Gear Rundown: Johnny Marr

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Gear Rundown: Johnny Marr

Johnny Marr JC120
Words by Lewis Noke Edwards

While the Jag has become a signature, Marr played a jangly Rickenbacker, a Fender Telecaster and other hollow and semi-hollow guitars while in The Smiths.

Johnny Marr’s Guitars

Johnny Marr (born ‘Maher’, and changed as to not be confused with The Buzzcocks John Maher) is a guitar god of the modern day.

No, he’s not a conventional shredder like Yngwie, Slash or Van Halen himself, but Johnny Marr has done just as much for the guitar, and modern rock on the whole, as any of these other heroes. Being a founding member of The Smiths, Marr went on to be a member of The Pretenders and Modest Mouse, with solo work coupled with session work for Billie Eilish, Hans Zimmer and Noel Gallagher to name a few. All of this was done with a list of guitars not dissimilar to my Reverb Watch List!

Read up on all the latest features and columns here.

Johnny Marr is probably most synonymous with a Fender Jaguar, having been immortalised in a growing number of artist signature models. While this has become a mainstay, Marr played a jangly Rickenbacker, a Fender Telecaster and other hollow and semi-hollow guitars while in The Smiths.

The Smiths

Johnny Marr met Morrisey in 1982 and The Smiths were born. As they exploded onto the burgeoning post-punk and new wave scene, Marr could often be seen with a Gibson ES-355, the ‘Custom’ variant of the semi-hollow ES-335.

Johnny Marr Gibson ES-355

Gibson’s ES (“Electric Spanish”) series has a huge list of variants, but three models have risen to the top. The ES-335 is a semi-hollow (i.e. with a centre-block) electric guitar with dual humbuckers. The ES-355 is similar, but with an ebony fretboard and variations in mahogany and maple bodies depending on the era! The ES-330 is a hollow (no centre block) version of the ES-335, and usually has a pair of P90 pickups.

Johnny Marr’s 1959 ES-355 in what looks to be a Cherry finish, the bright red offsetting the dark, ebony fretboard and sparkling gold hardware, including a Bigsby vibrato. Eagle-eyed readers will notice the addition of a chicken-head switch on the guitar’s belly – an additional Varitone tone switching that introducing a top-end roll off or EQ changes before the guitar’s output. The guitar also had Stereo capabilities, though as Marr wasn’t the first owner it’s unclear how it’s wired beneath the hood.

This ‘59 355 inspired songs like “Heaven Knows I’m Miserable Now” and “Girl Afraid”, both written on the day Marr got the guitar.

Rickenbacker 330

Throughout the Smiths, Johnny Marr also used multiple Rickenbacker 330s in both two and three pickup configurations. Rickenbackers are typically quite a ‘jangly’ guitar, Marr himself inspiring decades of jangle. He bought the Rickenbacker in an attempt to make himself a better songwriter, the ‘Rick’ being known as a difficult guitar to play.

Johnny Marr Rickenbacker

1954 Fender Telecaster

A 1954 Fender Telecaster was used on a lot of the “The Smiths” album recordings, especially known for its use in the main riff on “This Charming Man”. While a 12-string Rickenbacker was used for moments on the record, the ‘54 Tele belonging to John Porter of Roxy Music made up a lot of the record.

Roger Giffin Custom Telecaster

An iconic green Telecaster, made by Roger Giffin, has also made appearances over the years, its textured green burst top and zebra neck humbucker making it iconic.

Alternate Guitar Tunings

While not exactly gear, Johnny Marr has used a lot of different tunings over the years to create his unique rhythms and leads (usually playing both at the same time in a strummy, noodle-y fashion).

Marr tuned up to F# at times to better suit Morrissey’s vocal, though in live and solo performances sees him using a capo. Various other songs are in an open D-tuning.

Fender Jaguar

More recently, Marr has been seen almost exclusively with a Fender Jaguar. With a few additions of his own, like a four-position blade pickup instead of the traditional on/off switches, Fender has released a line of Jags bearing Johnny’s name, based off his 1965 Jag.

Johnny Marr Jaguar

The Jag offers the jangle that Johnny loved from his Rickenbacker, while being an easier guitar to play, as well as featuring a vibrato bar synonymous with Marr’s warbly, chorus-filled playing. Johnny’s Fender Jaguar has upgraded Mustang saddles to account for the traditionally noisy and rattly bridges that come as standard. The versatility of the Jag has seen Johnny Marr perform with bands like The Pretenders and Modest Mouse, bringing his own brand of guitar-driven pop and rock to the mix.


Electric guitars can only do so much without amplification, and Johnny’s got a list of favourites that’ve seen him through recording sessions and years of touring and producing.

Fender ‘65 Deluxe Reverb

Bright, bolstering Fender tones helped Johnny to fill up a lot of space on early Smiths records, his unique style of playing requiring a special sound to capture the nuance and articulation of his playing. 

The ‘65 Deluxe is known for its reverb sound, as well as featuring Vibrato on board and very simple EQ controls.

Roland Jazz Chorus JC-120

Marr has also paired his Fender amps with a Roland JC-120 Jazz Chorus, a solid state amp famous for its wobbling and spacey chorus and stereo options. Johnny uses his Jazz Chorus for top end sparkle, while his Fenders offer reverb and controlled mids and low end.

Fender Twin Reverb

Marr has used these live from time to time, but they’re most famous for their tremolo on the now iconic intro to “How Soon Is Now?”

Twin Reverbs have a tremolo effect on board, and Marr and producer John Porter (the ‘54 Tele owner) re-amped a simple rhythm track into four Twin reverbs. This made for stereo pairs of Fender Twins with tremolos set to 125bpm and 375bpm for the modulating, moving sound. While we’re on the subject of “How Soon Is Now?”, an AMS-DMX 15-80 was used to create the ‘train horn’ led across the intro.

Keep reading about the Fender Jaguar here.