The Guitars of Johnny Marr

June 27, 2013

By PGS Fitz


If you’ve never listened to the Smiths’ “How Soon Is Now?” cranked through a pair of headphones – do yourself a favor and make it happen TODAY. PGS cannot be held responsible if your mind melts while you listen OR while you try to replicate this iconic 80s guitar riff.    

Johnny Marr has made it to guitar hero status not just because he has been working non-stop since the Smiths broke up in 1987, but because of his inventive, textured playing. Along with the Edge and Peter Buck, Marr was a breath of fresh air in the eighties guitar scene, eschewing overplaying (metal!) and underplaying (punk!) to find innovative ways to use the guitar to create amazing songs (see: “How Soon Is Now?”).

Marr may be one of the more low-key guitar heroes of the last 30 years, but the man has a collection that is to be reckoned with—it takes a guitar village to create the tones that Marr has cooked up in the last 30 years. This week in Andy’s Corner, we’re taking a look at some of the tools he’s used to do it.

Though Marr is inextricably tied to the Fender Jaguar these days, he wasn’t yet using them as a primary instrument in the Smiths. Taking a look at Marr’s own Guitarchestra reveals a host of non-Fenders that laid the foundation for his legendary Smiths’ sound, perhaps most iconically a 1983 Rickenbacker 330/6 which helped define Marr’s bright, plucky, chimey tones. Marr added a Rickenbacker 330/12 to kick up the chime --an instrument that once belonged to Pete Townshend and somehow managed to escape un-smashed!

Marr was also known for using a variety of Gibsons/Epiphones during the Smiths—including 335s and Casinos for a rich, huge, ringing sounds but also Les Pauls for thicker, meatier tones. Among the great instruments in Marr’s collection are a 1959 Les Paul and a gorgeous 1954 Gibson 295 that has seen some action and lives on to tell the tale.

A few years into the Smiths, Marr began using Strats- a lot of them. He is seen photographed with a plethora of strats, yet none of them have made it onto Marr’s official Guitarchestra gallery, as well as a green Roger Giffin custom telecaster.

In the post-Smiths landscape, Marr worked with New Order’s Bernard Sumner in Electronic- where he tended to favor 335s and 345s, including a ’68 345 Stereo that was converted to mono (why not?!) and a stunning ebony 335 that features a Bigsby and bound f-holes. Gorgeous.

Marr has worked non-stop since the Smiths, doing stints in the Pretenders (seriously), Modest Mouse, Johnny Marr and the Healers, and the Cribs. Over the course of the last several years, Marr has increasingly favored the Fender Jaguar and in 2012, Fender released the Johnny Marr Signature Jaguar to great acclaim.                                                           


Marr has always used Fender amplifiers throughout his career, complemented by a handful of other brands; a Fender Twin Reverb or Reverb Deluxe was often complemented by a Roland JC120, Vox AC30, and/or Mesa Boogie MKIII for a mix of tones to deliver any sound Marr needed.

Like many players in the eighties, Marr started off his effects rig with one or two little boxes from Boss. Though he was frequently using the chorus out of the JC120, he had a Boss CE-2 onboard to add chorus to his Fender amps. Later, a GE-6 was added to allow Marr to fine tune the frequencies of his tone. But—like many players in the eighties—Marr graduated onto rack effects by the later years of the Smiths, using a Bel BD40 and then Korg SDD 3000s, 2000s, and 1000s (units also favored by the Edge).  And- like many players from the eighties who started on Boss and then moved to rackmounted effects-- Marr is back to the pedalboard again, recently having been spotted with a board featuring an array of Carl Martin effects, including a CM Chorus XII, CM HeadRoom, and CM DeLayla XL for that classic Johnny tone.

After 30 years of playing and evolving, Marr is still an inspiration, recently releasing his solo debut, The Messenger , which features what is surely a signature style. 

Marr fans! What do you love most about his playing? What have you learned from him? How does he inspire your playing? Which of his instruments would you give your left {body part} for?! Talk it up in the comments below!


  1. JWL says:

    Johnny Marr’s guitar playing always inspires me. From The Smiths-era to his solo career.
    List of my favorite songs including Marr’s guitar playing
    1.Every Songs from The Smiths!!!
    2.Good Morning Beautiful(The The)
    3.Getting Away With It(The Electronic)
    4.Dashboard(Modest Mouse)
    5.This Must Be The Place I waited Years To Leave(Pet Shop Boys)

    posted on June 27, 2013 at 9:02 pm
  2. Geoff says:

    See for Marr going into a good deal of detail about his gear.

