Tom Morello (born May 30, 1964) is a Grammy Award-winning American guitarist best known for his tenure with the bands Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, his acoustic solo act The Nightwatchman, and his newest group, Street Sweeper Social Club. Tom is also the co-founder (along with Serj Tankian) of the non-profit political activist organization, Axis of Justice. He is best known for his unique and creative guitar playing style, which incorporates feedback noises, unconventional picking and tapping as well as heavy use of guitar effects. He was ranked #26 in Rolling Stone’s list of the “100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.”
Tom’s guitar rig is pretty simple. Most of his main guitars are low-end models, often scrapped together and assembled by Tom himself – like the Arm the Harmless guitar which he used in the Rage Against the Machine. He’s been using one exact same amp since the beginning of his career – the Marshall JCM800, and his main effect is the Digitech Whammy pedal.
Tom Morello’s Electric Guitars:
Kay K-20T SG
|This is the first guitar Tom ever bought. The guitar was on sale at the local music shop as sort of a starter-pack (guitar and amp as a combo), and Tom paid one half of the price – which was $50, while his mother paid for the rest.
Kay guitars were manufactured in Japan, and sold in the US for a very affordable price. Tom’s Kay SG replica featured cherry red finish, plywood body, Bigsby-style tremolo, and two blade pickups.
1980s Gibson Explorer II – E2
|As Tom became more serious about playing he decided it’s time to invest some money in a better guitar. The choice fell on a Gibson Explorer with a flat gold finish. The guitar featured five piece maple and walnut laminate body, ebony fingerboard with dot inlays, two humbuckers pickups, black pickguard, gold plated hardware, and a Gibson TP-6 tailpiece.
Tom used this guitar with his high school band called “The Electric Sheep”. Later on, he brought it with him and used it for practicing during the time he was enrolled at Harvard University around 1982, and continued using it after moving to LA in 1986. Sometime during that time he removed the original tailpiece and installed a Kahler tremolo bridge – which according to Tom ruined it’s sound. Nonetheless he kept playing the to this day, and to some extent he used it on every record he ever made.
Arm the Homeless
|Tom bought this guitar after moving to LA in 1986 at a store in Hollywood called “Performance Guitar”. It was completely custom-built – meaning that Tom chose every single piece of it himself, even though at the time he didn’t know much about guitars – or at least none of the things related to building one. The result wasn’t what he hoped for, and over next two years he completely modified it to fit his needs, leaving only the body original.
In it’s original state, the guitar featured a light-blue colored rear loaded Stratocaster-style body and a Performance Corsair neck, two Seymour Duncan JB humbuckers, and the original Floyd Rose chrome unit. Tom changed the neck couple of times, and eventually settled for a graphite Kramer-style neck which he found in a bin at a place called “Nadine’s Music”. He also swapped the tremolo bridge more than a few times, going over all of the versions of Kahler and Floyd Rose models, but eventually fitting the guitar with the Ibanez Edge double locking tremolo. He also removed the original pickups and installed the EMG 85/EMG H set.
The guitar is decorated with couple of drawings of a hypo done by Tom himself (it is supposedly the only he could draw, and he only knew how to draw them facing the left side). Around 1993 he carved the words saying “Arm the Homeless” which quickly became the guitar’s nickname due to lack of actual branding.
Tom used this guitar as his main during the RATM era for the standard tuned songs, and retired it around 2002 as he started playing with Audioslave. He took it out of retirement as soon as 2005 during the writing of ‘Out of Exile’ album, and since then it has been used regularly like before. When RATM reunited in 2007 it was back as his main guitar, and remained as such to this day.
1982 Fender Telecaster “Sendero Luminoso”
|This was/is Tom’s main guitars for all of the songs songs which are played in a dropped-D tuning – most notably “Killing in the Name”. The guitar originates from Tom’s roommate, who at the time played in a band called “Liquid Jesus” and was in need of an amp. Tom gave him a Marshall head, and got this Telecaster in return. This happened sometime prior to 1990, although we have no exact date.
Tom’s Telecaster was made in the US, and features black finish, maple neck, white pickguard, two original single-coil pickups, and a six saddle bridge. It is decorated with various stickers including the one which is responsible for the guitar’s nickname reading “Sendero Luminoso” – which when translated to English means “Shining Path”. This is a name of a radical organization in Peru, which is classified by the Peruvian government, the U.S., the European Union, and Canada as a terrorist organization [Shining Path – Wikipedia].
Another sticker behind the bridge shows couple of Kenyan people holding a sign which says “Go Home Honestly, We Hate You”. This photo dates back to 1950s and the Mau Mau Uprising that happened during the time Tom’s father was living in Kenya.
1960s St. George MP-2 “Creamy”
|Tom bought this guitar at a pawn shop in Toronto for around $30. Although we’re not completely positive on this, but this was probably around 1993 while the band was doing North American tour.
