I have a certain respect for guitarists that sound like themselves; Jeff Beck, Eddie Van Halen, Jimi Hendrix. Players who have an instantly recognizable sound. Those tend to be the ones I enjoy listening to the most. Nobody sounds like himself more than the Edge.
Born David Evans, The Edge is a fascinating musician. Unlike most mainstream guitarists, listeners actually have the ability to chart his evolution as a player. We hear his novitiate playing on Boy become the digitally processed sounds on Songs of Innocence. On Boy’s live recording of “Cartoon World” there is constant feedback, a whine that carries throughout the song. We hear The Edge audibly screw up; it is one of the most natural instances of musicianship ever committed to vinyl.
Edge plays a kind of power chord that is very rare in rock, in general really. He cuts out certain notes from the chord, the ones that make it sound full and whole. Without the low end, the chord sounds purer, and more striking. 11 O’clock tick tock for example, is the song it is because of Edge’s chord structure.
The heart of Edge’s playing is his intimate understanding of the guitar, both its inner workings and sounds, as well as how those things can be used to augment a song. his first guitar was one that he and his brother Richard built from scrap. He does more than just play his instrument, he fine tunes it to make exactly the sound he wants. One of the most amusing parts of It Might Get Loud is when Edge, during his sound check spends a solid fifteen seconds searching through his 100 plus effect presets muttering “where’s pride?”. His songs are so varied in terms of effects, assaulting the listener with a bevy of different sounds, many of which are largely unnoticeable. “Get On Your Boots” begins with a fuzzed out riff, which is quickly silenced. The guitar’s output becomes reduced to strummed ghost notes and a sound that can only be described as walrus-like. In the chorus, he goes for sustained one-strums with heavy distortion. At about 1:20, he plays an instrumental interlude with only about twelve notes, adding the perfect touch to the song.
Also characteristic of Edge’s sound are lead parts absolutely drenched in echo. Songs like “Wire” tend to be delayed to a dizzying degree. Aside from sounding cool, it greatly increases the effect of the songs rhythm. In a way, it is Edge, not Adam that is the band’s rhythm player. In “Where the Streets Have No Name” Edge’s intro carries the whole song looping back, and repeating notes, as though some ghost guitarist is playing along, repeating his notes a beat or two afterwards. Edge is simply a master of the delay effect. It’s not something he uses for added sustain, or a cool sound (the limit to which I’ve taken it in my own playing) instead, the delay, and any effect he uses are as much a part of the instrument as the strings and the pickups. Rather than a filter thrown over the pictures he paints, his uses of effect are entities within the shots themselves.
Above all the Edge does not rely on spectacle. I’ve never heard him shred on a song though I’m sure he is more than capable of carving up the fretboard with ease. His solos are not an exercise in self-gratification, they just happen to be what the song needs at that very moment. He metes out just the right amount of miracle into everything he does. He can play a spectacular solo, but you can be sure it isn’t about him, it’s about the song, and the atmosphere that his playing adds to. He creates sonic landscapes with his solos, auras of completion; little bows that wrap up the song perfectly.
The reason I like the Edge is a nebulous, ill defined, and ever changing thing. I respect his dedication and his humbleness; I am constantly floored by his inventive guitar tones; but most of all, I like listening to the Edge because I know that there is more to come. He is no one trick pony, he wears many hats, and still has yet to try them all on. He has imparted nearly 40 years of musical beauty upon the world of music, but he’s not done yet.