Shortly after it’s release, U2’s War garnered accolades and awards that no doubt signaled the album’s long-term success in the decades of rock that lay ahead for the young four-piece from Dublin. In the year of its release, War waged with Michael Jackson’s Thriller for the number one spot on the UK charts. Across the pond in the USA, it became U2’s first gold-certified album. While a number of singles were released of off War, it all started in January 1, 1983. Surprise, surprise, the song was “New Year’s Day.”
One of the main ingredients of U2’s sound on War and well-beyond is the rhythmic, ear-worms delivered by the guitar sounds of The Edge. From effect-laden riffs, to grinding lead lines, to chimey clean chords, The Edge’s sonic creations are truly one-of-a-kind. Because of that, they’re simply too complex and curated to distill down into the few magical gear ingredients to nail his tone. Having said that, however, there are some staples in The Edge’s sound that have been disclosed over the years, many of which harken back to the band’s early days in the era before and around War.
Gibson’s unexpected knock-off?
The Edge’s arsenal of guitars on stage and in studio is notoriously extensive. While there are a few axes that have become iconic with his image and tone—not least his 1976 Gibson Explorer and 1973 black Fender Stratocaster—a third instrument figured heavily in the band’s discography and was reportedly used to lay down the recording of “New Year’s Day.” Of course, I’m talking about his cream-colored 1975 Gibson Les Paul acquired by The Edge at a New York city shop back in 1982. As it turns out, try as he might, The Edge simply can’t get away from this guitar.
Following years of use and abuse, the guitar met the auction block in support of charity and fetched a price of $240,000. The charity of choice? Music Rising, an initiative co-created by The Edge to raise funds to replace lost or destroyed musical equipment in Hurricane Katrina.
Shortly after the sale in 2007, The Edge’s guitar tech, Dallas Schoo, received an unexpected UPS delivery of what appeared to be the very same guitar just sold. In an insider’s interview with Music Radar, Schoo recollected unpacking the gift from Gibson: “They made an exact replica. Gibson wanted Edge to have the guitar even though he'd auctioned it off. I still remember when he plugged it in for the first time and played it; he was like, 'This is it! It's the same guitar.' We couldn't believe it.”
So, years after the hit single “New Year’s Day” was cut, the 1975 Les Paul received new life and returned to its most natural place in the hands of The Edge.
The delay pedal that broke the band?
Any published account of The Edge’s wall of effects reveals there is no shortage of delay makers kicking around. These range from common stompboxes, like the green Line 6 DL4, to the classic rack gear of old, such as the TC Electronic 2290. The Edge’s echo addiction, however, arguably started with one little analog box.
In the 2008 documentary, It Might Get Loud, The Edge recalled his first experience with a pedal that would become synonymous with the early U2 sound: the Electro-Harmonix Memory Man. With his Explorer in-hand and playing out over a sandy beach with grey skies looming overhead, The Edge dials in a battered Memory Man remembering the his first encounter with the effect. “I got this echo unit and brought it back to rehearsal. I just got totally into playing but listening to the return echo filling in notes that I’m not playing. [It was] like two guitar players wrapped in one; the exact same thing but just a little bit off to one side. I could see ways to use it that had never been used. Suddenly, everything changed.”
While The Edge’s echo sound certainly evolved over the years, that momentary meeting between the Memory Man and a budding guitar superstar defined not only a signature sound but songs that would characterize a band and cut across generations.
The Franken-Vox lurking on stage?
It’s perhaps not surprising given the engineered sound of nearly countless guitars and alchemy of numerous effects, The Edge is not exactly a one-amp-man. Yet, one amp seems to have been a long-standing staple in his tone and sound.
Whether a palette for clean echoes or foundation for aggressive overdrives, The Edge’s Vox AC30 is never far from hand. In fact, one particular amp has been a mainstay. Now heavily modded and battered by years of use, the amp is based on a 1964 amp chasis now housed in a 1970 cabinet. Loaded up with a mix of twelve-inch Jenson Blue Alnico and Jenson Silver Alnico speakers, the amp offers up that classic high-end chime associated with the AC30 through a blend of speakers that make for a sound that is The Edge through-and-through. Yet, as Schoo commented, this is only where the mods begin. "It's not stock at all. I have Marshall capacitors in there, Fender capacitors and resistors. It's totally one-of-a-kind, a real Frankenstein. Edge loves that amp so much and he really relies on it. It's probably more important to him than any guitar."With this look back at the sounds of The Edge on New Year ’s Eve, have an amazing #RiffCitySunday and best wishes for great gear in the New Year!