Despite coming in at Number 73 on Rolling Stone‘s recent 100 Greatest Artist list, Radiohead has certainly appeared on most best-of entries than scores — quite literally, thousands — of other artists who’ve been making music in their timeline. And that fact is that their albums are consistently ranked at (or very near) the top, with Rolling Stone even giving their coveted Best Album of the 2000s designation to Radiohead’s 2000 masterpiece Kid A. All that is cause enough to celebrate these five Brits, more so than they’re celebrated already.
A big part of what makes Radiohead indelible is their groundbreaking experimentation, and they certainly wouldn’t be able to achieve it without a killer sound gear setup. Gorgeous guitars, massive amps, guitar pedal kits that seemingly stretch for days — it’s all part of the plan. If you’ve heard their songs, you understand. You can hear it. We’ve put together a list of their three most affecting guitar-based records below and the gear that made it all possible. Enjoy.
1. Pablo Honey, released 1993
What You’ll Hear: Modern rock radio found an eternal spring in “Creep,” the successful single that became ubiquitous very quickly. In fact, the fuzzy guitar chomps that lead into the chorus are some of Radiohead’s best-known song tricks. Couple “Creep” with the stadium-ready “Stop Whispering” and the sad-sack breakup tune “Thinking About You” and you have a perfect entry point for ’90s alternative/grunge — whatever you wanna call it.
What They Used: Guitar distortion, and lots of it. In fact, “Creep” wouldn’t be “Creep” without its signature crunch, and tunes like “Anyone Can Play Guitar” and “You” wring about as much from the guitar necks of Thom Yorke, Jonny Greenwood and Ed O’Brien as is physically possible.
2. OK Computer, released 1997
What You’ll Hear: In a word, expansionism. OK Computer saw the band move away from the worn path of stadium rock and into darker, more untested waters. Incorporating spacey alien sounds and tech-robot references (beyond just the title), Radiohead made a statement, overhauling their sound equipment in the process.
What They Used: Flangers. Phasers. Octave switchers. Anything to achieve those otherworldly sounds complemented by Yorke’s vivid yet unsettling imagery. One look at the band’s touring guitar pedal kits and you’d think they’d just doubled-down on sonic textures. That’s because they did.
3. Hail to the Thief, released 2003
What You’ll Hear: After a pair of predominantly guitar-free records in the early 2000s, Radiohead surged back to life on Hail to the Thief, a politically charged portrait of modern global life. The songs bore signs of electro influence but stayed rooted in the charging rock that had catapulted the band to worldwide success a decade earlier. Songs like “Go to Sleep” showcased Greenwood’s ability to melt faces with his skittering, atypical soloing patterns.
What They Used: More distortion, but in a creative way. Only one song is composed entirely of computer-based and electronically synthesized sounds, letting the guitar multi effects pedals have a run at the spotlight once again. The creepy “Where I End and You Begin,” for example, would be lost without its reverb-drenched tones and echoing notes.
For an even deeper look into the sonic world of Radiohead, visit your local record shop or music store to try out similar guitar pedal kits. Or just ask someone if you can borrow their vinyl copy of OK Computer. It’ll change your life. Seriously. More.