Ian MacKaye: ”I probably should have been a horn player. I always hear horns, melodic lines, and try them with guitar”

Punk pioneer Ian MacKaye’s proudest guitar moments say a lot about his philosophy and aesthetic for the instrument. 

Deep in the runtime of Instrument, the 1999 documentary about his legendary post-hardcore band Fugazi, MacKaye stands in front of his Marshall JCM 800 half-stack, conjuring caterwauling feedback from his alpine white Gibson SG during the breakdown of Promises, the closing song on 1989’s landmark 13 Songs [Dischord]. 

“There’s this moment where I do this chirping feedback thing,” MacKaye recalls. “It was really like I intended it and I knew what I was doing, and it got captured. And I’m like, ‘That’s what I’m talking about.’” 

MacKaye doesn’t think far beyond wood and wire when it comes to guitars. In his 30-plus years of playing guitar in Fugazi, the Evens and now Coriky, his new band with wife Amy Farina and Fugazi bassist Joe Lally, he’s never used effect pedals. He only recently acquired an amplifier that has a channel switch. But out of that simplicity comes a maelstrom of sounds.

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Published by Guitar World, December 2020