I’ll come outright and say it: I love looking at and learning about gear. Gear porn makes the day go by so much faster, and it’s interesting to see what various players choose to have on their board, why they chose it, what worked with each rig and what didn’t. Off the rack guitars, custom guitars, pawn shop finds and killer deals. All of it. From the simplest rig to the biggest rig, each setup tells a little something about that player and what their tastes are, and often it either spurs GAS or makes you curious about something else. Down the rabbit hole you go. I’m apparently not the only one either, seeing as gear culture is probably more at the forefront than ever. If you had to take a guess, how many FaceBook discussion groups would you say there are associated with tone in some fashion? You’re talking brand groups, podcast groups, general discussion groups, groups dedicated to a certain style of guitar or style of music? I’ll guess on the low side and say hundreds, and those are just the ones I’ve seen personally or been on. That’s not even touching on other forums outside of FaceBook, or places like TGP or TDPRI or ILoveFuzz (all interesting boards for sure). It’s become a global culture, where if you’ve got a musical instrument and the internet, there’s a good chance you see or experience something gear-related throughout the day. I’ll admit that I’m so enthralled with gear that I often forgo watching TV to check my phone to see what the latest thread or blog or article discussing new releases have popped up. It’s truly an addiction, one that I barely keep at bay on most days.
Most of these groups and pages have quite a varied group of members, with diverse backgrounds that range all over geographically, and with that comes the differences in cultures and varied view on race, religion, and many other variables. Thankfully, most of the places that I frequent don’t pay any attention to any of those external factors, and the focus remains on gear. Other than the subjective opinions that come up about that gear, they’re normally friendly and great environments. But not always. I’ve noticed a trend on so many groups lately that it’s become second nature to expect it to happen, and it eventually will. Inevitably there will be a member that will join, and they do NOT agree with opinions that go against their own. They disagree with a post or take a cheap shot at another member, and things devolve from there. I’m not talking about trolls necessarily. (I wrote another blog on that very topic, you can check that out here). These are people who are whole-heartedly invested in their belief, and if you question or bring up a counter-point, an argument inevitably ensues. I’ve found this especially prevalent on certain hot topics, such as discussing Klon Centaurs, Relic Guitars, or specific guitar brands and their quality. Any of those topics will ignite a burning flame in someone, who can DEFINITELY hear the magic in the diodes, or who only buys from a certain place of origin because they’ve got a stigma in their mind that guitars from XYZ are just garbage, no matter what.
I’ve come to ask myself this question on a regular basis: Are we taking gear and gear discussions too seriously? We all want to chase those ever-elusive tones, but how we each do it is going to depend on a lot of factors. Personal tastes aside, monetary reasons can put a big damper in our plans. Yes, we’d all love a Dumble or vintage Les Paul or Strat, but that’s usually not in the cards for the average player. So, we chase those tones we have in our head with the funds we have at our disposal, and luckily there are enough brands with various offerings that can get you close to that (some closer than others). Opinions are like buttholes though, everyone’s got them. I think we can all agree that not everyone is going to agree on loving all the same things. Variety is the spice of life and all that. But when I brought up selling my Centaur in my last blog, I was met with various comments regarding whether that was a good move or not. Some agreed totally, agreeing with my point that the used prices are a bit absurd and that they were able to find a great alternative for a fraction of the cost just like I did. There were a few people, however, that went out of their way to express that I was wrong and my thought process was off and that the price truly is justified and it’s the greatest in the world. That’s great, more power to you. If that’s what hit’s the spot then cool, go for it. Some got so heated in their beliefs that they felt they needed to convince me I was wrong, and subsequently various members started arguing, which led to people almost being banned from that group. Why in the heck is that so important that it’s worth getting into an argument over?
