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Electric Etudes: U2’s The Edge

Explore the techniques used by U2’s sonic architect.

Chops: Intermediate
Theory: Intermediate
Lesson Overview:
• Learn how to imply chord progressions with dyads.
• Create jangly, melodic rhythm guitar parts.
• Develop a better sense of time by using a dotted eighth-note delay.

Click here to download a printable PDF of this lesson's notation.

When it comes to unique and innovative voices on the guitar, The Edge from the Irish rock band U2, is surely near the top of the list. Edge’s guitar parts are perfectly crafted, full of hooks, and offer an incredible amount of melody. He’s also a master of creatively using effects in order to best serve the song. Often he’ll start off with a very basic idea, but then add lush delays, modulation, and envelope effects to craft U2’s signature sonic soundscapes. In the recent documentary, It Might Get Loud, Jimmy Page describes Edge as a “sonic architect,” which perfectly sums up Edge’s approach to composition.

For this lesson, we’ll focus on U2’s classic era and borrow from such tunes as “Where the Streets Have No Name,” “Sunday Bloody Sunday,” “I Still Haven’t Found What I’m Looking For,” and “Pride (In the Name of Love).” The delay plays a large role in the sound and performance of the lesson track. I set my delay to a dotted-eighth note at a tempo of 120 bpm.

Using this delay setting, the result sounds like a string of 16th-notes, even though you’re only playing eighth-notes. But for the effect to work, it’s vital that you stay totally in time. When setting up the delay, get a good balance between the dry and wet signals so that both are at the same volume level. To prevent the sound from getting cluttered and messy, use little or no feedback.

Most modern delay units let you set the tempo and note value, but if your device doesn’t, simply use your ear. Play a staccato eighth-note rhythm and adjust the delay time until you get the desired 16th-note repeat. To ensure you’re perfectly in time, use either the track or a metronome as your guide.

The Edge isn’t the only guitarist to use this trick. Listen to David Gilmour, Albert Lee, Eddie Van Halen, and Nuno Bettencourt for more delay inspiration.

Click here for Ex. 1

The intro starts off with a tight eighth-note rhythm similar to “I Still Haven’t Found.” Try using some palm muting to cut off the sustaining notes. Remember to pay attention to your timing or the sixteenth-notes won’t come through.

In measure five, the verse progression kicks in. The chord-based melodic line sketches G–Bm–G, although the rhythm guitar is playing power chords. The figures that follow the power chords have a jangly vibe with a repetitive theme that adds to the hook—something that The Edge is known for. Make sure your picking hand is accurate and you don’t strike unwanted strings.

The final two measures of the verse moves from a jangly strumming feel to a tight eighth-note figure against the delay. This figure is based around an A major chord, but implies A5 and Asus4. Pay attention to keeping perfect time during this section and play it with some light palm muting.

The chorus features an Em–G–D progression with a jangly strumming pattern that follows the underlying backing chords, but with more texture and color. Notice the syncopation created by rhythmic mutes that have been added to generate a tighter feel compared to the verse. Over the D chord, leave the 1st string open to ring throughout. This contrasts nicely with the previous two measures.

The Em returns before resolving to a held G5 chord. Before returning to the chorus again, play a series of harmonics at the 7th fret to build up tension. Thanks to the chiming harmonics and delay, this has a really cool U2 sound.

The next section, which has a slight “Sunday Bloody Sunday” feel to it, outlines an Em–D–A progression. Once again, we encounter a chord figure that uses a series of two-note chords—or dyads—that follow the underlying power chords. Finally, end with a 16th-note pattern in the upper register over a D major chord.

The Edge uses a variety of different guitars, including Fender Strats and Teles, Gibson Les Pauls, Explorers, Rickenbackers, and occasionally Line 6 guitars. His main amp is usually a vintage Vox AC30, but his immense live rig also includes Marshall and Fender. As far as effects, he uses entirely too many to accurately list here, and he controls them all with a custom switching system.

I recorded this month’s track using Steinberg’s Cubasis for iPad with an Alesis iO Dock audio interface. Positive Grid’s JamUp Pro supplied the guitar and bass tones, while the drums came from Drum Loops HD. I used a 5-string Music Man StingRay bass, and a Music Man Axis Super Sport for all the guitar parts. In JamUp, I dialed up a model of a Vox AC30 with some delay after the amp. In front of the amp, I added a MXR Dyna Comp-style compressor. For the crunch tones, I used a Hiwatt-style amp with a MXR Micro Amp model for extra drive.