Tom Morello: American Musician & Activist [Rage Against the Machine]

by Joost Nusselder | Updated on:  February 27, 2023

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Few guitarists are as popular as Tom Morello, and that’s because he’s been involved in some of the most popular bands like Rage Against the Machine.

Fans of the genre know his playing style is definitely unique!

So who is Tom Morello, and why is he so successful?

Tom Morello: American Musician & Activist [Rage Against the Machine]

Tom Morello is an American guitarist best known as the lead guitarist of Rage Against The Machine, Audioslave, and his solo project, The Nightwatchman. He is also a vocal political activist on both civil rights and environmental issues. 

Tom Morello has established himself as one of the most influential guitarists in the modern rock, heavy metal, and punk scene and is highly respected among musicians and fans alike for his activism and musical genius. 

He continues to create music that pushes the boundaries of rock n roll. This article takes a look at Morello’s life and music. 

Who is Tom Morello?

Tom Morello is a musician, songwriter, and political activist from the United States. He was born on May 30, 1964, in Harlem, New York City. 

Morello is best known as the guitarist for the bands Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.

His personal project, The Nightwatchman, is also quite popular. 

Morello’s guitar playing is notable for its unique style, which combines heavy use of effects and unconventional techniques to create a sound that is often described as “unmistakable.” 

He has been praised for his ability to make the guitar sound like a turntable and for using unconventional sounds and effects such as whammy pedals and kill switches.

See some of his iconic solos here to get a sense of his style:

In addition to his work with Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave, Morello has collaborated with a wide range of musicians, including Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, and Wu-Tang Clan. 

He is also known for his political activism, mainly supporting social justice causes and labor rights.

Tom Morello’s early life

Tom Morello was born on May 30, 1964, in Harlem, New York City. His parents, Ngethe Njoroge and Mary Morello were both activists who had met while studying in Kenya. 

Morello’s mother was of Italian and Irish descent, while his father was a Kikuyu Kenyan. Morello grew up in Libertyville, Illinois, a suburb of Chicago.

As a child, Morello was exposed to a wide variety of music, including folk, rock, and jazz.

His mother was a teacher, and his father was a Kenyan diplomat, which allowed Morello to travel extensively during his childhood. 

These experiences exposed him to different cultures and political systems, later informing his political activism.

Morello’s interest in music began at a young age.

He started playing the guitar when he was 13 years old and quickly became enamored with the instrument. 

He began taking lessons from a local guitar teacher, and he spent countless hours practicing and experimenting with different styles.

After graduating high school, Morello attended Harvard University, where he studied political science. 

While at Harvard, he became involved in left-wing political activism, and he also began performing in various punk and metal bands. 

After graduating from college, Morello moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music.

Have a look; I’ve reviewed the best guitars for metal here (including 6, 7, and even 8-stringed ones)


Many people are surprised to hear about Tom Morello’s extensive education, which included attending Harvard.

So, what did Tom Morello study at Harvard?

He earned a degree in Social Studies, a broad field covering various topics, including political science, history, economics, and sociology.

Tom Morello is a living example of how education can help you make a difference in the world.

The Rage Against the Machine guitarist graduated from Harvard University in 1986 with a bachelor’s degree in social studies. 

While there, he was part of the Ivy League Battle of the Bands and won in 1986 with his band, Bored Education. 

Morello’s education didn’t stop there. He has always been vocal about politics and social justice, and he has used his platform to fight for what he believes in.

He’s been a passionate advocate for the Black Lives Matter movement since the killing of George Floyd in 2020, and he’s been an outspoken critic of censorship since the early 90s.


In this section, I’ll talk about the highlights of Morello’s musical career and the bands he’s been part of. 

Rage Against the Machine

Tom Morello’s career began in the late 1980s when he moved to Los Angeles to pursue a career in music. 

He played in several bands, including Lock Up, Electric Sheep, and Gargoyle, before forming Rage Against the Machine in 1991. 

Tom Morello and his band, Rage Against the Machine (often abbreviated as RATM) were among the most influential and politically charged bands of the 1990s.

Formed in 1991 in Los Angeles, California, the band was composed of Morello on guitar, Zack de la Rocha on vocals, Tim Commerford on bass, and Brad Wilk on drums.