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 3:49 am
  3. Jules says:

    JM was in ELECTRONIC with Bernard Sumner, not “Electric”

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 3:50 am
  4. Christoffer Nelson says:

    JWL has some effing great taste…

    Dashboard is indeed in my top ten - despite the madness of Cutty McStabmyself.

    The The’s ‘Mind Bomb’ and ‘Dusk’ were the soundtrack of my later teens. My first love even thought I was suicidal because I loved ‘Bluer Than Midnight’ so much.

    Electronic was really embarrassing for a diehard fan like myself (sorry Bernard), and, oddly, I had no idea Johnny was on PSB’s ‘Behaviour’ until about six years ago, though, I listened to that record hundreds of hours in my youth.

    By the time I was 17 I was making multi-layered guitar opuses on a 4-track, largely inspired by Johnny’s studio life; and I remember from 15 ‘til 16 I did everything I could to learn how to play ‘Back To The Old House’ (Hatful).

    Watch the 14 minute video of Johnny on his signature Jaguar - no signature artist has put as much of themselves into their guitar… and it was road wear, or a fancy paint job - it was well thought out and heavily engineered fix-its for long hated aspects of the Jag.

    Cheers all. Getting in the time machine… 30 years later is so awful musically!

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 4:21 am
  5. Jonn Beames says:

    Favorite guitarist ever!  I would love to have any of Johnny Marr’s guitars, for the history alone… like the Epiphone Coronet in “Nashville Tuning” he used to double the Rickenbacker 12 string part on “William, It Was Really Nothing.”  I guess first choice today would be one of his Telecasters, as I’ve never owned a Tele and really think I should.  I have heard that many of the signature sounds of the early Smiths records, that people think of being the Rickenbacker 330/6, were often, actually Telecasters.

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 4:27 am
  6. hatful of capo says:

    > doing stints in the Pretenders (seriously),

    Don’t understand… what are you getting at, Fitz?

    Good to see you featuring this most subtle of spellbinders.

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 4:34 am
  7. law says:

    saw J Marr this spring at the 9:30 in DC…he ran a Diamond Compressor into a Boss Gt-100 into a Deluxe Reverb…that was it…used his self-named signature Jaguar for the whole show…epic sounds, best show in ages

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 4:52 am
  8. David Warnock says:

    Been meaning to try out his signature Jag, I know Ed from Radiohead played it almost exclusively last year on tour with Radiohead, i’m not surprised.  I’m also glad to see Johnny finally getting his due of late with the masses, his knowledge is off the charts.  Definitely one of the smoothest guitarists of all-time…ironically when i think of his style it makes me think of the late great Jeff Buckley’s style, who also was a huge Smiths fan…though Jeff tried to mix in his love of Zeppelin and Jimmy to his style so he had a meatier sound, BUT still very similar.

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 5:17 am
  9. P.C. says:

    His guitars would be of no use without his talent.

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 5:25 am
  10. Michael James Adams says:

    The black 335 mentioned is actually a 355. At least, that’s what’s pictured.

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 5:48 am
  11. SUPER Y says:

    I love the fact that his signature Jaguar has stock Bare Knuckle pickups in them! He’s awesome live. And his sideman kills too!!! Seriously.

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 5:51 am
  12. William Maye says:

    I know I’ve seen some pictures of him earlier on with The Smiths with a SD-1 to go with the CE-2.

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 6:18 am
  13. James Cashin says:

    $20- his new album will win album of the year!!!

    Superb sounds- A MUST PURCHASE!!!

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 6:35 am
  14. gillyzoom says:

    In one word he is the “arpegginator”

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 7:10 am
  15. JPR says:

    Saw Johnny in Boston on the Messenger tour.  Terrific show and a true genius for sound.  It’s in his hands.

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 7:41 am
  16. dgm says:

    did johnny have 2 59 lp standards? last i heard he leant one to noel gallagher when they weren’t worth as much as they are , and he broke the neck on it and never gave it back. He also tried to “borrow the black les paul that marr used to record “the queen is dead” and marr said “nope!”

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 9:15 am
  17. Ben says:

    Love Johnny Marr! Very talented player. Man, I wish I had what he has. His playing style reminds a lot of Vini Riely. Thanks for posting this.

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 12:03 pm
  18. Matt H says:

    excellent stuff. Can you do one on Will Sargeant too!?

