So for the sake of this article, let’s go ahead and rule out compensation for lack of skill, bragging rights, because we don’t know what else to do, and because Jonny Greenwood does. All of which have most definitely been deciding factors in the size of my pedalboard and copiousness of my delay usage in the past. So barring those, it’s this:
Because we can’t turn up.
It really is that simple. If you have a place to do this, whether it’s staying late at church or going early to a gig, crank your amp and turn off your pedals. It’s incredibly surprising how much sustain you get, and how fluently lead parts come. Now turn down, and hear the space between the notes increase. Turn on a delay though, and you can mimic some of that sustain without much space between the notes. Turn on a fuzz or a compressor, and you can start to make the lead parts flow a little more easily again. Turn on a buffer and a clean boost, and some of the fullness comes back. Turn on a reverb and an ambient delay, and you can fake some of the moving air again. And now we’re at six or seven pedals not even for effect, but just to fill somewhat of the same air space in nature that a cranked amp does.
I’ve been finding lately that the louder I play, the less I need pedals. And I’m not talking about cranking your amp in a back room and hearing yourself through in-ears, because that’s less feel than when your amp is turned down but on stage. There really is no way around the fact that we need to curb our volume somehow in many venues, and effects help us get the feel back. The thing is, it’s just a tad artificial. So remember that just because it sounds good live, doesn’t mean it will translate into recording. Pedal settings need to change depending on the volume of your amp. So if you go into the studio, put your amp in a control room and just crank it, sometimes you’ll notice that your delay is incredibly pronounced. So pronounced, that (*gasp!) you might not even need it.
So there you have it. Another excuse to add to the arsenal when arguing with the ‘tone is in the hands’ guy. Because just maybe, tone is partly in the volume. And when you can’t push enough air, your hands benefit from a little effecting of the choked signal.
Nigel may have been on to something.