The Edge and the Guitar Sounds of the first U2 Album

Today a brief article about the Edge and the sounds he made on U2’s first album “Boy” I will talk you through some of those sounds, how they are made ect. No tabs for now, maybe later as I will mainly deal with the sound of those parts.
I must be kind of crazy you may say to take on something like talking about the Edge’s guitarsound as the man uses that many guitars and effects and one can never be really sure what is going on soundwise. Just go back to the last article to see for yourself how many different guitars and effects he uses. It really is amazing.
Before I go deeper into the sounds and songs of the first album let me first make a few general comments about the Edge’s guitarplaying and the music of U2 in general.

The Edge’s guitarplaying is full of characteristics he uses regularly. To get some of these sounds you need to look at his playing, how he thinks musically. His guitarrig is not the only part where these sounds come from. A big part of the Edge’s sound comes from playing in a Trio Set-Up where Rhythm-and Solo playing are blended into each other. Think of other great Trios such as Jimi Hendrix, Andy Summers from the Police, Johnny Marr from the Smiths and you see similar features popping up: Being able to flesh out the song on the guitar in different ways: Play your chords in different places, go from  playing chords to  playing single notes without any hesitation. The sounds,which are being used by all the guitar players I mentioned above, are used mainly to enhance the song, to add character and variety to the exhisting  bandsound.

Looking at the Edge’s guitarplaying you can see riffs being used which are made up from parts of small chords instead of single notes. The chord he plays are often small, most of them are being played on the top three strings of the guitar, or the inner four strings. He does not use barrechords too often. Barre chords can make your sound muddy especially when you are using distortion. You get a cleaner bandsound  by leaving this registre of the music to be covered by the Bass guitar.
Apart from riffs made up from small chords the Edges uses a lot of harmonics. A main staple of his effects are echo and delay. Not too much delay on the first album, this would become more important from the Fourth Album “The Unforgetable Fire” onwards. I will go into detail about this in future articles about the Edge’s guitar sound. For today’s article I will focus mainly on the sound of the First Album.

The drums and the bass play a major part in U2’s sound as well: We have a drummer here who is not affraid to create his own drumparts: The drumming on some of the earlier songs sounds very fresh, very different from a standard Rock beat. Most of the Bass- and Drumparts fit around the guitarwork of the song, in this way there is space for the song to breath. On top of this we add a vocalist with a lot of charisma and strength and we have the formula for an orginal, fresh sounding band.
When U2 broke through in the early 80s they stood out, they were different, they were loved by audiences from different backgrounds, they were the band who voiced the big anti-nuclear-power demonstrations of the early 80s. Their sound would change throughout the times, but within these changes there would be particular sounds which would remain and form the consistency of the U2 sound. On top of this, the band never had a change of any of their members. They stayed together as a family and they are still there, this is another feature of their successstory.

The guitar sounds on the first album sound very brash and bright. Thinking about the Memory Man (which was the inspiration for creating these articles) a clear example of the Edge using the Memory Man is the song “A Day Without Me”. Listen to the intro and there we have the Memory Man at work used as a delay.

As the song progresses you can still hear the Memory Man in combination with an envelope filter. The whole intro comes back later in the song. Let me not go too deep into the different guitarparts but yes, you can hear several of them, all overdubbed of course. The gallopping basssound, yes that is a guitar as well and gives the song that distintive rhythmfeel, there are even some harmonics  being played at some point. You may have to listen to the song a few times to get used to hearing all these different parts. Great to reintroduce the intro again at a later point in the song. This song is on of the few where the Edge plays a longer solo than his usual chordstabbs. The sound of the solo is very bright and is mainly played on the top two strings of the guitar.

The next song is somewhat unusual in title and effect: An E-Bow. It is introduced at 0.06. To most of you readers it may sound as feedback but it is not, it is an E-bow. Later on Edge would use more of this because of his introduction to Brian Eno, who used this effect on “Heroes” of David Bowie. The effect is reintroduced (or brought up in the mix again) at different points in the song. Again it is very subtle and all makes part of the building blocks of the sound of the song.

Next song does contain some of the chorussounds (1.51) from an Electro Harmonix Clone Theory. They sound very mechanical and metallic as opposed to the smoothness of a Boss CE-1. The basssound on the intro may be a Memory Man, as it sounds more glassy and having a tad more space and wetness on it. It is overdubbed, but you can do these things live, I will explain later on in another article which will go into detail about different set-ups using the Memory Man while using an extra delay in combination with a second amp, but that is the stuff for later on, today only sounds from “Boy” as means for introduction and to open up your ears to those sounds. 

Last song for today, it is “Shadows and Tall Trees”. Again somewhat unusual for the time to record a song in this way: What we hear is an acoustic guitar being played through a Memory Man and a Clone Theory to give it more body. The sound in itself is artistic. Not many people would love to take their acoustic though any of these boxes to amplify the acoustic sound of the guitar, but Edge does not mind. Gives the guitar that metallic sound I mentioned before, but this time it comes from an acoustic. In one of the videos of the previous article you can see the Edge using an acoustic for electric sounds, the guitar does have a device which can detune the guitar automatically. Again, not many players will like this kind of thing, and Edge uses this acoustic guitar to create electric sounds! Fantastic!!

For next article I will look at more U2 songs from a later period. I will not go throuh all the albums, mainly look at echo and delay and some other issues.
I have been experimenting with my guitar set-ups to get some of these sounds. What I discovered  is in one word fantastic because I have never gone out of my way to recreated the sounds of another player. As I was doing so I got close to Andy Summers and Dave Gilmour. In a way there are similar things going on with the sounds of all these players. I will go more into detail about these set-ups in later articles, for next article it is more U2 songs and sounds.

Enjoy and hope to see you soon again,