A short rant

A young man, kind of metalhead, boldly exclaimed to me the other day that The Edge is the most overrated guitar player ever.

I was young once (I’m 39) and I get the brash assertions young men make. I made them too. But I had to school this young man verbally, with the video above, and with this accompanying blog post. Sorry bud.

U2’s David Howell Evans (or The Edge) might be the greatest rock guitar player of the past 35 years. He’s clearly a capable guitar player that chooses restraint and innovation. He chooses his singer. He chooses the band, the song, and the listener’s emotion.

The Edge revolutionized guitar with his clever use of effect driven, minimalist playing. “Minimalist” is relative because I’m comparing The Edge to his haters: guys practicing sweep arpeggios that impress everybody but actual girls.

Although, as evidenced from his riffage on Until the End of the World — The Edge is modern day Jimi Hendrix.

“The Edge is overrated” is typically a sentiment among snarky, elitist musicians that have nothing to show for their work. Much like the proverbial psychology/philosophy graduate, snubbing his nose at the world from behind a coffee shop counter. Everything has its nerd culture — including guitar.

The Edge riffology

At different times in my teenage years I was wholly obsessed with: Eric Clapton, Eddie Van Halen, Seattle Grunge music, and finally Indie-rock as a rejection of all those at the beginning of the list. 

Throughout it all, no one’s guitar style excited me quite like The Edge. It was always out of left from anything I was listening too at the moment. Especially with Achtung Baby and Zooropa, U2 and The Edge possessed a cool factor that no one else had.

Particularly (and excuse the lazy writing) his solo’s just rocked. The Edge solos with right hand heaviness of a punk rock guitar player, but his note choice is as lyrical as Bono.

If you’re a fan, you can hum or mentally recall every guitar solo to your favorite U2 song. Thats hard to do, with anybody else.

With the exception of Desire, rarely do you find The Edge, strumming cowboy chords (chords on the first three frets). Rather, he deliberately finds interesting harmonic intervals from which to play. There’s no greater example than Pride (In the name of Love). Again, memorable guitar solo on that song too.

In this context The Edge is a sideman in the vein of Johnny Marr of The Smiths and Andy Summers of The Police.

The Gear

The Edge has been pushing the envelope of guitar effects since the late 70’s. His rig now must be in the record books for containing the most pedal and rack effects.

I’ve always like his penchant for vintage guitars and amplifiers — while using the cutting edge of digital effects. Aside from being cool looking contrast, this is a matter of practicality. Vintage guitars and amps sound the best. They would create the ultimate tonal foundation for a tapestry of digital effects — which in theory detract from tone.

The Edge has an array of guitars but the iconic ones are from the three stages of U2’s sound evolution:

Gibson Explorer: Boy, October, War

Black 70’s Strat: Unforgettable Fire, Joshua Tree

White 70’s Les Paul Custom: Achtung Baby, Zooropa, Pop

The albums of the 2000’s really don’t have a signature guitar, and coincidentally U2’s sound didn’t change much either.

The Edge has a signature Fender Stratocaster that will get the man on the street tonally in range. It’s a great guitar with an oversized 70’s headstock. Fender believes more wood equals more tone. However that guitar is $1800.

My guitar in the video is decent substitute. I’m playing a 2016 American Special Stratocaster ($1000). Everything is the same but the hardware and pickups. I’m particularly fond of the oversized 70’s headstock.

The Edge has a signature amp available but at $2400 that’s way out of the average guy’s price range. However if you’re an amp collector, this is the one to get. Even if you’re not a U2 fan per say, this is supposed to be the best sounding Fender Tweed amp available. Even the extraordinary Joe Bonamassa has been using it

The Edge more traditionally plays through a vintage VOX AC30 amplifier. I use a VOX VT40X. This amplifier has a multi-stage tube in preamp with onboard digital effects. I can actually manipulate the tube expression as well. When I’m playing U2 songs, I set my amp to the AC30 selection, then add the effects as I need them.

A few of my clients are well-to-do gear collectors. I’m lucky that I get to play through the best tube amps and vintage reissue guitars at their homes on a weekly basis. I have to say, I’m a minimalist when it comes to gear and these new modeling amps with tube circuitry sound incredible. You’d have to be an expert to tell the difference. Plus you have hundreds of tone and effects combinations on one single amp.

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How to play U2’s Until the End of the World 

With this video and blog post, I’ve taken a sample section of U2’s Until the End of the World to demonstrate The Edge’s riffology — his compositional and technical ability on guitar.

This demonstration is based on the famous soundcheck by The Edge from the documentary, It Might Get Loud.

In recent years U2 has raised the key to put Bono in a more favorable vocal range. The Edge is playing the song with a high capo position. He has also added bass notes to the solo for more rhythmic effect.

In my version I use standard tuning from the original key on Achtung Baby, but I double down on the use of bass notes in the solo.

My verse rhythm uses a medley of all of the riffs contained in Until the End of the World. The goal was to create a single guitar piece that people could play at home without any accompaniment.

The guitar tab is 3 pages long and beautifully written. Underneath the tab I’ve given you a shorthand for the strumming. D = down strum. U = up strum. More advanced guitar players can ignore this and intuitively strum, but newer guitarists may want to use this to get going.

The guitar tab is played straight though, then as indicated, you’ll return to the Pre-Chorus, Chorus #2, then End.

I use normal guitar tab symbology for hammer-ons, slides, pull-offs, etc. As evidenced by the video, there’s a lot of that stuff happening. You’ll need to be fairly adept at reading guitar tab to know what’s going on.

That being said, I believe my handwritten tabs are by far the easiest to read. When I look at other offerings online I’m amazed at how complicated things look.

Achtung Baby is my favorite album, so I was feeling it on this one. I hope you enjoy playing Until the End of the World as much as I do!

Good luck, the tab is available below:

Until the End of the World is played in standard tuning:

Until the End of the World (The Edge’s greatest riff)

Please comment to let me know what you think, or if you have any questions.

Written by:

Matthew's dad, Jennifer's husband, bass player - New Invisible Joy, YouTuber, short-film composer, creator of modern content for guitar.