WHEN BOYHOOD MATES NICKNAMED DAVE EVANS “THE EDGE,” IT WAS a
good-natured jibe at his angular facial features. Be it prescience or
serendipitous coincidence, the moniker has proved the perfect précis for
the legendary U2 guitarist’s sound, musical approach, and fearless
spirit of sonic invention.
Starting with U2’s1980 debut Boy (recorded when the Irish guitarist was still in his teens), continuing through to 2005’s How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb, the Edge has been one of modern rock’s greatest innovators via daring use of harmonics, drone strings, understated chord-voicings, and ambient effects. By fusing punk’s minimalist aesthetic, arena rock’s anthemic ambitions, and the timbrally detailed approach of artists like Brian Eno, Television, and Gang of Four, the Edge has forged a style that has earned him a place on the short list of guitar innovators. He’s even garnered a nod as one of the “25 Guitarists Who Shook the World” in GP’s 25th anniversary issue (January ’92) alongside such hallowed names as Hendrix, Page, and Van Halen.
Much of Edge’s fabled tone mojo is a result of his of signal-processing mastery, but critics who dismiss him as a mere knobtwiddler are completely missing out on one of the most singular sounds in guitardom. Despite all his electronic gadgetry, the guitarist never lets the medium become the message. Clever delay-generated notes and eccentric sounds are always used to underscore and enhance the larger meaning of U2’s music. Owning a battery of effects would no more make one the Edge than owning a black and white camera would make a person Ansel Adams.
In his June ’85 GP cover story, Edge articulated that for him, the challenge of guitar playing lies in “tearing up the rule book and saying, ‘Okay, given that this is my instrument, what can I do with it that no one else has done before?’” Completely relegating the rules to the trash heap is a tall order for even the most accomplished guitarist, so here’s a chance for us mere mortals to don a skull cap, put theory on the back-burner, tune our guitars a half-step below standard (Eb, Ab, Db, Gb, Bb, Eb, low to high)—as per the majority of U2 recordings—and get a serious Edge-ucation. By following these ten steps (nine of which are paraphrased from U2’s lyrics), you too can push your playing a little closer to the Edge.
1 CARRY EACH OTHER
2 PRACTICE SLEIGHT OF HAND (FOR A TWIST 0F FATE)
3 DREAM OUT LOUD
The Edge’s most iconic ax is probably the wood-finished 1976 Gibson Explorer he purchased as a teenager and has used fairly regularly since. During the ’80s, he relied on late-’70s-era Strats with Seymour Duncan pickups, a Washburn Festival acoustic, and a 1945 Epiphone lap steel. On more recent tours, Edge’s arsenal has expanded to include a ’67 Rickenbacker 12-string, a ’64 Gretsch Country Gentleman, a ’62 Epiphone Casino, and a ’65 Gibson SG, among others.
For amplification, the Edge is a selfdescribed “AC30 man,” employing several mid-’60s models of the 2x12 Vox classic onstage. His effect setup is an ever-evolving network of stompboxes and rack processors that generally includes an Ibanez Tube Screamer; a Boss SD-1 Super Overdrive; Lovetone Meatball, Big Cheese, and Doppelganger pedals; a Korg A3 processor; a Digitech Whammy pedal; a Dunlop CryBaby wah; and a Line 6 POD Pro, but the effect most-often associated with the Edge sound is delay. During U2’s early tours, Edge favored Electro-Harmonix Memory Man analog units. Since 1984’s Unforgettable Fire, he’s been a liberal user of the warm-sounding Korg SDD-3000 digital delay, often driving his amp with the unit’s +4dB output. More recently, Edge has shored up his live sound with TC Electronic 2290 delays. A major factor in Edge’s delay sound is the dialing in of a certain amount of slow, wide modulation on the delayed notes to create an ethereal pitch-shifted tonescape.
The Internet is populated with websites and user groups dedicated to the study of the Dave Evans tonal legacy, and you can even find video of his guitar tech Dallas Shoo offering up a pre-gig rig tour. Peruse any of these online resources and you’ll discover that while Edge takes the integrity of his tone very seriously, “Edge tone” is not a fixed signal chain but an ever-changing sound quest. So whether you rock a fully stocked rack with a MIDI controller or a few cheap stompboxes, keep experimenting and be creative. Tone is a journey, not a destination.
4 RING TRUE
5 DON’T EXPECT, SUGGEST
Conjuring the charisma of songs like “Vertigo” and “Miracle Drug,” Ex. 2b spices up an otherwise pedestrian chord progression in the key of D with a forward-moving double-stop riff. Make the lick extra crispy with some added attack on the downstrokes.
6 SLIDE DOWN THE SURFACE OF THINGS
7 ARP-EDGE-IATE YOUR CHORDS
Ex. 4b demonstrates another Edge-y arpeggiation approach that recalls such early U2 favorites as “Gloria” and “An Cat Dubh.” Dig how ringing open strings, clever voicings, and space between notes add up to harmonic bliss.
The gospel-tinged “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For” (from 1987’s The Joshua Tree) is culled from the unusual grips in Ex. 4c. Slap a capo on the 3rd fret—as the Edge does in the 1988 concert movie Rattle and Hum—and hear a I-IV-V progression transformed into something buoyant and majestic.
8 DIG UP YOUR SOUL
Now play the open-chord groove in Ex. 5a and you’ll undoubtedly peg it as Bo Diddley’s signature groove, the backbone of Buddy Holly’s “Not Fade Away,” George Michael’s “Faith,” U2’s 1988 #1 hit “Desire,” and, of course, Diddley’s own “Who Do You Love.” The key to this inflection is the initial emphasis on the dotted-eighth-note that groups the sixteenth-note pulses in a more syncopated (translation “booty-shaking”) 3+3+4+2+4 series, incorporating the threeagainst- four grouping known among theory hawks as a hemiola. Having learned the lessons of the early rock master, the Edge cleverly updated this technique into chordal blasts like Ex. 5b, recalling the searing chorus to “Beautiful Day” (from 2000’s All That You Can’t Leave Behind). Compare it to the previous example and you’ll notice the harmonic rhythm is identical but at a slightly slower tempo, and the accents have been evened out, sonically re-tooled for the new millennium.
9 EXPLAIN ALL THESE CONTROLS
For Ex. 6a, set your time to about 350- 370ms, your mix to about 85 percent, and your feedback to allow one or two clear repeats, and play the straight eighth-note riff. Magically, the delay-regenerated notes that give songs like “Where the Streets Have No Name” their mystique reveal themselves. If dialing in milliseconds seems a bit of a brain-buster, many popular boxes, rack units, and software plugins offer a tap setting that lets users tap in the songs tempo then have the unit automatically calculate a dotted-eighth regeneration.
Keep your mix and feedback setting from the previous example but tweak the delay time down to about 441ms and groove on Ex. 6b, the stunning guitar break from the perennial U2 live favorite “Bad” (best experienced on 1985’s Wide Awake in America). In an amazing synergy of man and machine, Edge’s repeated three-note phrases blossom into a lush, ringing, digitally enhanced landscape of sound.
10 KILL YOUR INSPIRATION
“In some weird way the guitar stands for freedom,” Edge observed in 2001, adding, “I’m constantly trying to find uncharted territories via sounds and tones that inspire new feelings and stop me from being too staid.”
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