“I try to avoid ‘guitar geek’ stuff,” the Edge tells Rolling Stone earnestly. “But now that I’ve begun letting my inner geek come out, I have to say, I love all this shit. I’m fascinated by the science of it all.”
It’s late March, and the guitarist is in Los Angeles at a studio where he is working on the beginning stages of U2‘s next record and experimenting with two new instruments: Fender’s the Edge Signature Stratocaster – his first-ever custom instrument – and the company’s signature-series Edge Deluxe amplifier. “I took the opportunity to test prototypes of the guitar and amp on the road last year and give them a pretty intense workout,” he says. “I was also able to compare the guitar to my original Seventies Strat that got me started with the instrument and the amp that kickstarted a new sound for me, with the song ‘Vertigo.’ I gave Fender my feedback, and we were able to dial in every little nuance of the sound.”
Working with the company turned out to be an experience that would change the Edge’s perspective on instruments he’s known intimately for nearly 40 years. Although he still plays several different guitars – Gibson Explorers and Les Pauls, Fender Telecasters, Gretsch’s Chet Atkins model, among many others – the Stratocaster has long been the secret weapon behind the sparkling highs in some of U2’s biggest hits, including “Pride (In the Name of Love),” “Where the Streets Have No Name” and “Sunday Bloody Sunday.” Building one from scratch, as well as attempting to replicate a nearly 60-year-old amp, helped the Edge to realize why his favorite instruments sound the way they do.
As the guitar and amp begin populating guitar stores, the Edge spoke with Rolling Stone for an in-depth interview about everything he learned from the process and why, after nearly four decades, he keeps returning to the Fender Stratocaster.
Was your first electric guitar a Strat?
It was the first guitar I owned that wasn’t a cheap Japanese copy of another guitar [laughs]. It was the first proper, professional-grade guitar I ever bought.
When did you buy it?
I bought it with my brother in, like, 1979. In those days, we would pool what money we had. And since I was in a band, and we were obviously playing at home together, it seemed like, “OK, we’ll share the amp, we’ll share the guitar, and we’ll figure it out.” So when U2 was formed, the first few shows that we did, opening for other bands, I was playing a Sunburst Strat that was probably built in the mid-Seventies. When my brother went to college – sort of the end of that era of the band – we split the gear. I took the amp; he took the guitar. He still has the first Strat that we bought.
What drew you to Strats in the first place?
One of the reasons is I was a big fan of Rory Gallagher. He was the Irish guitar player who was the most interesting player of that era. And I saw him live a few times, and I was really inspired by his playing and the sound he made. And so that, you know, made it the obvious first guitar.