Tom Morello’s Performance “Arm the Homeless” Custom

Tom Morello bought his custom guitar at Performance Guitar in Hollywood in 1986, shortly after moving to LA. He handpicked each part of the guitar, even though he was inexperienced in guitar building. The result was not what he had hoped for, and over the next two years, he made numerous modifications to the guitar until it suited his needs. The only original part of the guitar was the body.

The history of this guitar is spotty. When I first moved to Hollywood, I wanted to have a custom-made guitar because some of my favorites, such as Steve Vai, had custom guitars. I went to a guitar shop with my first check from my first job, but I was skinned. The guitar I bought was a huge rip-off and probably the worst guitar I’ve ever played. I chose the fretboard, but I’m not a luthier and had no idea what I was doing.

Over the next couple of years, I tore the guitar apart and the only remaining piece is this piece of wood (body).

Tom Morello Tells the History of His “Arm the Homeless” Guitar, Premier Guitar
Tom with the Arms the Homeless guitar at the 2011 New York Comic Con. Photo by: Marnie Joyce

Original Specs and Mods

The guitar originally featured a light-blue, Stratocaster-style rear-loaded body, a Performance Corsair neck, two Seymour Duncan JB humbuckers, and a Floyd Rose chrome tremolo unit.

When he started modding the guitar, Tom tried out a few different necks, and eventually settled on a graphite Kramer-style neck, found in a bin at Nadine’s Music. He also tried out several tremolo bridges, including versions of Kahler and Floyd Rose, before settling on the Ibanez Edge double-locking tremolo. As far as pickups, the original Seymour Duncans were replaced with an EMG 85/EMG H set.

At one point Tom also added a metal plate to the back of the headstock, which is apparently an actual product called “Fathead”. This plate is supposed to add more sustain, but Tom didn’t really see any difference, although he decided to keep it anyways.

Lastly, Tom added a kill switch to the guitar, which enables him to quickly mute/unmute the instrument.

The neck I found at a music store on Santa Monica Boulevard and the pickups, electronics, and other parts are completely different.

I tried to give it more sustain by putting a Fathead thing on the back, but it didn’t work. Eventually, I gave up trying to get the perfect sound and embraced the sound I had. This guitar has been my main guitar for 19 of my records and thousands of shows.

It’s set up with a toggle switch that works as a kill switch and I often use it to create DJ-scratching sounds by manipulating the switch rhythmically.

Tom Morello Tells the History of His “Arm the Homeless” Guitar, Premier Guitar

Art, Usage

Tom decorated the guitar with his own drawings of a hippo, which apparently he could only draw facing left. In 1993, he also added the words “Arm the Homeless” in red, which became the guitar’s nickname.

Tom used this guitar as his main instrument during his time with Rage Against the Machine and retired it in 2002 when he started playing with Audioslave. He brought it out of retirement in 2005 during the writing of Out of Exile and has been using it regularly ever since. When RATM reunited in 2007, it became his main guitar once again and remains so to this day.

Tom playing the guitar at 1999 Woodstock Festival.
Tom playing the guitar at 1999 Woodstock Festival.


GroundGuitar counts on your criticism and feedback. In case you notice anything wrong with the information posted on this page, or you have knowledge of something that you would like to share, be sure to leave a comment below.

In case you want to talk to me directly and privately, please use the Contact Form and I will get back to you as soon as possible. (Dan)

Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments