a Seymour Duncan hot rails pickup in the bridge. It also has a kill switch to assist with his DJ'ing or scratching.
Sendero Luminoso Guitar
And finally, let's talk about Tom's American Telecaster called Sendero Luminoso. When translated to English it means "Shining Path" and is also the name of a radical organization in Peru. The fun story behind this guitar is that Tom's roommate, Scott Tracy, needed an amp head and Tom needed a guitar for Drop D songs. A trade was made and the rest is history. Thanks to this guitar we have songs like Killing in the Name or Testify. This guitar includes stock pick-ups and is mainly played in the neck position like most of Tom's other guitars.
So at this point we have discussed Tom's amp and guitars, let's dig into what he has on his pedalboard.
Again, the purpose here is not to discuss every single piece of gear but to get you in the ballpark of capturing Tom's magical tone so we aren't going to cover every single pedal but the primary ones which will get you all that sonic goodness.
A lot of folks think because of Tom's innovative sound that he must have a ton of fancy or weird pedals, but the reality is actually opposite. His board is actually fairly simple. These are the pedals that are the core of his sound.
Dunlop Cry Baby Wah Pedal
The first pedal in his chain besides his BOSS Chromatic Tuner is his Dunlop Cry Baby Wah Pedal. Tom uses this pedal quite a bit and can be heard on songs like Bulls on Parade or Be Yourself.
And of course we have Tom's famous Digitech Whammy which can heard on Know Your Enemy or radio favorites like the Like a Stone solo. This pedal right there is indeed a staple of the Tom Morello magic.
BOSS DD-3 Digital Delay Pedals
The next one on the list are his BOSS DD-3 pedals. You heard that right. He actually uses two of them on his board. One is mainly utilized for short delays where he has two different settings. One is for a slap back delay. A great example of this would be the intro to Audioslave's Cochise where he is mimicking a helicopter. And, the other setting is for Van Halen type tones where it is bit more like a sequencer. You can hear this in songs like Audioslave's Your Time Has Come. As for the second delay pedal, he mainly uses this as his long delay option where everything is set at noon and is deployed in the Like a Stone solo along with the Whammy.
BOSS TR-2 Tremelo Pedal
Another notable mention is his BOSS TR-2 Tremelo pedal which was used every now and then during his time with Audioslave. This pedal isn't always a mainstay on his board but it has it's place on songs like Gasoline or once again, Like a Stone.
MXR Phase 90 Pedal
And finally a pedal worth mentioning is his MXR Phase 90. Tom admits he doesn't use this pedal that much but it is on his board in case he ever gets to jam out with Eddie Van Halen. It is occasionally used on songs like the intro to Killing in the Name.
There are also some other notable mentions like his DOD 40XB EQ pedal and Digitech Space Station which are worth picking up if you want to have a complete Tom Morello pedalboard.
So there you have it. That's how you can capture the magic of Tom Morello's tone. It's not overly complicated, yet it has made a significant impact on our musical landscape.
DISCLAIMERS: We are a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for us to earn fees by linking to Amazon.com and affiliated sites.
This blog post was not paid for by outside persons or manufacturers. No gear was supplied to us for this project The content of this blog post and video are our opinions and not reviewed or paid for by any outside persons.