First, an admission – I have, for a good chunk of my life, suffered under an addiction that I found hard to control. Yes, my friends, until fairly recently, I suffered from GAS. No, it’s not that sort of GAS
[though my good lady wife and kids may disagree with that assertion]
but instead Gear-Acquisition-Syndrome.
GAS affects many people, but particularly in the musical field, where the search of nebulous TONE often equates to “I need to buy something to bring me closer to what I hear in my head”.
Yes, I have had GAS, but I am pleased to say that I’ve been clean
[well, of major binges at least]
for most of the last couple of years.
A couple of years where I have been PLAYING the gear I have, and exploring possibilities. I’ve been feeling, and experiencing, more and more that tone is in the fingers of the player, and only enhanced/yielded through the gear.
And then, yesterday, I had one of my AHA moments
[actually, a multiple AHA day]
I was visiting with my friends at Spindrift Guitars in New London – a great shop, with drool-worthy gear – and we were discussing the finer points of the six-string beauties on the wall, including a recently-arrived handful of Stol handmade electrics.
Now, I have a great stable of guitars
[I’ve been lucky enough to be able to work hard and invest in some great instruments]
but I’ve never really thought about having a custom-built instrument for myself. And even now, I don’t really think it would fit my self-concept as a guitarist.
We were discussing this and John said something along the lines of “Well, they’d shape the neck to fit your hand, just as you wanted it.” To which my immediate response was, “I’d just give them my Reflex and ask them to duplicate that profile.”
I caught myself in the moment, heard what I’d just said, and squirreled it away alongside other observations about me and that particular guitar.
You see, when I first bought my Music Man Reflex
[Gold-top, as in this picture, now discontinued as a finish, making me feel I have quite a unique instrument]
I found myself at odd times in the studio, playing other guitars, with my gold beauty on the stand, and always putting down whatever I was playing
[and these are NICE guitars, remember]
to pick up the Reflex, which I would then continue to play for hours. It was more than a month of this happening regularly before I noticed the pattern of behavior. I began to hear little things in my other guitars that I didn’t on the Reflex – notes where the intonation was off, for example; wolf-tones where the Reflex was smooth throughout the spectrum. In the past couple of years I’ve done a major set-up on every guitar I own – which already played very well – to bring them to the standard of playability and tone I get from the Reflex.
So, last night, I was at practice for my lead guitar gig, and had swapped out the pedals on my board a little to accommodate a new pedal
[I did say no MAJOR binges, remember]
[fantastic pedal, btw]
Halfway through the practice, I’m grinning from ear to ear, enjoying all the nuances of what I’m playing, how it’s sounding, and the interplay of fingers, guitar, pedals and amp – for the first time ever, I felt like I was really using every aspect of the guitar to fine tune the sound and it was WORKING! The whole signal chain in flow.
This payback for investment of time, money and care – what glorious sonic fun. Halfway through the practice, I catch myself thinking “this IS my perfect guitar”.
Which is a wonderful thing to feel.
ps: GEEK ALERT! if you’re interested in signal paths, here’s what I was playing last night:
1) Vince Tuckwood (soul, heart, mind, body)
1a) Fingers and Dunlop 1.35mm Tortex sharp-point picks
My picks of 20+ years – thick and heavy, giving me full flexibility from bashing to teasing. Also good substitute for a missing screwdriver.
2) Music Man Reflex Gold-top
3) Boss Tuner
4) Fulltone GT-500 – Mixed Drive
Distortion channel – high-gain, with a mid-boost – heading into Marshall territory through the Budda.
Overdrive channel – slight treble boosted drive, to give articulated crunch – AC30 Top-boost like through the Budda.
Set for boost to feed distortion to build a REALLY creamy lead tone.
5) MXR Phase 90 – Phaser
Doesn’t get much simpler than this pedal but it does EVERYTHING I need to do with it – and I can dial in the rate/depth with my foot thanks to the single knob.
6) T-Rex Replica – Analogue Delay
Generally used for specific delay on certain songs, most of time off – I tend to play with minimal delay/reverb.
7) Xotic EP Booster
Nothing much to say about this pedal except it takes the tone you’ve got and makes it louder without changing it so much – I’ve been used to using overdrives (with dirt) to get my lead sound, so the EP booster has been an eye-opener for me.
8) Budda Verbmaster 18W
Finally, my beautiful ‘vintage’ Verbmaster – last night on the low-gain/clean channel with: Gain, 12 o’clock – Treble 1 o’clock – Bass 11 o’clock – Reverb, 8 o’clock, sand setting – basically a lovely clean tone just on the edge of break-up when I hit the guitar hard, but with enough headroom to take the pedals without saturating too early. Enough treble to make good use of both volume and tone pots on the guitar without losing articulation.
9) THD Hotplate 8 Ohm
Now, there are going to be purists who say that an attenuator has no place in a discussion of tone. I understand that POV, however the Verbmaster is a LOUD amp and, given that it doesn’t have a master volume, the Hotplate is must have to be able to get the amp pushing its tubes/valves hard enough. Last night I opened the attentuator up wider than normal (it was at the -8DB setting with neither Bright nor Deep switches activated) which allowed me to ride the volume control and really get into picking dynamics – which I already did – but with that extra headroom, the effect was so much more immediate.