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Guitarists: Jonny Greenwood, Ed O’Brien
Effects used: DigiTech Whammy, Marshall Shredmaster, Mutronics Mutator, Roland Space Echo, E-bow, Jim Dunlop tremolo, Electro-Harmonix Small Stone, Electric Mistress and much more
The moment that Jonny Greenwood jumped on his Marshall Shredmaster in a frustrated attempt to liven up Creep (Pablo Honey, 1993), his “abusive guitar” style of ferocious tremolo picking and effects manipulation has deﬁned the Radiohead sound.
It was the title track of The Bends that really launched Greenwood as a bona ﬁde guitar hero, with the essence of his guitar violence distilled in those short squealing stabs that frame Yorke’s “waiting for something to happen” lyric (ﬁrst at 2:00), achieved by Greenwood dramatically yanking the high E string inches away from the fretboard.
Meanwhile, the arpeggiated intro of lead single My Iron Lung saw Greenwood set his original DigiTech Whammy’s harmoniser mode one octave up, but retaining the original note.
The technological limitations of the original Whammy add an eerily robotic, almost ring modulated ﬂavour to the part, hinting at the austere arctic futurism that would follow on 1997’s milestone album OK Computer.
Radiohead’s grand guitar ambition was evident on OK Computer’s lead single, Paranoid Android. Greenwood’s phased (E-H Small Clone) arpeggios adorn the verses in the song’s ﬁrst movement (from 0:09), before he ups the sci-ﬁ ante for the climax with an angular killswitched solo fed twice through a Mutronics Mutator rack ﬁlter and liberally contorted (listen from 5:48!). Still inﬂuential? Witness the ﬂoppy-fringed Telecaster strangling of Bloc Party’s Russell Lissack.
Despite Greenwood’s ﬁreworks, Ed O’Brien’s role in Radiohead’s guitar sound cannot be overstated -particularly on recent albums that have seen Greenwood noodling at a Korg Kaoss Pad or keyboards.
O’Brien is Radiohead’s stompbox addict: his live twin pedalboards and rack includes rare fuzzboxes, Roland Space Echoes, a Lovetone Meatball envelope ﬁlter, Line 6 stompboxes and a Dunlop Tremolo and many more. O’Brien is often responsible for the ambient washes that add atmospheric tension to passages of songs such as My Iron Lung and Talkshow Host; often in combination with an E-bow and subtle whammy bar pitch changes.
Perhaps the best example of O’Brien’s effectsmanship is the crescendo of Karma Police (circa 3:45 on), the result of a rackmount AMS digital delay being mistreated which, according to frontman Thom Yorke, is a, “machine that malfunctions wonderfully”. The searing, degenerating repeats were achieved by turning up the delay regeneration, then slowing the rate down.
Clearly, Radiohead can’t get enough of effects. According to O’Brien: “It’s how you use them, in what order you put them. Out in America we pick up loads of stuff from secondhand stores, funky old pedals. We’ve got a great fuzz pedal; the distorted bass at the end of Exit Music (For A Film) was a ‘60s Japanese fuzz I picked up in LA. It’s a great pedal. 60 bucks - you put it on a guitar and it sounds like Telstar.”