RATM’s music combined elements of rock, punk, and hip-hop, and their lyrics focused on political and social issues such as police brutality, institutionalized racism, and corporate greed. 

Their message was often revolutionary, and they were known for their confrontational style and their willingness to challenge authority.

The band’s self-titled debut album, released in 1992, was a critical and commercial success, including the hit single “Killing in the Name.”

It is now considered a classic of the rap-metal genre.

The album is now considered a classic of the rap-metal genre. RATM’s subsequent albums, “Evil Empire” (1996) and “The Battle of Los Angeles” (1999), were also successful both critically and commercially.

RATM disbanded in 2000, but they reunited in 2007 for a series of shows, and they have continued to perform sporadically since then. 

Morello’s guitar playing in Rage Against the Machine was a key part of the band’s sound, and he became known for his unique style, which combined heavy use of effects and unconventional techniques to create a sound that was often described as “unmistakable.”

RATM’s legacy has been significant, and its music and message have continued to resonate with fans and activists worldwide.

They have been cited as an influence by numerous bands and musicians, and their music has been used in protests and political campaigns.

In terms of his playing, Tom continued to push the boundaries of what was possible on the guitar, incorporating elements of funk, hip-hop, and electronic music into his playing.


After Rage Against the Machine disbanded in 2000, Morello formed the band Audioslave with former members of the band Soundgarden.

The band released three albums and toured extensively before disbanding in 2007.

But here’s what you need to know about Audioslave. 

Audioslave was an American rock supergroup that formed in 2001, consisting of former members of the bands Soundgarden and Rage Against the Machine. 

The band was composed of Chris Cornell on vocals, Tom Morello on guitar, Tim Commerford on bass, and Brad Wilk on drums.

Audioslave’s music combined elements of hard rock, heavy metal, and alternative rock, and their sound was often described as a blend of Soundgarden’s heavy guitar riffs and Cornell’s powerful vocals with the political edge of Rage Against the Machine.

The band’s self-titled debut album was released in 2002, including the hit singles “Cochise” and “Like a Stone.”

The album was a commercial success, earning certified platinum in the United States.

Audioslave released two more albums, “Out of Exile” in 2005 and “Revelations” in 2006.

The band’s music was well-received by critics, and they continued to tour extensively throughout their careers.

In 2007, Audioslave disbanded after Cornell left the group to focus on his solo career. 

Despite their relatively short career, Audioslave left a lasting impact on the rock music scene of the 2000s, and their music continues to be celebrated by fans and musicians alike.

The Nightwatchman

Next, Tom Morello founded a solo project called The Nightwatchman, and it’s both musical and political. 

According to Tom, 

“The Nightwatchman is my political folk alter ego. I’ve been writing these songs and playing them at open mic nights with friends for some time. This is the first time I’ve toured with it. When I play open mic nights, I’m announced as The Nightwatchman. There will be kids there who are fans of my electric guitar playing, and you see them there scratching their heads.”

The Nightwatchman is the solo acoustic project of Tom Morello, which he started in 2003.

The project is characterized by Morello’s use of acoustic guitar and harmonica, combined with his politically charged lyrics.

The Nightwatchman’s music is often described as folk or protest music, dealing with themes of social justice, activism, and political change.

Morello has cited artists like Woody Guthrie, Bob Dylan, and Bruce Springsteen as influences on his Nightwatchman material.

The Nightwatchman has released several albums, including “One Man Revolution” in 2007, “The Fabled City” in 2008, and “World Wide Rebel Songs” in 2011.

Morello has also performed as The Nightwatchman on a number of tours and festival appearances.

In addition to his solo work, Morello has incorporated acoustic guitar into his work with other bands, such as Audioslave and Rage Against the Machine.

He has also collaborated with other musicians on acoustic projects, including Serj Tankian of System of a Down on the album “Axis of Justice: Concert Series Volume 1” in 2004.

Overall, The Nightwatchman represents a different side of Morello’s musical and political identity, showcasing his skills as a songwriter and performer in a stripped-down acoustic setting.

Other collaborations

Morello has also collaborated with a wide range of musicians outside of his work with Rage Against the Machine and Audioslave.

He has worked with Bruce Springsteen, Johnny Cash, Wu-Tang Clan, and many others. 