Another example that I see frequently posted are the users posting pictures of large pedalboards with a wide range of effects, with comments to follow saying, “All you need is a guitar and an amp” or “You must be compensating for lack of skill” or “I only use amp dirt and a single delay”. I completely understand and can appreciate the traditional minimalist approach. Times change though, and if you’re in a band that covers a large variety of music, you’ll need the tools at your disposal to achieve whatever the song calls for. On the flip side, there are the players that flaunt their gear choices, going specifically into how many amps and how much each one costs (usually equaling a lot). That’s great, we get you have money and appreciate discerning tastes in gear. Owning a small fortune in gear doesn’t equate to knowing everything about tone. Just because something costs exponentially more doesn’t necessarily make the tone that much more superior, nor will it make someone play better. I refer to the video of Joe Satriani playing a cheap knock-off guitar into a Peavey Bandit and RP200. Granted, it didn’t sound like his rig, but raw talent got it close enough that you could immediately identify what was being played (Surfing with the Alien). It’s all just trivial, and it doesn’t matter if you invested $400 in a guitar or $4,000, if it hits the spot then that’s all that matters. Knocking another player’s rig solves nothing and if anything rains on their parade, instead of appreciating the effort they put into it and moving on.
Lately, the big topic everyone has been discussing is Gibson’s current releases and the quality control, after a recent catch showing an advertisement for their new Les Paul that had dings in it. Many people were immediately dogging Gibson and discussing how overpriced their models are and the subsequent decline in attention to detail. There were some extremely heated arguments regarding the amount of money spent on Gibson’s, some saying they are still fantastic guitars and still an icon of sorts, where others were saying they are complete garbage and trashing the brand and people who appreciate their Gibson guitars. Around the same time, Fender released their Brad Paisley signature guitar, and the internet lit ablaze at the cost of the instrument being too high because they’re made in Mexico, the fact that it didn’t feature a rosewood neck like the one it was paying homage to, and the fact that it didn’t have a G-bender. Let’s look at just those 3 things and break them down. Brad wanted them to be affordable, hence having them MIM. That doesn’t mean cheap, that just means more cost-effective than labor costs in the US. Regarding the neck, Brad doesn’t like rosewood, if you look at his current touring guitars there are only a couple of them with rosewood necks. He’s always been a fan of maple. Lastly, the G-bender mechanism Brad uses is from Charlie McVay, a small business owner who literally couldn’t produce that many benders to suit Fender’s needs, let alone at a cost-effective level. Yes, there are other companies out there with alternatives, but there’s also the issue of consistency and longevity and added cost, which all adds up to a more expensive guitar. I guess my point is that until all of the facts are known and verified, or unless someone has experienced using the instruments themselves, passing judgment just comes off as trolling and disconnected.
So why did I write this whole thing? I don’t know, maybe making the issues stare people in the face will make them realize what’s going on and thinking before just posting the first thing that comes off the top of their mind? One can dream. I’d like to just reinforce the point of taking gear discussions a little more lightly, most people are there to learn and enjoy guitar and gear with like-minded people. Not everyone will agree, and that’s totally okay. How you respond to the disagreeing part is what sets people apart. So sit back, enjoy soaking in the info and comradery over our favorite instrument. To summarize, I’ll leave you with this quote from Travis Feaster: “If you’re offended, I forgive you.”
Recently I truly haven't had a lot of time to play lately, so when I do I've been trying to kick the habit of messing with my board and pedals so much and just focus on playing. That being said, I still like to use some varying flavors of pedals, but not like I normally would if I had my full board on hand. My solution was simple, and it went against everything I know about proper board setup and powering them: I sat 3 pedals on top of my amp (Compressor, OD and Envelope Filter), used a OneSpot to daisy chain them, and let loose and played like crazy. I set and forget them and only adjusted the Q of the filter occasionally and that was it. It was kind of liberating, and it was really nice having the pedal right there *if* I wanted to mess with it.
Tone sculpting has become a bit of an art, and many players pay so much attention to all facets of their board and guitar. Every link in the chain adds up to the overall tone you’re going to have coming from your amp, and small adjustments in your chain can make a big difference e in the long run.
