Twenty years ago, the tone bending sounds of Radiohead’s Ok Computer album provided an unexpected and innovative shot in the arm to the already increasingly unorthodox music scene of the mid-1990s. This album also seems to have signaled a shift in the band’s sound. Their subsequent discography constantly plays at the boundaries of sound and exemplifies how good song writing is as much about inspiration as it is about using gear as tools to express emotion and create spaces only previously imagined.
There are many things in the recipe that is Radiohead, one of them is the atmospheric and textured sounds of guitarist Ed O’Brien. While O’Brien is known for his pedal-forward engineering of sonic landscapes before stompboxes reigned supreme in gear culture, his most recent gear achievement is the Ed O’Brien Fender Sustainer Stratocaster signature model, announced at Summer NAMM 2017.
The road to this destination, however, involved many other Fenders along the way. So, rather than do a rundown of the features of the new model, here’s a look three other Fenders O’Brien has played over the last thirty years.
As disclosed in a recent conversation with Fender, some of O’Brien’s earliest inspiration to pick up the guitar was from hearing players like Andy Summers, The Edge, and Johnny Marr. Of course, these were also all known for their Fender inclinations. By 1986, O’Brien gave in, saved up, and acquired his first Squier Stratocaster. What started off as a training wheels-type of axe ended up being the guitar that was O’Brien’s mainstay through early Radiohead albums, including Pablo Honey (1993) and The Bends (1995).
While O’Brien’s playing career is bookended by Stratocasters, his gear library is no doubt diverse, including more than a handful other Fender models. Taking a cue from one of his formative influences, O’Brien has wielded a few Fender Johnny Marr Signature Jags, in both Olympic White and Metallic Orange. Of course, no Fender library is complete without the presence of Telecasters. While the biggest Radiohead gear story involving a Telecaster is undoubtedly from the band’s other lead guitarist, Johnny Greenwood who was reunited in 2014 with a Tele stolen from the band back in 1995 during a tour stop in Denver, O’Brien is also no stranger to the twang of a Tele. Around 1998, a few Telecasters began cropping up in O’Brien’s rig. In Radiohead’s 2012 tour, O’Brien’s Fender tastes seem to have tended toward the Tele as most of the tour’s media coverage captures O’Brien wielding a Butterscotch Blonde Telecaster.
While O’Brien is no stranger to other brands—Rickenbacker, Gibson, and Fernandes, to name a few—in the diverse discography of Radiohead, Fenders seem to have had a chameleon like quality: they’re ever present, always fitting in, and adaptable to new settings.Whether your weekend has included a gig, a jam, or just a few minutes of noodling around on your own, I hope this quick look at the gear of Radiohead inspires you to have a great #RiffCitySunday. See you next week.