Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Guitarists and bassists: pickiest musicians on the planet?

I honestly don't see the point in having anything more than 3-band EQ- Treble, Middle, and Bass. When I play guitar or bass, that's all I'm hearing. What the ^$%& am I supposed to do with all those tiny twiddly slide switches, anyway? What would I hear? A guitar has only six strings and up to 22 frets, for Christ's sake- it's not a symphony orchestra. Whenever I use the EQ on Adobe Audition, I only use the presets.

And another thing- why on earth are so many bass amps so blasted complicated? I honestly don't hear a whole lot of variety when it comes to rock bass tones. You're either louder and bassier, or you're not. You're either rounded or slap-happy (i.e. classic rock versus funk). I prefer rounded myself- which is what all your favorite rock bands actually sound like, despite what your friendly neighborhood bass player thinks when he does a solo that sounds like something straight out of Saturday Night Fever.
I'm not alone in this sentiment- my brother is the one who's truly serious about playing bass, eager to learn from the greats like Paul McCartney, John Entwistle, and John Paul Jones, and he's satisfied with his Hofner violin bass copy and his tiny Behringer amp, which has- you guessed it- 3-band EQ. The only thing it doesn't have is a humbucker, a bright red finish, more than four strings, or a vibrato. I'm amazed at the variety of sounds he can get- he can approximate Hofners, Fenders and Rickenbackers with that thing.

It would be when you handed me an effect pedal that I would be at all concerned about flexible controls. The amp I have right now- a Johnson Reptone- has 3-band EQ (or course), a distortion switch which is controlled with the Gain control, and volume. It's all I need, really... the only problem is that it doesn't have enough volume to compete with larger amps, so I intend to get a Fender. Even though I want a big pile of stompboxes, I have picked them very carefully to serve very specific purposes, and I've tried to avoid redundancy and emphasize practicality.
I want fuzz, wah, reverb, echo, tremolo, volume swell, reverse tape, and rotary speakers. These are all the effects I've heard in music that catch my attention- to me they're the only ones anyone could ever need. The Fender would have the reverb, but no metal distortion, so I've picked a distortion pedal for that. My vintage single-coil guitars make a lot of 60-cycle hum, so I've picked a hum-canceling stompbox for that. Eventually I want to use vintage tube amps, so I've picked an external master volume of sorts to have complete control of the volume without sacrificing tone. I want to occasionally get a Vox sound without spending a lot of cash, so I've chosen the SansAmp Liverpool pedal. Also, the distortion apparently sounds better with a supplementary overdrive, which the Liverpool would cover. Sometimes I'll want to get louder quickly, so I've picked a boost. Finally, most of my guitars have iffy sustain, so I've picked a compressor, which'll also go great with metal.
Of course, there would be times when I want to go straight to the amp, so I've chosen this true bypass thingy for that...

This may sound a little complex, but believe me, I've seen WAY too many guitar effects that make me go "What on earth is that supposed to do?" or "Why would anyone have any use for this?" or "What're all those knobs for? It's just a freaking (insert basic effect here) pedal!". I honestly often stare in bewilderment whenever I see a guitarist with a huge network of... things that supposedly do something useful. It gets worse whenever I see somebody with a gigantic stack of preamps and God-knows-what-else. It never sounds any different to me than when somebody just uses a Marshall stack and nothing else- so I can't help but wonder what exactly is supposed to be making them sound better. I particularly dislike this when a band starts out with braindead simple equipment, and then moves on to a full-blown recording studio on stage for God knows what reason, seemingly to recreate the sounds they already had.

I'm not very picky when it comes to musical equipment. I know what I want and I intend to get it- I don't have any uncertainty, and for the most part I prefer simplicity. If I should seek versatility, it would be more like a painter's palette of colors rather than a control panel that resembles a geometry assignment and makes as much sense. Furthermore, I'm not really looking for a dead-on imitation of a certain effect I've heard anyway- usually what I choose is close enough to serve my purposes. That sort of thing is for tribute bands...

Most of my guitars are reject Japanese guitars from the '60s that nobody else wanted, anyway. I was directly involved in restoring them and bringing back to life- some of them were real wrecks when I first got them, but now they all sound great and each have their own unique, distinctive voices that I'm sure no sleek modern guitar, or even a highly desirable vintage guitar could replicate. They're eye-catching, too.
When you're influenced both by Jack White and Frank Zappa like I am, I guess you don't expect anything less than equipment that, aurally, stands out against run-of-the-mill guitar sounds.

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