I'll issue the disclaimer right up front: this post will get a little geeky, and I know that most of my readers don't share this particular obsession. But if you'll indulge me for a few sentences, I'm hoping that I can make a point that's a bit broader. Everyone has their own hobbies, passions, and interests, and I believe we can find common ground in the way we approach them, regardless of the specifics.
I'm far from a great guitar player, but I've been playing at church long enough to be functional and have a good idea of the sounds I like. And, for many reasons, the 21st century is a great time to be a guitarist. There is a thriving online community of musicians, and we have more options for education and collaboration than one person could ever take advantage of in a lifetime. We also have a mind-boggling plethora of gear choices, which is what I've been thinking about lately.
I've written before about applying minimalism to music, and guitar has been no different. I've owned five electrics (along with three acoustics) over 15 years of playing, have never had more than two at a time, and have now kept my Yamaha Revstar as my only electric for more than four years. I've also never been into amplifiers the way many players are. I've always been happy to get all of my sounds from my pedalboard and have less to carry. But oh, the pedalboard...
Like many electric guitarists, I started exploring effects pretty early. I generally prefer straightforward tones, but I still became obsessed with optical compression, analog delay, and the endless pursuit of the "right" overdrive and amp simulators. My pedalboard was always small and simple, but the rotation of different pedals became dizzying, and the money invested soon ballooned far beyond what my ability and opportunity justified. And so, never being one to turn down the chance for a massive overcorrection, I sold a couple thousand dollars worth of pedals (yes, really) and have spent the past few years playing through a multi-effects unit that cost less than $100.
This downsizing has more than proven the point that I don't need the fancy stuff. At the same time, I can't say that it's been the most inspiring set up to play through after all of the great gear I've owned in the past. In the end, the answer seems to lie somewhere in the middle. As with so many other things, there's a balance to be found.
So, I'm back to a pedalboard. It's still tiny and not too complicated, gives me solid sound options, and satisfies the "knob tweaker" in me. It's comprised of nice stuff, but nothing as spendy as what I used to have. And, as a bonus, it's the most versatile rig I've ever built. With just four small devices, I have:
- Solid electric and bass guitar tones, with or without an amp.
- The ability to play acoustic guitar, mandolin, etc., either plugged in or through a microphone.
- My headphone amp for in-ear monitoring (I use a combination guitar/headphone cable), with the option to mix in more of my guitar or microphone if I need it.
Does this mean I won't make changes going forward? I'm sure I will. But this is a satisfying stopping point for now, and it feels like a balanced approach. The middle ground is often the best place to be.