Blindfolded Tone Part 1: The Power of the Blue LED
(Read this post first. Then the revealed overdrive is here: Blindfolded Tone Part 1: Revealed.)
The year was 2003. U2 had finished the Elevation Tour and was writing their new album, we sent each other chain email jokes instead of youtube links, Elijah Wood was a hobbit, and Coldplay was still indie. I was rockin’ a Boss GT6 that had a broken delay tap tempo (meaning, I didn’t understand what dotted eighths were), a Crate GFX120, a Fender PA, and a BC Rich Warlock. Bronze series, baby. And I was happy. Sure, perhaps a tad blissfully ignorant; but happy.
Then I visited a new church. And my life was changed forever. The deeply Biblical message? The innovative outreach program? The intense and powerful worship experience? Nope. That guy over there is playing all these little pedals velcro’d to what looks like a piece of plywood. And my life would never be the same. I was cautious at first. I joined the team, but just played bass. No one really sees the bass player. (Sorry, bass players.) I would just kind of lurk in the shadows and thump my notes, trying to peer through the drumset at the vast and wondrous world of colored paint and blinking lights on the plywood beyond. It beckoned.
As fate would have it, one morning the second guitarist was sick, and I was asked to bring my guitar rig that morning. I was excited. It was to be a good showing. After all, I had two amps! Right? A Crate and a PA are better than one Fender Twin, right? It’s one versus two! That’s gotta be louder! And he would surely look in wonder at the professionalism of my GT6, without the primitive velcro and plywood. But somehow I knew…a different world awaited me. A world where magical creatures like Klon Centaur’s carry you off into faraway lands where the color of the led actually changes the sound of the pedal, overdrives are chewy, and you desperately pretend to know which pedal you’re supposed to like better because for the life of you they both seem to sound exactly the same.
So we play the set, and I’m pretty stoked. Pedalboard guitarist has been staring at my GT6 the whole time. And even now, as I’m packing up, he’s looking in the back of my amps. Nope, no magical talent knobs back there; that’s all from right in these hands, buddy. And then he walks up to me:
Guitarist: So, how do you like that GT6?
Me: Oh, this old thing? I don’t pay much attention to effects, really. *(I hoped he hadn’t seen me dusting between the knobs earlier that day.)* But it’s actually really cool! It has a volume pedal that can also be a wah, and you can have any effect you want, it even has amp models and speaker…
Guitarist: I mean, how do you like the tone of it?
Tone. This legendary and heralded word of all words. I wish I had made a better showing upon my first hearing of it.
Me: You mean like does it stay on pitch?
Guitarist: *(with a pained grimace)* I mean, how do you like how it sounds?
How it sounds? This was all so sudden…
And with that he threw the cover back on his magical colors and velcro and plywood. The blue led’s blinked in perfect syncopated unison. Some of them even swelled on and off. It was intoxicating. I felt all my will slipping away from me…
Me: Uh, I guess I like the sound of it.
Guitarist: No you don’t.
Me: No I don’t.
I continued to stare unblinkingly at the blue led’s.
Guitarist: Do you think your amps sound full?
Me: Well…ya…I mean, they’re run in stereo, and I’ve heard…
Guitarist: No you haven’t.
Me: No I haven’t.
I tried to pull away from the strange and wondrous sight, but reality was fading. Fast. I made a half-hearted attempt at resistance by singing a Liquid Tension Experiment off-tempo time signature in my head, but it made no difference. Blue led’s. Blue led’s.
Guitarist: do you like the tone of that BC Rich?
Me: I…I guess. The guy at Guitar Center said…
Guitarist: Guitar Center knows nothing. Good tone can never be found within those four walls.
It was almost a fatal mistake. I felt the spell loosening.
Me: But, but…I’ve seen that green pedal on your board at Guitar Center!
Guitarist: You’ve never seen this at Guitar Center. With this extra dip switch and blue led?
Me: Guitar Center knows nothing…Guitar Center knows nothing…
And that was how I started hearing things without the benefit of my ears. Now, don’t get me wrong…for the most part, that was one of the best days of my life. Tone is so incredibly vital, and it’s appalling how many guitarists overlook it. It’s not all about skill. Have you ever heard ‘Jesu, Joy of Man’s Desiring’ on kazoo? Tone matters. However, that day also did start breeding in me just a little bit of hearing things with preconceived notions of how they are ‘supposed to’ sound. And making up differences in tone in my head where in reality I couldn’t hear any. Which is always going to be a battle…we are never going to fully get over the psychological phenomenon of expectation versus reality, and how the two tend to color each other. However, I have become increasingly convinced as of late that at the very least, I do need to stop shying away from the question.
So here it goes. A new series on tone…without your eyes. I have no preconceived notions going into this. On the one hand, good quality in gear makes sense that it would translate into good tone. On the other hand, there are a lot of great-sounding guitarists using inexpensive gear. Mostly pedals. This series will focus first on those, because by and large, with a good amp and good guitar, if a pedal just simply effects your tone and then stays out of the way, you just might be able to get away with not mortgaging your house to get onto the end of a 7 year waiting list for a phaser.
I’m sure there will be some personal bias as well, but hopefully the blue led’s will be balanced out by the fact that I have no money and would really not mind being able to sell a few things, buy less expensive replacements, and use the extra money to live off of. Ah, who am I kidding…I’d use the extra money to buy a new acoustic. But hey…the principle’s there, right? Nope. …… I’ll work on it. Ah, nope again.
So this first test is with a drive pedal. It may be a distortion, it may be an overdrive, and it may be a fuzz. It’s in the context of a new piece I just wrote, and it might be an inexpensive pedal. Or, it might be an expensive pedal. It might be boutique, and it might be mass-produced. Or it might be one of those boutique ones without custom paint and a high price tag, so they obviously don’t sound as good. The pedal is at the bottom of the screen, underneath the black bar making the video widescreen. (Because I’m so rad.) Here’s the video:
Guesses anyone? Specific pedal guesses are fine, as are price range guesses, or general brand or just sound quality guesses.
I’m excited to start trying to hear without our eyes. I, for one, was absolutely wrong when I tried this pedal out. Blown away wrong. And for what it’s worth, the guitar is my normal Prairiewood hanging mostly around the neck pickup this time, the amp is the normal Matchless, the trem that favors heavily is the Dr. Scientist Tremolessence, and I re-arranged my board slightly so that the reverb and Arion delay came before the second Timeline so that they could be looped, rather than effecting the loop. Recorded with a mic. Ah, I’m still a gearhead at heart.
And if you just think blue led’s sound better no matter what and that’s all that matters, post away! Enough of those posts, and I’m jumping back onto that bandwagon away from the dangerous tonal precipice of objectivity and buying a Cornish pedal and hunting down Alexander Dumble!! Ok, that sounds really, really nice right now……this experiment might have just failed before it began.
Oh, and it’s not the GT6 as the mystery drive pedal in the video. lol Come to think of it, I ended up selling that GT6 to a lawyer who lived in a field…I was so happy to get rid of it that it didn’t strike me as odd at the time, but……
- Live Ambient Looping, Studio Recording Tips, & Tone Walkthrough (Wexford Carol)
- Christmas Album, Charity, & a New Addition
- Baring My Soul in Music
- Twelve Things I Believe about Worship Music
- The Future of Christian Music is That Band I Listened to in Junior High While Playing Wolfenstein
- Worship, Come Thou Fount, & Ambient Pad Tutorial
- Worship Leading Choose Your Own Ending (Part 8)
- When God Says…Something Else
- A Guitarist’s Answers to Life’s Questions