There are many incredible guitar players. Some of them can play a whole bunch of notes within seconds and are able to create the most impressive and skillful guitar experience. They are masters of the fretboard; scales all over the guitar neck just feel like second nature for most of them.
Nonetheless, there is another group of guitar players which even though they do not lack the skill, they are known for choosing another path: every note they play has a purpose; it’s precise, minimalistic, and somehow, they create a soundscape that many of us would love to replicate in our playing. When they play simple, it sounds great.
Maybe you’ve guessed it by know, but most of this guitar players used a delay pedal (or some other effects combined with it) to create their signature sounds. On this post, we’re going to cover 2 of these amazing guitar players and very briefly, try to decode the main gear used during their prime.
Dave Evans a.k.a The Edge – U2
The Edge is arguably the most notorious delay effect user of all all the time. This is because he relied on the effect to create actual guitar parts, not just to embellish them.
He was born the 8th of August 1961 in England, but his family soon moved to Ireland after his father got a job promotion in 1962.
From an early age he received music lessons and in 1976 he met the other guys from U2 after Larry Mullen Jr. posted an advert on the school noticeboard requesting people for a band. And this is the moment everything unfolded; from that on, they started making music and grew to be one the most successful rock groups of all time (ok, it wasn’t that simple but that story is beyond the scope of this post :)).
I think Edge’s signature sound should be traced to the early and mid 80’s with three main albums: War (1983), The Unforgettable Fire (1984) and The Joshua Tree (1987). These records contain iconic songs where you can definitely hear the way he uses the delay as his weapon of choice. Listen for instance to New Year’s Day (War), Pride and Bad (The Unforgettable Fire) and Where the Streets Have no Name, I still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For and In God’s Country (The Joshua Tree).
Gear Used By The Edge
This is a big topic. Nowadays you can see the full stacked racks of effects he uses live. I think this rack is controlled per se by his guitar technician but in the early days it was much simpler.
For instance in 1981 this was the gear he had:
- 2 Deluxe Memory Man
- 2 VOX AC-30 amplified by a Shure SM58 and a AKG D1200
- Fender Stratocaster 1973 (Black)
- Gibson Explorer 1976 (Walnut Finish)
By 1983 his gear was practically the same:
- 2 Deluxe Memory Man
- VOX AC-30 from the 60’s
- Roland JC-120
- Fender Stratocaster 1973 (Black)
- Gibson Explorer 1976 (Walnut Finish)
But he also added a couple of pedals:
- MXR Dyna Comp compressor
- Guayatone PS-102 Zoom Box Distorsion
As you can see it was a pretty simple rig. But by 1987 he started to use the famous Korg SDD 3000 delay racks. This delay is digital, but with the option of adding the modulation to the repeats, which is an important part of the overall sound. It also allowed him to exactly dial up the tempo of the song, another more than essential aspect for his style of playing.
It is also worth mentioned the way he holds the guitar pick and the brand he actually uses. His favorite pick seems to be made by a company named Herdim. They produce the Hermid Standard Nylon 0.88 mm Guitar Pick; The Edge also uses the pick upside down, which emphasizes the “cheamy” sounds created when he plays. Here’s an excerpt on an interview made by Guitar World concerning this issue:
GW: Are you still using Herdim picks, the ones with the dimpled tops?
The Edge: Absolutely. They’re these really cool nylon picks. I just like the way they sound. They make a blue and a red one, but I like the way the blue ones sound. I hold ’em upside down, too. I never analyzed why, they just sound better.
How To Get The U2 Sound?
If you have to pick one differential factor concerning the way he uses delay would be the way he mastered dotted eighth repetitions. This is arguably by far the most recognizable feature of his playing style. As already discussed on earlier posts (like this :)), you need to have the exact tempo of the song to make this work.
That’s why back in the day, The Edge used to be the man behind the tempo for playing the songs. Also, people have noticed that the firsts U2 albums with songs using dotted eighth, the tempo is pretty much basically the same. This obey the fact that the Memory Man only has 550 milliseconds of time available and it seems that more often than not, he had to dial the maximum delay time of this pedal to make the dotted eighth effect work.
So, to wrap it up, the classic U2 sound is basically made of a VOX AC 30 (two amps actually, strategically positioned and miced), a couple of analog delays (two Memory Man pedals), the Herdim guitar pick and often times a Fender Strat or Gibson Explorer. Later on, he traded the Memory Man for digital delay racks like the Korg SDD 3000 for more flexibility and features.
Again, he has a lot, like a looooot of gear nowadays. He kind of changes his guitar for every song now on live concerts, but the original sound of U2 was comprised of the things mentioned above.
Analyzing in depth the guitar tones of The Edge would take a lot of time, but I’ve found on this page one of the most comprehensive studies about this topic and I think it’s worth checking it out: www.amnesta.net/edge_delay/.
Paul Reynolds – A Flock Of Seagulls
You may have never heard of him and you may have never heard of this band, but I’m pretty sure that you’re familiar with the 80’s hit song I Ran (So Far Away).
