Potent Pairings: The Sound of Tom Morello and Rage Against the Machine

In this video, we're looking at some basic combinations of modern pedals and settings you can use to achieve the Tom Morello’s tones in Rage Against the Machine. Check out previous Nailing It and Potent Pairings for more tips on how to sound like the masters.


Few guitarists are as instantly recognizable as Tom Morello of Rage Against the Machine, and yet the tools he uses are common and well within the grasp of most bedroom guitarists. His pedals, which are hardly boutique, include Digitech WH1 Whammy, Dunlop Cry Baby, Boss tremolo and delays, Ibanez flangers, and MXR M101 Phase 90 and Distortion +.

Digitech WH1 Whammy

Dunlop Cry Baby Wah

Boss TR-2 Tremolo

“He uses that distortion to get a little boost on the solos, maybe a little more gain or sustain,” says Oscar M. Diaz, who plays guitar in Chicago-based RATM tribute band Calm Like a Bomb. “Other than that, he keeps it very bluesy and crunchy to be able to get the clarity of certain analog effects and not muddy it up. He’ll employ anything, scratching with a metal piece on the strings then manipulate the sounds with Whammy, delay or tremolo and use feedback for a lot of effects.”

Ibanez FL-9

MXR Phase 90

MXR Distortion+

Morello has made significant modifications to his guitars, however. “Morello doesn’t use a kill switch; he uses a toggle with two volume controls, and one tone for both pickups,” Diaz says. “He would just turn off the neck pickup with the volume all the way down and toggle back and forth. Once I figured out what Morello was doing with toggle switches and volumes, I decided to custom mod my guitars so I could get as close to his sound as possible.”

Morello uses active EMG pickups on his Arm the Homeless guitar, Diaz says, which is Morello’s most-used standard-tuned guitar. “That guitar also has an Ibanez Edge bridge, which enables Morello to manipulate muted notes with no string pulling from the trem bar.”

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While studying Morello’s technique, Diaz found that tab books were often inaccurate and gave little insight into his creative use of effects, which Diaz learned from studying online and bootlegged video, and playing techniques.

“Hammer ons are very popular in his repertoire, along with the toggle switch,” Diaz says. “For those effects, he’ll hammer on the string and manipulate the tremolo with the volume switch quite often, as in “Guerilla Radio” or the intro to “Know Your Enemy.” Then he expands and manipulates the sound with delay, flanger, tremolo pedals and the Whammy Pedal, which he refers to as his Pterodactyl sound.”

Morello also is a fan of non-standard tunings, including “Killing in the Name of,” which uses D-tuning, “Calm Like a Bomb,” which is tuned down to B. On the album version of “Bulls on Parade,” Morello tunes down a half step, Diaz says, though Morello uses standard tuning for performances.

For amplification, Morello is similarly old school and seems to prefer Marshalls, though Diaz plays through a Bogner Uberschall. “With the range of the Uberschall distortion, that section allows me to get that little boost and tailor it down with the loop channel. Marshalls will work equally well, like a JCM3000. I’ve tried with an Orange, but the distortion is very different. I wasn’t really pleased when I heard it come out of an Orange.”

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Here are some basic combinations of modern pedals and settings you can use to achieve the Tom Morello’s tones in Rage Against the Machine.

Guerilla Radio, The Battle of Los Angeles, 1999

Bullet in the Head, Rage Against the Machine, 1992

Know Your Enemy, Rage Against the Machine, 1992

  • Digitech Whammy - 4th and 5th “harmony”
  • Boss Blues Driver
  • MXR Super Comp

Bulls on Parade, Evil Empire, 1996

  • Xotic XW-1 Wah
  • Boss Blues Driver
  • MXR Super Comp for boost and sustain

Killing in the Name, Rage Against the Machine, 1992

Sleep Now in the Fire, The Battle of Los Angeles, 1999

  • Digitech Whammy - 2nd and 3rd harmony
  • Boss Blues Driver
  • MXR Super Comp

Calm Like a Bomb, The Battle of Los Angeles, 1999

  • Ibanez DE-7 Delay
  • Digitech Whammy - 2nd and 3rd harmony
  • Boss Blues Driver
  • MXR Super Comp

From the video:


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