He has also released several solo albums, including “The Atlas Underground,” which features collaborations with artists from various genres.

In addition to his work with Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and his solo project The Nightwatchman, Tom Morello has collaborated with many great musicians throughout his career.

Some of his notable collaborations and releases include:

  • Street Sweeper Social Club: In 2009, Morello formed the band Street Sweeper Social Club with Boots Riley of The Coup. The band released their self-titled debut album that year, featuring a mix of hip-hop, punk, and rock.
  • Prophets of Rage: In 2016, Morello formed the supergroup Prophets of Rage with fellow RATM members Tim Commerford and Brad Wilk, as well as Chuck D of Public Enemy and B-Real of Cypress Hill. The band released their self-titled debut album that same year, which included both new material and reworked versions of RATM and Public Enemy songs.
  • The Atlas Underground: In 2018, Morello released a solo album called “The Atlas Underground,” which featured collaborations with a variety of artists from different genres, including Marcus Mumford, Portugal. The Man, and Killer Mike. The album blended rock, electronic, and hip-hop elements, and showcased Morello’s diverse musical influences.
  • Tom Morello & The Bloody Beetroots: In 2019, Morello teamed up with Italian electronic music duo The Bloody Beetroots for a collaborative EP called “The Catastrophists.” The EP featured a mix of electronic and rock music and included guest appearances from Pussy Riot, Vic Mensa, and more.
  • Tom Morello & Serj Tankian: Morello and Serj Tankian of System of a Down have collaborated on several occasions, including on the album “Axis of Justice: Concert Series Volume 1” in 2004, which featured acoustic performances of political songs, and on the song “We Are the Ones” in 2016, which was released in support of the #NoDAPL movement.

Overall, Tom Morello’s collaborations and solo releases demonstrate his versatility as a musician and his willingness to explore different genres and styles of music.

Awards & achievements

Morello has received numerous awards throughout his career, such as being inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame in 2019 alongside other members of Rage Against The Machine. 

  • Grammy Awards: Tom Morello has won three Grammy Awards, all of which were for his work with Rage Against the Machine. The band won Best Metal Performance in 1997 for their song “Tire Me,” and Best Hard Rock Performance in 2000 for their song “Guerrilla Radio.” Morello also won Best Rock Album in 2009 as a member of the supergroup Them Crooked Vultures.
  • He also won a Grammy Award for Best Hard Rock Performance in 2005 with Audioslave’s “Doesn’t Remind Me.”  
  • Rolling Stone’s 100 Greatest Guitarists: In 2003, Rolling Stone ranked Tom Morello #26 on their list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time.
  • MusiCares MAP Fund Award: In 2013, Morello received the Stevie Ray Vaughan Award from the MusiCares MAP Fund, which honors musicians who have made a significant contribution to the field of addiction recovery.
  • Rock and Roll Hall of Fame: In 2018, Morello was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame as a member of Rage Against the Machine.
  • Activism: Morello has been recognized for his political activism and advocacy for social justice. He received the Eleanor Roosevelt Human Rights Award in 2006 from the organization Human Rights First and was named the 2020 Woody Guthrie Prize recipient for his commitment to activism and political songwriting.
  • Additionally, he was given an honorary doctorate from Berklee College Of Music in 2011. 

His activism extends beyond music with involvement in several organizations such as Axis Of Justice, which he co-founded with Serj Tankian from System Of A Down.  

What guitars does Tom Morello play?

Tom Morello is known for his iconic guitar playing, and he’s got quite the collection of axes to choose from! 

He primarily plays Fender Stratocaster and Telecaster guitars, but he’s also got a custom Strat-style guitar known as the ‘Arm the Homeless’ Fender Aerodyne Stratocaster and a Fender Stratocaster known as the ‘Soul Power’.

The Fender Tom Morello Stratocaster is one of the best signature guitars and among the best Fender Strats for metal

He’s also been known to play a Gibson Explorer. 

With Audioslave, Tom Morello played a Fender FSR Stratocaster “Soul Power” as his primary instrument.

Fender initially created this guitar as a Factory Special Run. Tom liked it and used Audioslave to invent a brand-new sound.

