Simplify Your Guitar Rig

(At least while writing and practicing)

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We guitar players sure do love our pedals!

Of all the different musicians out there, guitarists have got to be the most obsessed (and therefor distracted) by tonality. I can’t tell you how many times I have chosen to watch gear reviews instead of writing or practicing. While these magical little boxes reshape and inspire our sound, do they actually offer the path to better musicianship?

My reason for bringing up this topic starts with a moment of frustration.

I had received a Line 6 Helix FX Processor for Christmas, effectively putting every classic amplifier and effect at my fingertips. I figured this was perfect timing because my band, Lumet, had begun writing for our next EP. This would provide me with all the inspiration I needed to make great art, right?

Tonally, yes. Creatively, not so much.

I couldn’t write anything! As brilliant as this piece of gear is (and it’s truly brilliant!), I had become resentful of my playing. I decided to take two weeks off from even touching my instrument.

When I came back to my guitar two weeks later, I decided to plug straight into a clean amplifier as a way of easing myself back into playing. The only effect I had on was a touch of the amp’s built in spring reverb. I was in love with the sound!

It was as if I was hearing myself for the first time again. Somehow taking two weeks off from playing combined with the utter clarity of my signal path had given me a tabula rasa. Instead of focusing on my tone, I was going deeper and focusing on my playing. Everything from note choice, to dynamics, to my presence in the moment had been heightened. I was in complete bliss.

I had not felt that way about my craft in some time.

It turned out that returning to a direct signal path, the true roots of the instrument, was what my musical transistor needed. I had realized that the sound coming from my speaker did not have to be the same as the sound I would eventually record. By relieving me of the pressure to make the final product at time of conception, the “direct in” approach allowed me to focus on getting the music out and having FUN while doing so. Once the music was out, then I could treat it with effects and obsess over how I would shape the music tonally.

In no way am I suggesting that effects units are the enemy of creativity. I am still a total gear nut and sometimes songs are born from the sound of a particular pedal. However, I am advocating the idea of occasionally switching up your rig in the studio by simplifying it. I have come to find that if I am writing or practicing it proves beneficial to return to the essentials: a guitar and an amp.

The next time you find yourself in a rut creatively or if you find yourself distracted, take a deep breath and observe your surroundings. If your floor is littered with pedals, perhaps ditching them for a day will bring the mental clarity your next writing session or practice routine needs. It might even become your new tone of choice!

Guitarist (Lumet) and writer based out of St. Louis, MO.

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