How to Play LIke .... The Edge

March 16, 2010

With his chimey harmonics, droning intervals, shimmering echoes, and huge arpeggios, U2’s The Edge (born David Evans) transcends the traditional role of a rhythm or lead guitarist to produce a driving, piano-like sound. In the process of crafting an identifiable voice, The Edge also inspired a generation of guitarists seeking an alternative to the blues-rock soloing of ’60s and early-’70s icons. His clean, churning tones sound as vital and dramatic today as they did when he first unleashed them more than 20 years ago.

Distilled from the intro to "Pride (In the Name of Love)," Ex. 1 illustrates how The Edge creates syncopated harmony from natural harmonics plucked at the 12th and 7th frets. Without actually playing E, A, and D, he implies these chords while establishing an airy texture. Try picking these harmonics with a delay setting of about 400 ms and three or four repeats. Add a touch of modulation to get The Edge’s trademark watery sound and gently yank your guitar neck to add subtle vibrato to the sustaining harmonics.

Ex. 2 shows how The Edge combines movable chord grips and open strings to form impressionistic add9 and add11 voicings. (These are major triads enhanced with notes located 9 or 11 major-scale steps from the root.) Notice how each arpeggio’s rhythm is identical, yet the picking patterns differ. The result is a hypnotic accompaniment with a subtly shifting melodic contour.

One of The Edge’s techniques involves continually strumming intervals while changing one or both notes to imply the song’s harmony. Coupled with tempo-synchronized echo, this approach generates a relentless, pulsing sound. He does this in many U2 songs, including "Pride," "Sunday Bloody Sunday," and "Beautiful Day." When tackling Ex. 3, first play the progression—F#m, G, D, A—and then pick the double-stops. Can you hear the chords implied by the diads? For extra color, The Edge adds a sus2 to the implied G (bar 2, beat four) and spikes F#m and A with lovely major-second dissonance (bars 1 and 4).


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