Tools of the Trade: Tom Morello’s Guitars
We receive a lot of questions about what guitars and equipment Tom Morello uses to produce his signature guitar sound. In this article we attempt to shed some light on this subject by chronicling each of Morello’s famous axes, where he got them, what projects he used them on and anything else of interest we were able to dig up.
“To me, it’s immaterial to the creative process what the sound. I’ve always been of the mind that you get a sound and then you make music with that sound.”
This article is broken into two parts. The first part covers Tom’s down and dirty, crunchy chord and revolution riff making machines, or in other words, his electric guitars. The second half of the article discusses the lighter side of Tom’s six-string stylings and will give you an up close and personal look into Tom Morello’s acoustic guitar collection.
So without further delay, we bring you:
Tom Morello’s Electric Guitars
Tom has played and recorded with a wide assortment of electric axes. It seems he has tried everything from low budget guitars that were little more than pieces of plywood with pick ups and volume knobs to priceless works of highly technical audio engineering.
Tom’s first Love: His Kay K-20T SG
This was Morello’s very first guitar. These guitars were manufactured in Japan and sold for a very affordable price in America. Tom picked one up on sale for fifty bucks at a local music store. As any musician knows, there is nothing quite like your first guitar. The rest is rock and roll history.
Morello’s Infamous 1980s Gibson Explorer II – E2
Tom decided to invest more in his second guitar. He used this beauty in his high school band The Electric Sheep. Morello continued to jam with this guitar through his time at Harvard and his eventual arrival in LA.
After moving to Los Angeles Tom replaced the original tailpiece with a Kahler tremolo bridge. Sources say that Tom said that this ended up more or less ruining this classic guitar’s sound. However, Morello continues to rock with this guitar even to this day and it has been used to some extent or another on every album he has made. It is assumed by most that thew guitar has undergone other upgrades and customizations to hone it to the near god-like tone machine it is today, but details and specifics remain unclear and are anyone’s guess.
The original Gibson, before Tom’s alteration featured five piece maple/walnut laminate body, ebony fingerboard with dot inlays, two humbuckers pickups, black pickguard, gold plated hardware, and a Gibson TP-6 tailpiece.
The newest models of this guitar- 2017 Gibson Explorer Electric Guitars usually go for around $1300. Check it out by clicking here.
If you are looking for something more similar to the original version but with a more friendly price, check out the Epiphone 1984 Explorer Electric Guitar.
A Musical Revolution is Born: Tom’s Arm the Homeless Guitar
After moving to LA, Morello purchased this guitar, or rather, he created this guitar. At Performance Guitar in Hollywood, CA Morello picked out every part of this guitar himself. He continued to modify it from its original custom build until the only original aspect remaining was the body.
Morello’s original creation of the guitar featured a Performance Corsair neck and a baby blue rear loaded Stratocaster-style body, two Seymour Duncan JB humbuckers, and the Floyd Rose chrome unit. Morello modified the neck to be a graphite Kramer-style, and the bridge with an Ibanez Edge double locking tremolo.
The guitar is complete with a few hippos that Tom drew himself, because that was the only thing he claimed to know how to draw. Since the guitar had no branding to accompany it, Morello carved “Arm the Homeless” into it.
This became Tom’s main guitar for Rage Against the Machine, but he did not use it for the Audioslave era. He used the guitar again for his “Out of Exile” album. Arm the Homeless has been Tom’s primary guitar to this day.
The Revolution Continues: Tom’s 1982 Fender Telecaster “Sendero Luminoso”
Sendero Luminoso, meaning Shining Light, is named after the Peruvian radical organization which is actually classified as a terrorist group by the good ol’ US of A. All of Morello’s songs that are played in dropped-D tuning are played with this guitar, including “Killing in the Name”. He acquired this guitar from his roommate, who gave Morello the guitar in exchange for an amp.
Made in the United States, this guitar features a maple neck and black finish, white pickups, a six saddle bridge, and two original single coil pickups.
Tom’s Mysterious 1960s St. George MP-2 aka “Creamy”
Made in Japan in the 60s for a short period of time, these guitars were sold in the United States alongside Teisco guitars. Overall, they remain somewhat of a mystery.