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 12:18 pm
  19. EBEEP says:

    Saw him play about a month ago.  My friend ran sound for the venue.  I spoke to his guitar tech.  Here’s his current setup; I kid you not:

    Johnny Marr Signature Jaguar
    Boss GT-100
    Stock Fender DRRI
    Stock Fender SRRI

    THAT’S IT!!!
    His tone was incredible; employed a variety of sounds, all were notably wonderful.
    My jaw hit the floor when I saw the GT-100.  It contains amp modeling (as well as a gazillion other effects as it’s one of those giant ugly multi-effects pedals) which explained the occasional employment of incredible Vox chime.  Really made me think about tone, gear marketing, and everyone’s quest for “The Best.”  How many thousands will we all spend before we quit “fretting” about our tone?  Wish I knew that answer for my own quest!  I will say that if I ever come across a GT-100, I’m pluggin’ in…no matter how ugly it looks!

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 2:22 pm
  20. Marc Vee says:

    All great musicians have one thing in common. They all have a sound that you can igentify and stands out from the pack. Johnny Marr always had that. I could always tell it was his guitar, but Morrisy was just as unique and made The Smiths a big hit. I am hoping that new guitar players will forge their own style instead of sounding just like their heroes. There’s no progress when that happens. Kudos yo J.M. for his fantastic style, it’s still an inspiration to me. Less is more when you can cut to the chase.

    posted on June 28, 2013 at 4:08 pm
  21. Mister Vertigo Musik says:

    I would give my pinky toe for the ebony 335 that features a Bigsby along with the black ‘leaf’ 63 Jag, 63 SG, & 64 Jazzmaster :)

    My fav J-Marr riff has to be the opening to ‘Paint A Vulgar Picture’. Really anything by the Smiths!
    ‘Bluer Than Midnight’ is also just a great song! ALL of his work with Modest Mouse & The Cribs is great! Albeit sometimes (un-cool) to like J-Marr & the Healers I love ALL that stuff as well as the new solo record! The man just knows how to write great songs and produce MINDBLOWING guitar parts! All art is an emotion expressed through a physical medium and Marr has been evoking every emotion known to man through his playing for decades now!
    My band Mister Vertigo paid homage to Marr in a new song and it was a BLAST to spend so much time layering guitars in the studio!!!
    I also agree with David as far as Jeff Buckley goes! Jeff get’s plenty of props for his stellar vocals! But he was a GREAT guitar player as well!!! Hey Andy, I would love to see a story about Jeff Buckley in the corner someday :)


    posted on June 29, 2013 at 6:22 pm
  22. foxxy says:

    i will never understand why there is a johnny marr signature jaguar yet there isnt a rowland s howard signature jaguar. i mean cmon, marr is famous for his work with the smiths (gibson, rickies) not electronic, modest mouse etc.

    posted on June 30, 2013 at 12:24 am
  23. Alan Deremo says:

    For some prime studio Marr, there is an album that has not been mentioned so far: Kirsty MacColl’s Kite (from about 1990). Not only is it a master class on layering guitar parts, but there are facets of Marr’s playing on that album that I haven’t heard anywhere else - including some stuff that’s a bit more in a folk and county-ish vein. Highly recommended!
    Also, I saw Marr at Coachella in April and had to pick my jaw up off the ground afterwards!

    posted on June 30, 2013 at 6:27 am
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  26. Mister Vertigo Musik says:

    Alan. I TOTALLY forgot about that Kirsty MacColl record! I 100% agree!
    Albeit she is best known for her KILLER vocals on “Fairytale of New York” by The Pogues…Her solo stuff is equally fantastic! Such a sad sad tragedy…She gave her life for her son god bless her but music lost a true talent that day 8-(

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  27. Scratch M says:

    Johnny Marr; what an amazing creative force. How he inspires me most is his accuracy and fineness in his playing and how incredibly tight his guitar performances are when layering sounds in the studio. Both him and Billy Duffy inspire me in this way. They’re just incredible guys. One of my favorite sounds that Marr achieved was on the song “Forbidden City” from his days with Electronic. That feedback drenched solo and the tight guitar riffing is so undeniably Marr, and so undeniably good!

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  35. Brian says:

    Favourite JM song is “Jealous of Youth” when part of The THE.
    Heard it first when they played Dublin on the Mind Bomb tour and it just stuck in my head
    immediately…... try and see the Live version from The The vs the World.
    Also great JM solo on Beyond Love with some catchy harmonica

    posted on September 24, 2013 at 6:12 pm
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