The 1982 Fender Telecaster “Sendero Luminoso,” which serves as Tom Morello’s primary drop-D tuning guitar, is another noteworthy instrument.

What pedals does Tom Morello use?

Over his career, Morello has also employed various effects pedals, such as the Digitech Whammy, the Dunlop Cry Baby Wah, and the Boss DD-2 digital delay. 

He frequently employs these pedals in a distinctive manner to produce uncommon sounds and textures.

What amp does Tom Morello use?

Morello has primarily used the 50W Marshall JCM 800 2205 guitar amp throughout his previous career, as opposed to his instruments and effects.

He typically runs a Peavey VTM 412 Cabinet through the amp.

No matter what guitar he’s playing and what pedal or amp he’s using, you can be sure that Tom Morello will make it sound amazing!

Is Tom Morello an activist?

Yes, Tom Morello is an activist.

He is best known for his tenure with the rock band Rage Against the Machine (RATM), but his activism goes far beyond music. 

Morello has been a vocal advocate for numerous causes, including labor rights, environmental justice, and racial equality. 

He has also been a leader in the fight against corporate greed and the corrupting influence of money in politics. 

Morello has used his platform to speak out against war, poverty, and inequality and to call for an end to systemic racism and police brutality. 

He has even gone so far as to organize protests and rallies to bring attention to these issues.

In short, Tom Morello is a true activist, and his tireless work has made a real difference in the world.

Tom Morello & other guitarists

For some reason, people like to compare Tom Morello to other major and influential musicians.

In this section, we’ll take a look at Tom vs other major guitarists/musicians of his time. 

I’ll compare their playing and musical styles as that’s what’s most important!

Tom Morello vs Chris Cornell

Tom Morello and Chris Cornell are two of the most iconic musicians of their generation. But there are some key differences between the two that set them apart. 

For starters, Tom Morello is a master of the guitar, while Chris Cornell is a master of the microphone.

Tom Morello is known for his unique playing style, which involves using effects pedals and looping to create complex soundscapes.

On the other hand, Chris Cornell is known for his powerful and soulful voice. 

But Chris Cornell and Tom Morello were band members in the popular band Audioslave for a few years.

Chris was the lead singer, and Tom played guitar, of course!

Tom Morello is also known for his political activism, having been involved in various causes throughout his career.

Chris Cornell, meanwhile, has been more focused on his music, although he has been involved in some charitable causes. 

Regarding their music, Tom Morello is known for his hard-hitting rock and roll, while Chris Cornell is known for his softer, more melodic sound.

Tom Morello’s music is often described as “furious,” while Chris Cornell’s is often described as “soothing.” 

Finally, Tom Morello is a bit of a wild card, while Chris Cornell is more of a traditionalist.

Tom Morello is known for taking risks and pushing the boundaries of music, while Chris Cornell is likelier to stick to the tried and true. 

So there you have it: Tom Morello and Chris Cornell are two totally different musicians, but both are undeniably talented in their own right. 

While Tom Morello is the wild-card rocker, Chris Cornell is the traditionalist crooner.

No matter which one you prefer, you can’t deny that both are masters of their craft.

Tom Morello vs Slash

When it comes to guitarists, there’s no one quite like Tom Morello and Slash. While both are incredibly talented, the two have some key differences. 

For starters, Tom Morello is known for his unique sound, which is a mix of funk, rock, and hip-hop.

He’s also known for using effects pedals and his ability to create complex riffs. 

On the other hand, Slash is known for his bluesy, hard-rock sound and his use of distortion. He’s also known for his signature top hat and his iconic solos.

Slash is known as the guitarist for one of the most famous rock n roll bands of all time Guns N’ Roses. 

Regarding their playing styles, Tom Morello is all about experimentation.

He’s constantly pushing the boundaries of what a guitar can do, and his solos often feature unorthodox techniques. 

Slash, on the other hand, is more traditional. He’s all about classic rock riffs and solos, and he’s not afraid to stick to the basics. 

So while they may both be incredible guitarists, Tom Morello and Slash have some key differences.

Tom is all about pushing the boundaries and experimenting, while Slash is more traditional and focused on classic rock. 

Tom Morello vs Bruce Springsteen

Tom Morello and Bruce Springsteen are two of the biggest names in rock music, but they couldn’t be more different! 

