When “I Will Follow” and “A Day Without Me” came ripping out of radios in late 1980, it was obvious the band that recorded these singles was far too ambitious to be pigeon-holed as new wave, post-punk or simply pop. The guitar lines – a jittery Morse Code of single notes sculpted into a hook for “A Day Without Me,” the shimmering chords of “I Will Follow,” the delay-swabbed sound of both that crossed the line from mere effect into melody – alone advertised a broad creative sweep, and the lyrics aimed to define what it means to be human, albeit from a superbly youthful viewpoint.

Thirty years later that band, U2, has a firm grasp on one of the broadest creative palettes in rock history and has blossomed into one of the grandest groups of all time, as well as a force to be reckoned with in the music business and even the world of politics. Despite the fiery spirit of those singles and their debut album Boy, nobody who saw their first U.S. shows at New York’s CBGB, the Rat in Boston and Toad’s Place in New Haven, CT, could have reasonably predicted the arch of their growth, success and influence – even though the group’s fresh-faced, then-19- and 20-year-old members rocked those less-than-packed houses with heads-down dedication and no shortage of perspiration.

Guitarist David Evans, better known as The Edge, has been U2’s sonically creative spearhead over their 30 years in operation. He has defined a highly personal six-string style based on simple chords and licks that take on a much a bigger architecture thanks to his imaginative technique and his creative use of effects. And throughout all of the band’s musical explorations – collaborations with Brian Eno and B.B. King, revisionist strip-downs, baroque constructions, disco intoxications, electro-pop peccadilloes – his sound, even when stretched in all kinds of directions, has been as recognizable a constant as Bono’s voice.

Even before The Edge and his three partners entered the studio to record Boy in March 1980, Gibson guitars were at the heart of his sonic strategy. His main axe was a worn natural finish Gibson Explorer pumped through a Vox AC-30 buoyed by the era’s spanking new digital delay and chorus pedals. Producer Steve Lillywhite, one of the soundboard giants of the new wave era, perfectly captured his bedrock sound on the hits and deeper cuts like the exuberant “Out of Control” and “Stories for Boys.”

The Edge developed this sound with the use of his delay, setting his feedback dial to add half the duration of his eighth notes to every one struck – creating cascades of what’s termed “dotted eighth notes,” thanks to his setting the “repeat” function to regenerate two or three notes. He also, early on, developed a style of playing the same note on two strings simultaneously to create a droning tone.

It’s a gambit that’s served him well over the years, even as he’s branched out into synthesis, looping and other more modern techniques of turning sound into lush layers. He’s also expanded his fleet of guitars, primarily drawing on the Gibson family of instruments to build his armada. Here’s a rundown of some of the Gibsons the Edge has been observed playing on stage and in the studio.

Gibson Explorers are still his signature instrument. The Edge prefers the Gibson Limited Edition Explorer built in 1976. He owns several, including the one he used on Boy, which is now retired from the stage.

Gibson Les Pauls are an important part of his tone bank. The Edge has two white Les Paul Customs with black tone and volume knobs, from 1973 and 1975. He also has a 30th Anniversary Les Paul Gold Top from 1982 and a 2005 Les Paul Standard.

Gibson SGs are in the picture, too. There’s a 1966 cherry finish that he used for “Elevation” and a ’65 in Pelham blue.

• Epiphones have hung from his shoulders on stage, as well. He employed a 1962 Epiphone Casino with a tobacco finish on the U2 360° tour and has been spotted with a Sheraton and a 2006 Epiphone Les Paul Standard.

Gibson SJ-200s are among The Edge’s preferred acoustic guitars and he reportedly owns at least three, including a Pete Townshend model.

• And Gibson ES-series hollowbodies and semi-hollowbodies are a part of his trick bag. His 1953 ES-295 made a cameo in the “Desire” video and he strapped on an ES-330 for the “Who’s Gonna Ride Your Wild Horses” and “One” videos.

 He also has a tobacco finish ES-335. And a Byrdland made its way before the cameras during the filming of Rattle and Hum.