As one-half the creative nucleus of The Mars Volta, guitarist Omar Rodriguez Lopez is like few other forces on the rock scene. His playing seems to flow between genres — from mind-bending textures and atmospheric leads to heavy riffs that combine progressive rock, metal, punk and Latin.
Born into a highly musical Puerto Rican family, Omar grew up with a father, godfather and uncles who played in salsa bands. This allowed Omar to observe and learn about the various instruments and rhythms — a foundation which would serve him well later, as the founding member of influential band At The Drive In, and eventually with The Mars Volta.
In a recent Rolling Stone interview, Omar cited guitar influences ranging from John McLaughlin and King Crimson’s Robert Fripp, to punk legends Black Flag and one of his icons, Jimi Hendrix.
“They made me feel ‘I can do that,’” he noted of McLaughlin and Fripp, “which is funny, because they are the opposite of how I approached the instrument. They are technically proficient. They know exactly what they're doing. When I first tried to play solos, I didn't know scales. I made up my own. It was about what sounded nice to me, the dissonance of it.”
This is not to say that Omar didn’t eventually develop “chops.” In fact, he is now widely seen as exactly the type of post-modern player that will usher rock guitar into a new era. But listeners get the sense that it’s the cacophony – the tension and release – that is most important to Omar, not the technical proficiency often associated with “shredding.”
As for his signature guitar tones, Omar tends to go for the most extreme, challenging sounds — almost without fail. From overdriven amps and healthy heapings of effects, Omar’s tone pushes both the boundaries of himself and his listeners. As he noted in his RS interview, “There is something beautiful in anything intense and hard-going. The rewards are always greater.”
Of his massive effects pedal collection, Omar finds his delay, filter and pitch-shifting pedals particularly useful. His BOSS pedal arsenal includes the PS-5 Super Shifter, the venerable BOSS DD-5 Digital Delay, the HR-2 Harmonist, NS-2 Noise Suppressor and a TU-2 Chromatic Tuner. He also makes extensive use of a vintage Roland RE-201 Space Echo (a sound which is perfectly emulated in the new BOSS RE-20 Space Echo Twin Pedal).
For those looking to get a range of similar sounds in a compact and ultra-affordable unit, check out the ME-20 Multiple Effects, which carries Omar’s stamp of approval.