Today in 1961, Dave Evans (known as "The Edge" of U2) was born. In the 51 years since, The Edge has become known for his layered, echoing guitar lines. He famously developed an ultra-complex guitar rig, involving a massive pedal board, a series of rack-mounted effects processors, a stunning array of pedals, and a series of vintage amps. While this mega-tech approach seems fairly common now, its complexity was decidedly over-the-top when U2 debuted. Wikipedia discusses The Edge's signature riff for "Where the Streets Have No Name," which depends extensively on delay...but also was inspired by the crappiness of The Edge's original guitar -- half the strings didn't sound any good, so he didn't use them. Read:
On 1987's The Joshua Tree, The Edge often contributes just a few simple lead lines given depth and richness by an ever-present delay. For example, the introduction to "Where the Streets Have No Name" is simply a repeated six-note arpeggio, broadened by a modulated delay effect. The Edge has said that he views musical notes as "expensive", in that he prefers to play as few notes as possible. He said in 1982 of his style: "I like a nice ringing sound on guitar, and most of my chords I find two strings and make them ring the same note, so it's almost like a 12-string sound. So for E I might play a B, E, E and B and make it ring. It works very well with the Gibson Explorer. It's funny because the bass end of the Explorer was so awful that I used to stay away from the low strings, and a lot of the chords I played were very trebly, on the first four, or even three strings. I discovered that through using this one area of the fretboard I was developing a very stylized way of doing something that someone else would play in a normal way."
Now as a birthday tribute, let's geek out on The Edge's guitar rig.
The Edge Talks Guitars, Part 1
In this interview, The Edge demonstrates his first electric guitar, discusses it extensively, and plays a few demo riffs.
The Edge Talks Guitars, Part 2
And now the riffage. Behold the "Infinite Guitar" (shades of Spinal Tap here) and note the utterly insane series of effects in his pedal board. This also helps explain how many of the synth effects on U2 records aren't from keyboards (though he does play piano/keyboards on various songs).
An interesting note: many of The Edge's tour guitars are from the 60s and even 50s; hardly any are new. I would have expected him to have the newest/latest instruments, but that's not the case at all. The instruments and the amps are generally vintage; everything in the middle is what's modern.
The Edge Talks Guitars, Part 3
How the delay pedals work with rhythm. He explains "Where the Streets Have No Name" (referenced above and shown below in a live performance).
"With Or Without You" Recording
Watch how he constructs the ringing riff from a simple D chord plus some minimalist high notes and tons of delay. "There's something incredibly satisfying at the end of that tune, just going for...the non-dramatic guitar part." Agreed.
Testing the Guitar Rig
The Edge noodles through various signature guitar riffs. Note at one point how his pedal board shows the name of the song -- he has the thing configured to the point where the configuration of the board is so specific that each song requires a named setting.
The Edge's Guitar Tech Soundchecks
Prior to a U2 live show, guitar tech Dallas Schoo ensures the guitar and amp configuration is correct. The person shooting the video is onstage, and the sound you hear is from onstage monitors -- not the main speakers for the audience.
A Tour of the Gear
An extremely specific look at the details of that pedal board and such, plus a look at where Dallas works during a show.
"Hallelujah"/"Where the Streets Have No Name"
Live in Pittsburgh, 2011. After the intro, the riffage begins. At various points you can see what The Edge is doing, which doesn't look like much -- it's a minimalist approach in terms of notes played, but combined with effects it turns into something awesome. It's also impressive that he sings harmony while playing many of these lines. Around 6:30 you can clearly see the six notes constructing the key riff.