Article: U2 Magazine May 1982
ON THE EDGE OF SUCCESS
There aren't too many players who can be said to have developed
their own style on an instrument as clich-ridden as the electric guitar, but undoubtedly one such musician is The Edge. In
the five years since the band's inception, he has steadily evolved a unique approach that owes absolutely nothing to anyone,
and indeed I can't think of anybody who sounds remotely like him.
So how did he manage to come up with his own sound
in the first place? Obviously there were several factors, mainly connected with the way the band got together, as The Edge
"I suppose the first link in the chain was a visit to the local jumble sale where I purchased a guitar for
a pound. That was my first instrument. It was an acoustic guitar and me and my elder brother Dick both played it, plonking
away, all very rudimentary stuff, open chords and all that. The next stage was a note on the school board to the effect that
'Larry had wasted a lot of money on drums and was interested in finding other people to waste money on guitars' and stuff
like that, so we all in his kitchen one day. I think between us there was one kit of drums, one bass without amp ('I had a
purple Marshall amp with a tatty little speaker that used to blow up every time I wound it up', protested Adam), one borrowed
electric guitar and a borrowed amplifier. It was like first day in the army. everyone was knocked into shape and telling everyone
else what to do. It was Larry's kitchen so he was sort of in charge, but he was only really interested in playing drums, so
eventually it winnowed down from four lead guitar players to three, then to two, then Bono started to concentrate fully on
vocals, so It developed from there.
We never got into it because we wanted to make a living. It certainly didn't enter
my head at that stage. I may have been naive but I'm not that stupid. I think maybe a year later it suddenly dawned m us that
actually there wasn't such a gulf of musical ability or talent between the stage we were at and the stage that most bands
on television and with recording deals were at, so we decided then that we would go for it.'
Gigs followed and the
band began to get a following in Dublin. Eventually Bono packed his bag and took a trip to London with his girlfriend, calling
round to music papers and talking to people about U2.
'We got a bit of interest going', recalled The Edge, and during
that six month stage we were talking to yourself.'
This was a reference to the period in September '79 when I, as
an EMI A&R man, went to Dublin to see them and decided there and then that this was the best new band around and must
be signed immediately. Sadly I was alone in this opinion, and to my and the band's intense disappointment the deal was unceremoniously
'That was a devastating period of our lives, as you can well imagine, but
we rebounded quite well, and eventually we came and did a small London tour, and off the back of that and the subsequent Irish
tour, we signed to Island Records about seven months later.'
'Much earlier on we tried to do cover versions of things,
but to be honest we were so bad at working out stuff that we just had to give it up and write our own songs, so by the time
we came to realise there were other bands doing new things it was too late, because we already had our own style of writing.
We just played together and things came out. We always try to do things differently, we never accept the normal, so it was
mainly trial and error. 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 1 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 stylised way of doing something that someone else would
play in a normal way.'
Mention of the Explorer led us naturally to the subject of The Edge's equipment, which is typically
unusual. His set up is basically solid guitar into a small case of effects and from there to two Vox AC-30's. He uses three
guitars on stage these days, but when I first saw him he was using the Explorer only. I wondered why he had chosen this particular
guitar at the time.
"I think it's the most distinctive of my guitars. It seems that the body shape affects the sound
somehow. It's a very vibrant guitar with lots of treble. I had a Strat that I wasn't that pleased with in those days, and
when I was in New York with my parents, I went to some stores to look around. I picked up this second-hand Explorer and played
around on it for a while. It was just so naturally good, and it felt right, so I bought it. It was quite cheap as well, about
450 dollars. A lot of people look at it and think it's one of the originals (under 100 of these were made in 1958, and they
are very rare) but it's one of the '76 limited edition re-issue models.
"I used it for the first album, and up until
the recording of the 'October' album, but I seem to use another Strat that I bought more and more, so 1 think I'll probably
end up using the Strat for half the show and the Explorer for the rest."
"I don't have any vintage guitars, apart
from the newest addition to the collection, a lap steel, circa 1940, by Epiphone. It's art deco, really weird. If anyone knows
what a lap steel is like, it's just like a square thing, not like a guitar at all. It's black, with inlays in some other sort
of wood, also black. I got it in the States, in Nashville. I'm going to be messing about with it a lot."
interested in this lap steel because it's something that hasn't been done before in this context. What we want to do is break
new ground musically all the time, whether through guitars or whatever. Like you'll notice the piano is being used a lot now.
I like the textures of the piano, and I learnt to play it for the album. I think probably the same thing will happen with
the lap steel."
"I don't think a lot of people realise the musical benefit harmonics can give to a song. I just developed
that a bit and brought the harmonics more to the foreground. Some of our songs use harmonics as the main guitar part."