Picks – There are thousands upon thousands of options for picks, ranging from extremely cheap budget picks all the way to expensive boutique picks that are worth almost as much as some pedals are. If you’re ever looking for a quick adjustment in your tone for something different, try a different pick shape or material. Different material will have a different tonal result on your pick attack, the harmonics and even feel of your playing. Metallic picks (using coins, etc) will have a brighter, chimey-er tone, where using some wood picks will yield a much darker tone. There are a plethora of options in terms of the material used to create them, so do your research and find which material yields the tone you’re looking for. Different thicknesses will make a large difference as well. It’s a fairly inexpensive way to for you to approach your tone differently. Also, if you don’t normally use your fingers, try it! Your fingers and fingernails have their own unique tone, and can resonate differently than a pick can. Switching up your right hand technique can really help you break out of the box tonally and technically.
Cables and Buffers – These are a foundation part of your tone, so great cables can make a huge difference. Again, there are a plethora of options out there for soldered and solderless cables, along with varying ends and methods of creating those cables, along with shielding options and types of outer casings for enhanced durability. The key to finding a great cable is finding a set that creates minimal signal degradation. The cheapo $5 patch cables can suck some tone and cut your high end, which after going through several of those cables will yield a more muffled, dull bypassed tone. Buffers also play a huge part in keeping your tone pristine. Buffers alter the impedence of your guitar signal, which helps it travel through your board easier. Just remember that some pedals (fuzzes and wah’s) aren’t fans of buffers, so place them before it. The best judge of whether you need a buffer or not is to take a short guitar cable (10’) and plug directly into your amp and play. Now plug into your board and see if the tone sounds muffled or like a blanket is lying over your amp. This would be due to signal loss from not having a buffer or needing better cables.
Speakers and Speaker Cabs - Of all of your tonal puzzle pieces, these are literally the devices that project your sound into the world, so choosing the right speaker for the application can play a huge role in turning great tone into STELLAR tone. There are more options than I can possibly put into a single blog, but there are hundreds of speakers from various companies that can accentuate the amp it’s paired with, and subsequently the pedals and guitar that are running into it.
The key to finding the perfect voicing for the sound you have in your head is realizing what you’re intentions are for the amp you’re using. If you want clean headroom, your speaker choices can differ greatly from an amp that you’re intending to use as your dirt tones. Choices can be affected by what configurations you have as well, so a single 1x12” cab will sound different from a 2x12” and a 4x12” (or 4x10”, or countless other options). Having a cab that holds more than one speaker is beneficial because it allows you to mix speakers to fit the perfect application. One speaker may be designed for more aggressive lows and highs with less emphasis on mids, where you could pair that with a more mid-focused speaker to fill out your sound tonally.
When choosing your speaker, you need to pay attention to the outputs on your amps and what ohms they can put out, as well as the speaker and make sure they match up. If you’re not sure exactly how to do this, the easiest method is to email the company and let them know what amp you’re using and they can recommend the right product and ohm rating for you. Your amp can sound completely different based on whether you’re running at 4ohm, 8ohm and 16ohm and doing the research between the various options and what works best for your amp will yield some really fun and great sounding results.
Along with proper speaker choices, deciding on the right cab (as mentioned above) will play a part in your overall tone. Horizontal cables vs. vertical cabs can make a big difference on the tone you and the audience are hearing, along with which way the cab is facing and whether it’s tilted, off the floor, or even facing a different direction. The last thing the front row of a gig wants is to have your speakers blaring directly in their faces. Tilting the cab back (on combos) or getting the cab off of the floor will help diffuse some of the sound and disperse it into the air instead of directly at the audience’s faces.
Mix it up a bit – Do you normally run your delay into the FX loop? Try placing it before your dirt pedals for a completely different set of tones. There are typical “guides” and thought processes that come to mind when laying out a pedalboard, but when it comes down to it there are no rules, and what’s right is whatever sounds best to you. Experiment with signal chain order, especially stacking different pedals into each other to see what sonic tones you can coax out of something that would seem so unorthodox.