Tom Morello's iconic guitar rig is now a $119 plugin

Neural DSP Archetype: Tom Morello accurately captures the Rage Against the Machine guitarist's unique tone.

Photo by Terrence O'Brien / Engadget

Playing guitar and growing up when I did, it basically means I am legally required to worship Tom Morello. So when I got wind that Neural DSP's latest collaboration was with Rage Against the Machine guitarist I knew I'd have to put it through its paces. Archetype: Tom Morello turns the company's meticulous modeling ears to the sounds that defined not just Rage but Audioslave as well, just like it has for Gojira, John Petrucci and Rabea Massaad previously. The result is a stunningly accurate recreation of Morello's tone, and one of the simplest entries in the Archetype series yet.

Where as most of the other Archetype plugins have multiple amp sims, racks of effects and even a synthesizer, Morello's is a single amp and five core effects pedals, with a few extras tossed in. That shouldn't be that shocking, though. Morello has played more or less the same exact rig since the earliest days of Rage Against the Machine through to this very day on stage. Neural DSP modeled his specific amp, a beat up Marshall JCM800 50-watt head, that he famously has his tone literally etched in. The dials basically don't move. You can set them to whatever you want in the plugin, but why would you?

Neural DSP Archetype: Tom Morello
Neural DSP Archetype: Tom Morello (Photo by Terrence O'Brien / Engadget)

His pedal board hasn't changed much over the years either. The core here comes down to five effects: an EQ, a phaser, a delay, a wah and — of course — a Whammy pedal (or simply "wham" here for trademark purposes). There's also a dive bomb pedal, though I'm fairly certain the effects its being used to create here were done on Tom's guitar with the tremolo arm or with the Whammy. Which I think is evidenced by the fact that none of the Morello-designed presets make use of that effect.

There's a bonus delay and reverb pedal, plus an EQ section (separate from the EQ pedal) and you can mic the virtual cabinet with 10 different virtual mics, change their position and distance from the speakers or even load your own IRs (impulse responses). While the later is a nice bonus, it will lead you away from the stated goal here — to make you sound like Tom Morello.

Well, there's good news and bad news on that front. The bad news is: You will never sound like Tom Morello. (Unless you are Tom Morello. In which case, welcome.) Morello's playing is as much about his unique style and carefully crafted technique as it is his gear. But, I will say that Neural DSP can get you like 75 percent of the way there. The raw tone from the amp sim is spot on. I always struggle when I decide I feel like banging out some Rage songs because I can't get anything even remotely close to the required punishing grooves out of my Yamaha THR 10 or Fender Blues Jr. But with Archetype: Tom Morello I was able to match the raw sound of his riffs.

Neural DSP Archetype: Tom Morello
Neural DSP Archetype: Tom Morello (Photo by Terrence O'Brien / Engadget)

Since Morello relies heavily on digital delay and pitch shifting, those effects relatively easy to recreate in a plugin. Even his trademark phaser, which is analog, is pretty accurately captured here. The one effect that doesn't quite land is the wah. It's a bit harsher and nasal than what I hear on Rage records.

It's important to note, though, that to really get the most out of this plugin, you'll need a MIDI expression pedal. Trying to play Morello's iconic Whammy heavy solos without an expression pedal is like trying to cook without salt. It might be technically possible, but the results will be... unpleasant. This is where I ran into a small problem. I do not have a MIDI expression pedal amongst my piles of gear. I have an analog expression pedal, and I was able to connect it to my computer through Arturia's new KeyLab Essential mk3, but the results were uneven.

Ableton sometimes failed to recognize the full sweep of the pedal and I'd be unable to make the full two octave jump while playing the "Killing in the Name" solo. And when bypassing my DAW and using Archetype: Tom Morello as a standalone app, it inverted the sweep of the expression pedal, even when I reversed the polarity. So I had to go heel down when I would normally go toe down playing the wah guitar in "Bulls on Parade," which was a bit tough to adjust to.

Neural DSP Archetype: Tom Morello
Neural DSP Archetype: Tom Morello (Photo by Terrence O'Brien / Engadget)

I also found that some of the presets, even the Morello-designed ones, needed a little EQing to sound their best. Especially the "Killing in the Name" and "Like a Stone" ones, where rolling off some of the high end was necessary to keep the highest Whammy notes from driving my dog insane.

Minor hiccups like that aside, channeling my inner teenager — wildly flicking my pickup selector on and off while creating cascades of high-pitched digital noise was insanely fun. Obviously, personal taste will play a major role here. But Rage Against the Machine and Morello were very important to my development as a guitarist. I will never be as talented, creative or famous as Tom Morello. But for an afternoon I could role play as a chaotic good master of riffs. At least until my five-year-old asked why the man on the stereo kept shouting "fuck you, I won't do what you tell me."

Neural DSP's Archetype: Tom Morello is available now for $119.