Tom Morello is an extremely creative guitarist. He’s not the most technically proficient in the game by any means – you might call him technologically proficient. He does what he does through the manipulation of his gear. He can play what he can play, but what he does is mostly about doing fun and interesting things like setting his Whammy pedal a certain way, using an Allen wrench to fret notes, using a three-quarters dead battery in a certain pedal.
So why is he telling guitarists that “gear doesn’t matter” in this interview? I mean, I’ve written about this extensively in the past – in a sense, I agree with him. You can work with what you’ve got – that’s how it works. If you are good, and are thinking musically, you can play just about anything and make it sing.
But, you can’t play the Killing in the Name solo on a nylon string acoustic guitar. You can’t make it go up +2 octaves at certain spots, you can’t make it sustain and scream – and it’s not gonna sound heavy on it’s own no matter how you play it.
There are plenty of people for whom gear doesn’t matter – but the only person for whom it matters more is U2’s The Edge. That guy would be FUCKED without his gear (see It Might Get Loud to see what I mean). Not to say that Tom can’t play – just that his whole legacy is built on Digitech and a Les Paul pickup selector set as a killswitch. Gear doesn’t matter if your whole act isn’t dependent on very specific gear needs – as he says in this interview, Rage had to rehearse with rented gear once and they sounded terrible. He pretty much contradicts himself over and over in this interview, and I’m not really sure what his intention was, but he doesn’t hit it.
He talks about how he spent literally years dialing in his gear, and then has just kept everything the same for a long time – that’s not the same as it not mattering. It clearly matters a great deal to him – I think what he means is that it only matters up to a point. It can’t do the work of creativity for you, that’s the job of the player.
Unrelated note – dude sounds almost exactly like Obama when he talks. I’d love to see him on SNL playing the president.