St. George guitars are a sort of a mystery. They were produced for a short period of time in the 60s in Japan, and sold in the US mostly alongside Teisco guitars. Tom’s model is finished in blonde/yellow color, and features two pickups, one of which was replaced with a DiMarzio Super Distortion T. His guitar is also missing the badge on the headstock, so for long time Tom didn’t know the actual model of the guitar, and it was mostly called just “creamy”.
Tom used this guitar to record the song “Tire Me” from the RATM’s second album, paired with a 20w solid-state amp.
Ibanez Artstar Custom
|This guitar was custom-built for Morello. It features two-tone red and black finish and it has couple of built-in effects including echo, distortion and wah.
Tom used this guitar live during the RATM era on the song “Guerrilla Radio”, and later on for Cypress Hill’s song “Rise Up”.
|Tom used this guitar with RATM live for “The Ghost of Tom Joad” and kept it tuned to drop D.|
Ibanez Talman Custom
|This guitar was custom-built for Tom by Ibanez, and it was allegedly modeled after a faulty guitar that Tom happened to come across in their shop. The guitar Tom picked up made a weird high-pitched sound when the toggle was set between two pickups, reason for which was an internal pickup which was picking up this weird noise when it wasn’t supposed to.
Tom’s custom-made Ibanez Talman features Kenyan flag finish, maple neck/rosewood fretboard, Ibanez Lo-Pro Edge tremolo, and three single coil “lipstick” pickups. It also has a killswitch identical to one used on the Aerodyne (more about this below).
This guitar was used for couple of RATM songs, including “Revolver” and “How I Could Just Kill a Man”, as well as for “Exploder” with the Audioslave.
Fender Guitar Center F.S.R. “Soul Power”
|This was originally made as a Factory Special Run for Guitar Center. At the time of buying this guitar Tom was looking for a new instrument as he was making the transition from RATM to Audioslave.
This guitar is finished in black and has a matching headstock and features white binding along the top edge of the body, as well as a mirror pickguard. It originally had three Fender Noiseless pickups, but Tom replaced the bridge pickup with a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails. He also installed a locking-nut to go with the black Ibanez Edge tremolo bridge.
One feature that is distinctive on this guitar is a kill-switch installed by Tom at the lower horn of the guitar, which can turn the signal of the guitar on and off to create a stuttering sound.
He used the guitar as his main from 2002 to 2007 for all of the Audioslave songs which are played in standard tuning, and continues to use it to this day next to his other guitars.
|This guitar was used around 1999 – during the time the band (RATM) was working on The Battle of Los Angeles album. Tom allegedly used it to record some overdubs on the record.
On one occasion he had the guitar connected to a vintage Vox Tone Bender fuzz pedal and a MusicMan amp. As the guitar was laying around it accidentally picked up signal from a Korean radio station which ended up as a part of “Sleep Now in the Fire” song.
Gibson Les Paul Standard
|Tom has couple of Les Paul Standards, but one that gets the most stage time is a sunburst model used with Audioslave and Street Sweeper Social Club. The guitar is completely stock except for the pickguard which was removed. It is usually played in drop-B tuning.
He also has a red Les Paul which he uses for overdubbing he uses in the more recent days of Nightwatchman. He calls it the “Taco Bell” Les Paul.
Gibson Les Paul Custom Shop Budweiser
|Tom got this guitar at the time of recording of Audioslave “Revelations” album in 2006. The guitar itself was made in 2002 by Gibson Custom Shop in a very limited number, and featured Budweiser logo and crown on the body.
When Tom initially tried the guitar he fell in love with the sound, but hated the beer logo – so he decided to get rid of it. He went outside of his studio and used a lighter to literally burn the design of the body, exposing the white primer paint.
James Trussart Steelcaster
|Tom had at least two of these. First one was used in the earlier years and had bare metal finish and two Hot Rails pickups, while his second Steelcaster has Hot Rails in the bridge and Alnico pro II in the neck position and features red star graphic finish.
The guitar is based on the Fender Telecaster model, but features hollow steel body.
Tom Morello’s Acoustic Guitars:
|Tom got this guitar around the time he was heading of the college, and used it with Lock Up and in the early days of the RATM. The guitar is basically a cheap Ovation knock-off with steel strings.|
Ibanez GA60SCE “Whatever it Takes”
|Tom got this guitar in 2002, around the time he was starting the whole Nightwatchman thing. His nylon string guitar that he had at the time wasn’t loud enough for live gigs, so he talked with guys from Ibanez about ma king him one.
The guitar they made is actually pretty much identical to the GA60SCE model which has the AEQ-45 pickup/preamp system, but Tom’s guitar might have some features and specifics which we are not aware of.
Tom has two of these guitars. Since March 2015 one the guitars can be seen at the Woody Guthrie Museum in Oklahoma.
Gibson J-45 “Black Spartacus”
|This is Tom’s main steel string acoustic guitar which he’s been using as The Nightwatchman. The guitar is completely black and features Morello’s own design on the left of the bridge which combines the Kenyan,Italian and American flags along with the hammer and sickle symbols.
