tom morello

Tom Morello has been arguably one of the most influential rock guitarists in the 21st century. But what is it that makes his sound and style so unique?

Posted: 12 April 2022

Read time: 3 mins


Thomas Baptist Morello was born on 30th May 1964. He was raised by his mother and lived in Libertyville, Illinois. Growing up Morello always had a passion for both music and politics, and picked up his first guitar at the age of 13. As his feelings towards music began to grow Morello decided that he would start studying the guitar seriously, coinciding with him enrolling at Harvard University. At this time, Morello's musical tastes lay in the direction of hard rock and heavy metal, particularly, Black Sabbath, Kiss and Iron Maiden. Morello has previously claimed that Black Sabbath guitarist Tony Iommi was one of his biggest influences as a riff writer. 

Despite being heavily influenced by punk rock bands and artists like the Clash and Bob Dylan, Morello developed his own unique sound and technique through the electric guitar.

Playing style

Tom Morello is best known for his creative guitar playing style which combines feedback noise, unconventional picking and tapping, as well as incorporating a heavy use of guitar effects through pedals to give a truly unique sound. He also makes good use of a kill switch in various songs to rapidly cut the guitar tone.

He is equally as inspired by Run-DMC and Public Enemy as he is by Yngwie Malmsteen and Steve Vai, which can be seen when Tom described his role in Rage Against the Machine as “being the DJ in the band”.

Morello's unique technique and talent led to him being voted the fifth-greatest guitarist of the past 30 years in 2010.

Gear used

Arguably, Morello's most famous guitar has been the mongrel custom "Arm The Homeless". The original guitar was custom-made and featured a Stratocaster body with a Performance Corsair neck, two Seymour Duncan JB pickups, and a chrome original Floyd Rose tremolo. However, since having the guitar just about everything has been changed numerous times and the only thing that remains from the original guitar is the body.

Following the theft of his music gear from a van, Morello decided to buy, and use, the JCM800 2205 50-Watt amp head. Although the amplifier has two channels, Morello only uses the overdrive channel and lowers the volume on his guitar to get cleaner sounds.

Morello also uses a Marshall Lead 20 Model 5002 20 watts Combo Amplifier. This particular amp was used to write and record the song "Tire Me", which would go on to win the first-ever Best Metal Performance award at the Grammy’s in 1997.

As mentioned before, Morello uses a lot of pedals to produce effects in his playing. Within RATM, he uses a Dunlop Cry Baby, a DigiTech WH-1 Whammy, a Boss DD-2 Digital Delay, a DOD EQ pedal (set flat and just used to boost the volume during guitar solos or particular rocking moments), and an Ibanez DFL Flanger. All his pedals are placed in the amplifier’s effects loop.