Morello picked up his St. George for $30 at a pawn shop in Toronto. For a long time, he did not know the exact model of the guitar, since the badge was missing from the headstock. So he decided to name it “Creamy” after the off-white/yellow finish. He replaced one of the two pickups with a DiMarzio Super Distortion T to get the unforgettable sound in classic RATM tracks such as “Tire Me” from Rage’s second album.
Ibanez Artstar Custom
Featuring echo, wah, and distortion built in effects, this two tone red and black finished guitar was custom built for Tom. Morello used this song to play live during the Rage Against the Machine era, and for Cypress Hill’s song “Rise Up”.
Another one of Morello’s guitars tuned to drop D, he used this song with Rage Against the Machine for playing “The Ghost of Tom Joad” live.
Ibanez Talman Custom
While guitar shopping in an Ibanez guitar shop, Morello picked up a guitar whose pickup made a faulty noise. So Ibanez custom built this guitar for Morello. It features a maple and rosewood fretboard complete with a Kenyan flag finish. Completed with three single coil “lipstick pickups, an Ibanez Lo-Pro tremolo, and an identical killswitch to the one used on the Aerodyne.
Morello used this for a “Revolver and “How I Could Just Kill a Man” with Rage Against the Machine, and “Exploder” with Audioslave.
Tom’s Very Own AudioSlave: His Fender Guitar Center F.S.R. aka “Soul Power”
Morello bought this guitar during his transition from Rage Against the Machine to Audioslave. Originally, it was a created as a factory run special for Guitar Center.
Soul Power has a black finish with a matching headstock with white accent binding along the top of the body and a mirrored pickguard. When it was purchased by Morello, it had three Fender Noiseless pickups, until he replaced the bridge pick up with a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails. Another modification he made to the original guitar was a locking-nut to go with the black Ibanez Edge tremolo bridge. On the lower horn of the guitar, Tom added a kill-switch which creates a stuttering sound by turning the guitar on and off.
This became his main guitar used for all of the standard tuning songs in Audioslave.
While Rage Against the Machine was working on The Battle of Los Angeles album, Tom used this guitar to record overdubs for the album.
Gibson Les Paul Standard
This guitar is typically used when Morello plays in drop-D tuning. Despite having several Les Paul Standards, the sunburst model used with Street Sweeper Social Club and Audio slave sees the most stage time.
Morello also uses a red Les Paul for overdubbing in the more recent era of the Nightwatchman. It is nicknamed the “Taco Bell” Les Paul.
Gibson Les Paul Custom Shop Budweiser
While recording Audioslave’s “Revelations” album in 2006, Morello got this guitar. It was made by a custom shop and only a few were produced. It’s decor included a Budweiser logo that Morello hated. He used a lighter to burn the logo until the white primer paint was exposed.
James Trussart Steelcaster
Based on the Fender Telecaster model, this guitar differs in that it features a hollow steel body. Morello has had two of these guitars. The first one featured a bare metal finish complete with two Hot Rails pickups. The second had a red star graphic finish and Hot Rails in the bridge and Alnico pro II in the neck.
Hopefully the above serves as a good overview of Tom Morrello’s electric guitars. We don’t claim to fully understand all of the technical upgrades and custamizations, and being that we are only humans (mere mortals at that) we do from time to time get our facts wrong. That being said, feel free to leave any corrections, suggestions or contributions in the comments below.
Tom Morello’s Acoustic Guitars
Morello picked up this guitar during the early days of Rage Against the Machine. This acoustic is less expensive than an ovation and features steel strings.
Gibson J-45 “Black Spartacus”
This steel string acoustic is Morello’s primary guitar that he uses for The Nightwatchman. Featuring a black finish, the decor of this acoustic is Morello’s own design comprised of the American, Kenyan, and Italian flags. The design is complete with a hammer and sickle symbol. Morello wrote a song in honor of this guitar called “Black Spartacus Heart Attack Machine”.
Ibanez GA60SCE “Whatever it Takes”
When starting the Nightwatchman, the guitar Morello had was not loud enough to serve his purposes doing live gigs. So he asked Ibanez to create one for him. They gave him this model which is basically the same as the GA60SCE model which has the AEQ-45 pickup/preamp system.
Morello has two of these models, one of them is on display at the Woody Guthrie Museum in Oklahoma.