Are you a slave to your pedals and effects? Aren’t we all? It’s easy to get blinded by all the effects available today. Each pedal seem more irresistible than the other but do we really need them? In this feature we’ll get down to the basics and take a critical look at the GAS we’re all suffering from.
Don’t get me wrong. I love pedals and I love effects. I can’t wait to see what the companies unveil each year. Each month. I have GAS and I’m afraid I’m incurable. This is not a rant towards pedals or the companies behind them but rather a reality check. Once in a while I think it’s wise to take a good look at your rig and pedal board and ask yourself – do I really need all that
There are two reasons why you want to ask yourself that question.
One: the more stuff you place between your guitar and amp, the more your tone will suffer from circuits and cables sucking the sweetness out of your signal. You can compensate with buffers, better cables etc but what you’re really doing is adding even more to the equation and not least, spending more money.
Two: the more stuff you have, the more guitars, amps and pedals, the more you’ll get distracted from what really matters: becoming a better musician and song writer. Sure, a pedal or guitar can inspire to write new songs but then you actually need them. They’re not distracting.
So, what’s the remedy? Studio engineers or producers talk about detoxing their mix or studio. What this means is that every once in a while they go through their hardware and plugins and throw away whatever they haven’t been using for the past year or so. It also means that you should evaluate your mix and ongoing project and delete all the plugins that you don’t really need to make the song better.
This detoxing exercise aslo applies to playing guitar. Every once in a while, take a good look at your bedroom rig, your recording setup or stage rig and ask yourself – do I really need all this?
Do you really need to have a pedalboard cluttered with every single pedal in your collection? Do you need to have five, eight or twelve guitars? Does it make you a better guitarist?
Limiting yourself to the bare minimum of gear that you actually need, can both force you to and inspire to create new sounds and techniques based on the fact that you don’t have all the tools in the world available.
This is what guitarists and engineers back in the 50s and 60s did every day. Want distortion? Poke a hole in the speaker or play loud and your tubes will distort. Want flanger? Put your finger on one of the tape reels and you got flanger.
One of the best pedals to create limitations with is the classic germanium fuzz. As an exercise, throw away all your dirt pedals and try to get the most out of this fuzz alone. It can boost the clean or dirt channel on your amp. It can produce warm overdrive for rhythms and leads and screaming distortion when you need it. Hendrix was the true fuzz master and he managed to make it sound like at least ten different pedals just by utilizing the potential of the controls on the pedal and guitar.
It comes to a point when you probably don’t know or remember what your guitar and amp actually sound like. We’ve been stacking pedals and expanding the pedalboards yeras and forget about the basics.
If you’re not used to it, plugging your guitar straight into the amp can be both frightening and discouraging. There’s nothing covering your mistakes or sloppy technique. It’s transparent and very revealing. (Keep in mind that switching off all your pedals is not the same thing as your signal will be coloured by the cables and pedal circuits.)
But I find this very inspiring. Without effects I notice that I play differently. I listen to my playing in a different way and I’m more focused on what’s really happening, which goes right back to that studio reference. Without any plugins or effects, it’s just the recorded tracks and if they sound like crap then no plugin (or pedals) will be able to save them.
What this all comes down to is knowing your gear. The biggest mistake I see people make is when they plug their brand new guitar straight into the pedalboard. You’ll never be able to learn and experience how the guitar really sound and how it interacts with your amp.
Spend time with your new guitar and experiment. Learn how the different pickups sound and interact with each other. Use the volume control to shape your tone and enhance the dynamic range.
Does the neck make you play in a different way than on your other guitar? Is the action off or the string gauge too thin? Any assumptions or neglects will make your purchase completely wasted.
Same goes for the amp. Experiments with the controls and, if there are, the different channels. How does the guitar and amp interact? How do the way they sound make you play? Is the guitar right for that amp or vice versa? Do you need to adjust the settings on your amp between your guitars?
By now you should have realised that knowing your guitar and amp intimately, you probably don’t need as many pedals as you thought. Compressors, boosters, overdrives and EQs are often used to compensate for something that your amp can’t do or that you thought it couldn’t do. The right amp settings that matches your guitar and perhaps even a change of tubes or speakers, will often eliminate a few pedals or at least the need to use them as much. This means a cleaner signal and less focus on your pedalboard.
So what about collecting gear? What about trying to emulate a wide range of your favourite tones? Well, the same principles applies. You’ll need a nice palette of pedals if you’re trying to simulate David Gilmour’s tones but be tough and only use the pedals that you really need. Focus on your playing and not on the details of David’s setup.
If you’re a serious collector, then I assume that you’re collecting and not trying to fill yet another pedalboard. Still, there’s nothing wrong in collecting gear or emulating someone else’s tone but regardless of whether you’re writing your own music or paying tribute to someone else, you should take your music and playing seriously. Have some though of what you’re doing and what you want to achieve. Don’t have too many distractions in front of you and always ask yourself twice when you want to buy new gear. Do you really need it?
Please feel free to use the comments field below and share your experience on the topic!