The guitar is dubbed “Black Spartacus”, and Tom even wrote a song about it called “Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine” – name inspired by Clash’s Mick Jones Clash who referred to his guitar as “heart attack machine”.
Tom Morello’s Guitar Amps:
– Marshall JCM 800 2205 50W
Tom used this Marshall as his main amp ever since 1988 when his old Marshall was stolen from his van. At that time Morello was playing in a band called Lock Up, which he joined in early after Mike Livingston, who was the guitarist and the original founder of the band, left in late 1987.
The reason behind that was I had to record a demo for my band on the weekend and all my gear got stolen out of my van. I only had a couple days to replace the gear and I went to the local music store in Hollywood. I went in there and they only had one Peavey cabinet, so I bought that. They had two heads, a Marshall and something else. I was suspicious of the something else so I bought the Marshall and that was it. It worked on that demo and I’ve loved the sound from that combo to this day—no magical rhyme or reason, but it has worked out for me quite well. [Tom Morello Interview by Chris Kies, Premier Guitar December 16, 2008]
According the the same interview linked above, Tom did some experimenting in 1988/89 but after a while decided to go back to the Marshall and Peavey combo. He played with the knobs on the amp to get the sound exactly where he wanted it, and he stuck with those exact same settings ever since.
For years I was seeking out this miraculous tone and I was banging my head against the wall trying to get all this horrible rack gear—which I thought made my sound worse—and cab/head combinations, but nothing really worked. Finally, I went back to the Marshall head and Peavey cabinet. I was at rehearsal and I spent at least four hours tweaking knobs just a hair this way and a hair that way to a point where I felt the sound was reasonable, and I marked those settings. This happened in ’88 or ‘89 and those markings are the same ones I’ve used to this day. They are the same markings/settings I used at every show and every record I’ve ever made. [Tom Morello Interview by Chris Kies, Premier Guitar December 16, 2008]
Although Tom mostly uses the same exact Marshall that he bought in 1988, he has a couple of them in case something goes wrong with his main one. All of the amps have their Marshall logos covered in black tape.
– Peavey VTM 4×12 Cabinet
This is the cabinet that Tom uses with his Marshall JCM800, both of which he used almost exlusively since 1988. The cabinet is fitted with four Celestion G12K-85 speakers. Just ecently, Morello purchased a backup cabinet identical to this one since his old cab started to get a little tired after being used since 1988 or so.
– Marshall JCM800 4×12 Cabinet
Used as a backup for the Peavey cabinet.
– Marshall Lead 20
20W practice amp with a 10 inch speaker. Tom used it to record “Tire Me”, paired with a 1960s St. George MP-2.
– Vox AC30 Reissue
Used for doubling guitars/recording multiple tracksed on Audioslave’s ‘Revelations’ album
Ordinarily, I’m very militant; I only want to use my crappy old setup. Brendan, of course, has tons of amps and gear. I tried one of his Vox AC30 reissues and it sounded amazing. [Tom Morello – Science Friction; GuitarWorld]
– Line 6 Flextone 2×12
Used for double guitars and for the clean sound on mic check.
Tom Morello’s Guitar Effects:
Tom’s usual setup is as follows (used with SSSC, Nightwatchman, Bruce, RATM, etc)
– Digitech WH-1 Whammy
Tom used this pedal (exclusively only the original vintage model) for the most part of his career, and it can be heard among other during the solo on “Killing in the Name”.
The whammy pedal for me was a great invention because I never had the patience to read all the manuals (tha came with various pedals), and when you plugged them in they drained all the sound and it sounded kinda crappy. So when heard there was a harmonizer in a stompbox, I thought I gotta get me one of those. It was right around the time of beginning with Rage Agains The Machine, and I was basically designated to be the band’s DJ. I found that with very simple manipulations, with a very simple pedal, all of the sudden the guitar for me was finding a lot of very new sonic possibilities. [Tom Morello: Tricks & Guitar Gear]
– Jim Dunlop Crybaby Wah
Early 80s model that Tom used pretty much his whole career.
– DOD FX-40 Equalizer
– Boss DD-2 Digital Delay
– Boss TR-2 Tremolo
– Ibanez DFL Flanger
Used in Rage against the machine 1991-2000)
– MXR Phase 90
Replaced the Ibanez Flanger when Audioslave was formed)
More recent updates — setup used with Ozzy Osbourne and in Prophets of Rage
– Boss DD-3 Digital Delay
In the most recent days Tom swapped the single DD-2 pedal with a pair of DD-3s.
– Boss TU-3 Tuner
An addition to the old setup – used for muting purposes.
– Boss TR-2 Tremolo
This pedal is no longer present on his pedalboard.
Tom Morello’s Guitar Strings:
– GHS Boomers 9 – 46 (used on all guitars with tremolo)
– GHS Boomers 10 – 46 (used on other guitars, with a 56 instead of the 46 for the drop-B guitars)
Tom Morello’s Guitar Picks:
– Jim Dunlop Tortex H3 1.14mm