Back in 1982 it was so popular it reached the several top 5 and top 10 positions in the charts of different countries (number 1 in the weekly chart of Australia, number 3 Billboard Top Charts in the US and number 7 in the New Zealand Weekly Chart); so needless to say, the song was a huge success.
The guitar player of the band was named Paul Reynolds, a teenager by then who had more coolness than the entire brat-pack of the 80’s.
Reynolds was born in Liverpool, in 1962 and just about seventeen years later, he joined the band, only to depart from the project a few years after the group was enjoying its heyday. So, yes, you’ve guessed it, the band didn’t last much longer after that and other original members also departed.
Fast forward into the future, he later on participated in one last reunion concert for VH1’s “Bands Reunited” in 2003. During the occasion, he was asked about his departure and he just said he was too young for the rock n’ roll lifestyle and that the performances left him exhausted.
His style of playing and his textural type of sound (similar to The Edge), helped to differentiate the band’s overall tone pushing them to open its way through the typical synth based songs of that era. I mean, they still had a lot of synth sound on their songs, but Reynolds’ guitar riffs and atmospheric effects were the defining factor (at least in my opinion :)).
If you listen to songs like Space Age Love Song, I Ran or The More You Live The More You Love, you will hear his distinctive guitar riffs. You will also notice the usage of delay in most parts; this is a crucial factor in the intro and some arrangements in I Ran, and if my ears don’t fool me, I would say the delay is set to triplets. The song is 146 BPM so that would be around 137 milliseconds. The repetitions also tend to have a dotted eight feel as far as I can tell so he might as well have been doing that.
You can see so far that Reynolds had also developed this rhythmic technique similar to The Edge. His playing was also minimal in some cases but very effective. Another example would be Space Age Love Song, where you can definitely hear the dotted eighth repetitions when he plays.
Gear Used By Paul Reynolds
Here’s where it gets tricky. There’s actually almost nothing (official) about what he used during the best days of the band. Nonetheless, we have some pictures and videos so we can still make some accurate observations.
The first thing that needs to be mentioned is obviously the delay. Another effect widely used by him is chorus and is very noticeable throughout his playing, so that’s definitely there. The next logical step is to find out from where the delay and chorus effect came from. Here you can see an interesting picture:
As you may notice he’s using two amps, a couple of Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus to be precise, which would be the main responsible for his clean chorusy tones. Also, notice the Roland RE-501 Chorus Echo. This was a tape-echo machine introduced by Roland in the early 80s; sadly, it was also their last electro-mechanical effects processor.
Again, this unit came packed with; you’ve guessed it, chorus effect! If you think about that, it kind of seems very logical right know, because his guitar sound it’s filled with modulation that seems to primarily come from chorus. Also, it’s worth mentioning that the Roland RE-501 has 5 different delay modes. He’s probably using settings 4-6 (which allowed the user to have two different delay times at once) in order to create the dotted eighth repetitions in some songs.
There’s also another piece of equipment he used, and you can see that in some live perfomance videos. It’s a big blue controller. Perhaps is some sort of bypass loop-pedal or something like that. I need more info to get that properly verified so until that, we might have to stick to the doubt (excuse my ignorance please).
Concerning the guitar, it’s safe to say he had at least 3 or 4 main axes. You can see him playing the following instruments:
- Kramer XL5
- Gibson Firebird
- Fender Telecaster (or at least a guitar with a Tele design)
- Travis Bean Guitar (not sure about this one)
How To Get The A Flock Of Seagulls Sound?
It’s safe to say you can get the sound with a clean type amp. As we mentioned earlier, Reynolds used a couple of Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus, which are considered one of the legendary amps for clean tones.
Another factor is the chorus effect. You can get this through an amp or through a pedal. A good chorus pedal will suffice. Nonetheless, you have to take into account that his modulation also came from the Roland RE-501; what I’m trying to say is that the repetitions where modulated itself with the chorus effect, so if you’re aiming to get the same exact fell you should also take that into consideration.
Finally, you have the guitars. I wouldn’t put so much stress on this. He used guitars with Humbuckers, Single Coils and P-90s. However, it seems to me that the Kramer XL-5 was his weapon of choice.
One Final Thought
I find it really curious how these two players achieved the same kind of technique and approach for playing the guitar. It is also remarkable that they have pretty much the same age (The Edge is one year older).
But… one became really famous with his band and the other only enjoyed a couple of years under the spotlight.
Needless to say, the point here is not to determine the causes or the inflection points of why this happened, but to let you know that two people can arrive to the same conclusions and still manage to differentiate themselves with little nuances that in end produce great results. In this case, two very similar but distinctive styles of playing
Also, I don’t think one is better than the other. I’m amazed how Reynolds helped A Flock of Seagulls to push through the typical New Wave sound, but I’m also amazed at how The Edge helped U2 to develop an unique style and sound and this not only helped them through the 80’s but beyond.
What are your thoughts? Do you think one is better than the other? Leave a comment; I would love to read your answers.
Until the next time,