Johnny Marr – The Messenger

This blog has been in serious hibernation for some time (my last post was nearly a decade ago 🙂 ). Recently though, purely by accident, I’ve got back into some of my early guitar influences. On a bit of a whim I bought a secondhand Rickenbacker 12-string (a 620/12 from 1980) and in short order found myself going back and re-discovering some old favourites to play on it, which led me down the current rabbit hole I’m in – transcribing and re-learning guitar parts played by the one and only Mr Johnny (Fuckin’) Marr.

Johnny Marr at Festsaal Kreuzberg, 2018


I saw Marr on his Call the Comet tour in Berlin in 2018 (at Festsaal Kreuzberg which is an amazing venue) and he played one of my favourite tunes from his solo oeuvre – The Messenger.

At the time, with my guitar nerd antennae up, I noticed that he appeared to be using a Fender Jaguar in Nashville tuning. This is where the low E to G strings are tuned up an octave. A common way to do this is to grab the corresponding high strings from a 12-string set.


My hunch was later confirmed when I saw a clip of him running through said tune on his Instagram profile. You can clearly see him playing the main riff on the lower strings, but the sound is an octave higher than with regular tuning.

Having decided to try learn and transcribe it, I then had to a) find a guitar to put in Nashville tuning and b) find some appropriate strings with right gauge. I decided to use my budget Silvertone reissue which produces a good jangle from its lipstick pickups and a pack of strings I’d originally bought for the Rickenbacker.

Next, as when learning most if not all of Johnny’s songs, I studied his live performances and usefully there is a great version on the Adrenalin Baby album from 2015, plus of course the aforementioned IG clip.

Once I start decomposing a JFM guitar part or complete track, I’m always struck by how everything is crafted so it works harmonically/melodically/sonically in tandem with the song and that even the most (relatively) simple parts can be tricky to consistently play in the ‘correct’ way. As with any transcribing exercise of someone elses music and playing style, at some point you have to accept that you will still sound like yourself and it won’t be 100% correct. Which is absolutely fine of course.

Anyway, here’s the video with animated tab. Hope you also get lost in discovering what the Nashville tuning offers.

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