On that day in 1993, Mick Ronson sadly passed away at the age of 46. Although fondly remembered for his stellar work with Bob Dylan, Lou Reed and Morrissey, it was during his rock star tenure with david bowie that he shone the brightest.
Recruited by Bowie in 1970, Ronson entered the studio that spring to record The man who sold the world. Together, the band created a new, often heavier sound infused with Ronson’s wild, Jeff Beck-inspired music. electric guitar witchcraft.
Ronson’s playing techniques were quirky, but they worked.
An unusual attribute was that, unlike most other guitarists, he kept his fingernails on his left hand quite long. He claimed it allowed him to get his fingernails under the strings to create the kind of extreme vibrato that led some listeners to believe he was using a trem, or playing extraordinary bends that sounded like he was rolling out a to glide.
This has been shown to have a devastating effect on The man who sold the worldThe epic opener to “The Width of a Circle.”
To that end, he kept his guitars subtly out of tune, preferring to bend a string slightly flattened in pitch. His idol Jeff Beck used to do something similar during his Yardbirds days.
In this video clip of David Bowie’s essential Ziggy Stardust and the Spiders of Mars: The MovieRonson performs a jaw-dropping guitar solo during a rendition of “The Width of a Circle.”
While pulling out all the stops here, it’s easy to see why he’s often considered Bowie‘s most iconic guitar slinger.
Few great guitarists have ever seemed fundamentally less interested in gear than Ronson. Although he did carry backup instruments on tour (and occasionally used them), Ronno focused primarily on one lead guitar at a time.
His most famous guitar during the Bowie years and beyond was his stripped guitar 1968 Custom Les Paul that it had bought new in 1968 and played until it was literally worn out – the neck had been broken and repaired one too many times – and Ronson finally gave it to the Hard Rock Café in Australia.
Subsequently, he moved on to a -blue rosewood -‘board Telecasterwho have supported him throughout his career (although photos taken in the studio during the sky and shell sessions show him with a white single-coil Superstrat, Floyd Rose, maple fingerboard, provenance unknown).
He returned to Les Pauls, or other humbucker-laden guitars, for his slide work.
From the Spiders era to his ill-fated solo career, his even more ill-fated tenure with Mott the Hoople, and on his first collaboration with Ian Hunter, Ronson’s guitar amp of choice was a 200-watt Marshall Major head (the same model favored by Ritchie Blackmore) via a single Marshall 4×12.
When he moved to the United States, he discovered Mesa/Boogie amps and used them for most of the rest of his life (apart from a brief flirtation with Music Man amps during sessions for Hunter’s You are never alone with a schizophrenic album and the subsequent tour immortalized on the welcome to the club live album), preferring a combo for studio work and a Mesa head with Marshall cabinet for live work.
Despite using a Marshall Supa Fuzz and a Tone Bender fuzz pedalPreviously owned – allegedly – by Pete Townshend to generate more courage during his tenure with the Spiders, Ronno’s main tonal “secret weapon” was his Vox Wah pedalusually left stationary somewhere near the middle of its sweep.
Don’t miss the June 2022 issue of Guitarist where we dive deep into the history of man, music and gear, including the story of Mick Ronson’s lost Ziggy Stardust Les Paul.