Rage Against the Machine Articles/Interviews

With Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine
Battle Cry
In the premier installment of his new Guitar World column, Rage Against the Machine guitarist Tom Morello shows you the proper way to play "Testify."
From Guitar World February 2000 issue
Transcribed by David de Sola

Hello and welcome to my first column for Guitar World. Over the next few months, Iíll discuss how I achieved many of the guitar sounds and effects on our latest release, The Battle of Los Angeles. I will also show you how I play the main licks and rhythm parts to many of the songs on the record.

Let me begin by detailing my basic approach to recording. A constant to working on The Battle of Los Angeles was that the basic rhythm tracks were cut live, with Brad [Wilk, drums], Tim [C., bass] and me playing together in the same room. The singular exception to this rule was the song "Born of a Broken Man," which was recorded in segments. The reason for the different approach on this song was that the verse and chorus sections feature radically different guitar sounds, so it was easier to record the song in two separate sections.

When the time comes to overdub, I generally like to double all of the "hard rock" guitar parts. Then when me mix the track, these two guitar tracks are split hard left and right.

On our current tour, we open most of the shows with "Testify," which is the first cut on the new album. The song begins with a very bizarre sound that is relatively simple to produce, but would be impossible without the aid of a variety of effects pedals. To begin with, the low E string is tuned down one whole step to D [this tuning is known as "dropped D" tuning]. Iíve got my Digitech Whammy pedal set to a "seventh," which means that any note I play on the guitar will be harmonized a minor seventh (five whole steps) higher when I rock the pedal forward. Using a real short, slap-back delay setting Ė which creates a reverb-like effect and helps to fill in the gaps in the sound Ė I hit the open low D string and then quickly flick the toggle switch back and forth between the neck and the bridge pickups, both of which are turned up all the way. While Iím toggling away, I slowly sweep the wah-wah back and forth between the bass and the treble frequencies. This may sound like a lot to do at once, but itís really not difficult at all.

This is then followed by the songís main riff (See Figure 1). This four-bar figure begins with a D7#9 chord, which is then followed by a single-note melody based on the D minor pentatonic scale (D F G A C). After I play this riff, I return to the opening guitar effect, which now functions as a backing figure for the verse section.

The "7#9" chord has always been closely associated with Jimi Hendrix, as he used this chord on "Purple Haze" and other songs. Because of this, and the songís overall psychedelic vibe, some people have described this song as sounding "Hendrixy," and I agree. In fact, its working title was "Hendrix Jam." And, curiously, I recently found out that Jimi Hendrix used to play a song called "Testify" when he was a backing musician for the Isley Brothers. It all comes full circle!

For gear, I use virtually the same setup in the studio that I use live: muy main amp is a 50-watt JCM 800 Marshall 2205, circa 1987, into a Peavey 4 x 12 cabinet. For The Battle of Los Angeles, I also used a few other amps, such as a Line 6, hard on the clean, spacey intro of "Mic Check," plus a Pignose mini-amp and a MusicMan "Twin" style amp. The MusicMan has a built-in phaser Ė a very rare, phenomenally cool feature. Itís activated when you pull out one of the knobs, and it functions as this crazy e.q./filter effect which can be preset to any notch in the eq sweep. I get a tremendous sonic variety with that one feature, and I use it extensively for overdubbing. A good example of that effect is heard at the end of "Ashes in the Fall," where the song really rocks out.

I like to route my effects through the effects loop in the back of the amp. Starting from the guitar, they are set up in this order: a Dunlop CryBaby wah, my trusty red Digitech Whammy pedal, a DOD digital delay, a DOD eq, which is set "flat" but with the signal boosted (so I can "go to 11"), and then an old Ibanez flanger.

I have a bunch of CryBaby wahs that all sound completely different from each other, and, unfortunately, thereís only one that makes the sound that people are used to hearing on all of the records. I just canít get any of the other wahs to make the right sound! The sweep of that one particular wah seems to stay within the mids only, and never gets to that super-high, horrible sound, or drops out too low for the bass to register. On some songs, the basic rhythm track requires that the wah be set at full treble, in conjunction with other effects, so if thereís too much high-end white noise, itís unbearable!

My main guitars still consist of the stock early-Eighties black Telecaster Ė which I got in a trade with my former roommate, a guy from the band Liquid Jesus Ė plus the blue "Arm the Homeless" Performance guitar, and my $80 "Creamy" guitar that I bought in a Canadian pawn shop. The Creamy guitar weighs less than a Snapple bottle, but it sounds killer! I like to use that guitar for songs which feature a dropped D tuning.

My latest guitar acquisition is a two-tone (red and black) custom-made Ibanez, which is a replica of a very bizarre, Sixties Vox guitar that I saw at a Guitar Center. The Vox has all of these incredible onboard effects; I couldnít believe it when I saw it, and they actually had two of them! The problem with the Voxes Ė aside from the fact that they are grotesquely expensive Ė was that they simply didnít stay in tune, and were in no way gig-ready.

So Ibanez took the idea and built a guitar for me that I can play every night. Itís an AS-200, 335-type guitar, with loads of onboard effects: the bridge pickup volume control, when pulled out, doubles as a built-in wah. The neck volume knob, when pulled, doubles as an echo repeat control; it controls the speed of the echo repeats. Then there is a built-in distortion knob, which doubles as a tone knob, and another knob which controls the amount of distortion. Then, thereís yet another knob, which activates a treble/bass boost.

I also used another very unusual guitar, made in the mid Seventies, called an Ovation Breadwinner. Way back when I bought my first electric guitar, which was a Kay, they had a Breadwinner on the wall, which was the first solid body electric guitar Ovation ever made. It looks like a battleaxe, or a sickle. But it was far beyond my modest means at the time. So now I finally got my Breadwinner, and I rocked with it on "Ashes in the Fall." Itís so ugly itís beautiful, and it sounds damn good!

Next month Iíll be back with a detailed look at another tune from The Battle of Los Angeles. See you then.

See: Testify Tablature

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