Tom Morello is the master of experimental guitar riffs, while Bruce Springsteen is the king of classic rock. 

Tom’s music is all about pushing the boundaries and exploring new sounds, while Bruce’s is all about keeping it classic and true to the roots of rock.

Tom’s style is all about taking risks and pushing the envelope, while Bruce’s is all about staying true to the tried and true. 

Tom’s music is all about creating something new and exciting, while Bruce’s is all about keeping it traditional and familiar.

So if you’re looking for something fresh and exciting, Tom’s your man. But if you’re looking for something classic and timeless, Bruce is your guy.

What is Tom Morello’s relationship with Fender?

Tom Morello is an official Fender endorser, which means he gets to rock out with some pretty cool signature instruments. 

One of those signature instruments is the Fender Soul Power Stratocaster, a black guitar based on the legendary Stratocaster.

It’s been modified to give Tom Morello’s unique and powerful sounds, from gentle rhythms to screaming feedback and chaotic stutters. 

It’s got all the features you’d expect from a Stratocaster, like an alder slab body with binding, a modern “C”-shape maple neck with a 9.5″-14″ compound radius rosewood fingerboard, and 22 medium jumbo frets.

But it’s also got some special features, like a recessed Floyd Rose locking tremolo system, a Seymour Duncan Hot Rails bridge humbucker, Fender Noiseless pickups in the neck and middle positions, a chrome pickguard, and a kill switch toggle. 

It also has locking tuners, a matching painted head cap, and an iconic Soul Power body decal. It even comes with a black Fender case!

The Fender Noiseless pickups and Seymour Duncan Hot Rails pickups give the Soul Power Stratocaster a punchy midrange and aggressive crunch that’s perfect for rock and metal. 

So if you’re looking for the same powerful and unique sound Tom Morello has, the Fender Soul Power Stratocaster is a perfect choice.

Its legendary design, special features, and iconic look will make you stand out from the crowd and help you sound a bit like Tom!


Is Tom Morello a Vegan?

Tom Morello is a passionate political activist and a talented guitarist, best known for his work with the iconic rock band Rage Against the Machine.

He is also a vegetarian and a vocal advocate for animal rights. 

So, is Tom Morello a vegan? The answer is no, but he is a vegetarian! 

Tom has been a vegetarian since the late 1990s and has been a vocal advocate for animal rights since then.

He has spoken out against factory farming and animal testing and has even gone as far as to launch his own animal rights organization. 

Tom is a true inspiration for those looking to make a difference in the world. He is a living example of how one person’s actions can positively impact the world. 

So, if you’re looking for a role model to follow, Tom Morello is definitely the man for you!

What bands was Tom Morello a part of?

Tom Morello is a legendary guitarist, singer, songwriter, and political activist.

He’s best known for his time in the rock band Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, and the supergroup Prophets of Rage. 

He’s also toured with Bruce Springsteen and the E Street Band.

Morello was previously in a band called Lock Up, and he co-founded Axis of Justice with Zack de la Rocha, which airs a monthly program on the Pacifica Radio station KPFK 90.7 FM in Los Angeles. 

So, to sum it up, Tom Morello has been a part of Rage Against the Machine, Audioslave, Prophets of Rage, Lock Up, and Axis of Justice.

Why does Tom Morello not cut his guitar strings?

Tom Morello doesn’t cut his guitar strings for a few reasons. First, it’s a matter of personal preference. 

He likes the way the strings look and feel when they’re sticking out, and it gives him a unique sound.

Second, it’s a matter of practicality. Cutting the strings can lead to accidental snags, and it’s much easier to play without them getting in the way. 

Finally, it’s a matter of style. Morello’s signature sound comes from how he plays with the strings sticking out, and it’s become a part of his identity as a musician.

So, if you want to sound like Tom Morello, don’t cut your strings!

What makes Tom Morello unique?

Tom Morello is a one-of-a-kind guitar player.

He’s got a style like no other, combining righteous riffs with a whammy pedal and a whole lot of imagination. 

He’s been a master of the riff since his Rage Against the Machine days, and he’s still going strong today.

His unique sound has been a major influence on modern guitar playing, and he’s even got his own signature gear.

He’s a true guitar legend, and his fans can’t get enough of his righteous riffs and old-school gear. 

Tom Morello is a master of the riff, a whammy pedal preacher, and a true guitar legend.

He’s got a style that’s all his own, and it’s sure to keep inspiring guitar players for years to come.

Is Tom Morello one of the greatest guitarists of all time?

Tom Morello is undoubtedly one of the greatest guitarists of all time.

His skill and uniqueness on the instrument have earned him a spot in Rolling Stone Magazine’s list of the 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time, coming in at number 40. 

His signature sound and playing style have made him a household name, and he’s even been credited with inventing a few new techniques. 

Morello is known for his incredible ability to make his guitar sound like various instruments, from a banjo to a synthesizer.

He’s also known for his five-finger tapping technique, which allows him to play multiple notes at once. His skill and creativity have allowed him to create some of the most memorable riffs in rock history. 

But it’s not just his technical skill that makes Morello one of the greatest guitarists ever.

He also has a unique approach to playing, which combines elements of punk, metal, funk, and hip-hop.

His playing is often described as “fiery,” and he uses his guitar to express his political views and activism. 

All in all, Tom Morello is a legendary guitarist who has earned his spot among the greatest of all time.

His skill, creativity, and unique approach to playing make him an icon in the guitar world.

What is Tom Morello’s relationship with Rolling Stone?

Tom Morello is a guitar legend, and Rolling Stone magazine agrees.

He’s been called “the greatest instrument invented” by the iconic magazine, and it’s easy to see why.

Morello has been making music for decades, and his unique sound has inspired generations of fans.

Tom Morello has had a long-standing relationship with Rolling Stone magazine.

Morello has been featured in numerous articles, interviews, and reviews in Rolling Stone throughout his career, and the magazine has often praised his guitar playing, songwriting, and activism. 

Rolling Stone has also included Morello on several of its lists, including “The 100 Greatest Guitarists of All Time,” where he was ranked #26 in 2015.

In addition to his appearances in Rolling Stone, Morello has also contributed to the magazine as a writer.

He has penned articles and essays for the publication on topics such as politics, activism, and music.

Tom Morello has had a lot of critics who are always questioning his abilities and intentions, and he’s used Rolling Stone to make his point. 

Truthfully, it’s not just Morello’s guitar playing that has made him a legend. It’s also his willingness to use his music to fight for social justice.

He’s been an outspoken advocate for various causes, from environmentalism to racial justice.

And yet, despite all this, some people still don’t seem to get it.

They don’t understand why a black man from Libertyville, Illinois, would be playing rock and roll.

They don’t understand why he’d be talking about racism or why he’d be playing with a Marshall stack.

But that’s the beauty of Tom Morello.

He’s not afraid to be himself, and he’s not afraid to use his music to fight for what he believes in. He’s not afraid to challenge the status quo, and he’s not afraid to make people think.

So if you’re looking for an inspiring story of a guitar legend who’s not afraid to speak his mind, look no further than Tom Morello.

He’s the perfect example of what it means to be a rockstar in the 21st century.

Overall, it can be said that Tom Morello has a positive and collaborative relationship with Rolling Stone.

Why does Tom Morello hold his guitar so high?

If you’ve watched Tom play, you’ve probably noticed he holds his guitar pretty high. 

Why is Tom Morello’s guitar held so high? He typically does his practice while seated. His hands and arms have been taught how to play the guitar from where it is. 

His music is anything but simple to perform, and even renowned guitarists, who typically play low, will lift their guitars during challenging passages.


Tom Morello is a musician’s musician. He’s a bit of a rebel, a bit of a punk, and a bit of a rock god.

His unique style and sound have made him a legend in the industry. 

His signature sound mixes punk rock intensity with bluesy riffs and solos, creating a brutal yet melodic sound. 

His playing has influenced many modern guitarists, and his activism has been a source of motivation for many others.

Tom Morello is an artist who has greatly impacted rock music and the world.

Next, learn what distinguishes the lead guitar from the rhythm guitar from the bass guitar

I'm Joost Nusselder, the founder of Neaera and a content marketer, dad, and love trying out new equipment with guitar at the heart of my passion, and together with my team, I've been creating in-depth blog articles since 2020 to help loyal readers with recording and guitar tips.

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