The box that changed my viewpoint on reading manuals: The Electro-Harmonix 2880 Stereo Multi-
Track Looper. I wish I’d dug into this five years ago.
This month I want to explore the way in
which we interact with new equipment
and how we can optimize that experience.
When it comes to new gear (and by gear, I
mean all appliances—TVs, DVD players,
computers, etc.), I believe that people fit
into one of two categories.
Category 1 includes those folks
who, once the new purchase has been
unwrapped, proceed to read the instruction
manual from cover to cover. Individuals
in this category may even have read online
manuals for the device prior to purchase.
They want to hear what the company that
produced the unit has to say, and they want
to know the full range of options their new
appliance is capable of.
Category 2 describes those who immediately
start to use the unit the moment they
pull it from the box. These people learn as
they go. Category 2 people are often quite
intuitive and they enjoy the process of discovery.
I’ve always been a Category 2 person,
that is until quite recently. I believe when
it comes to music gear, approaching things
with a blank slate can reap great dividends—
no preconceptions to color what could
potentially amount to innovative and unique
sounds. Category 2 folks display an almost
anti-establishment attitude: “Screw the directions,
I’ll find my own way of using this!”
I think this is one of the reasons Apple
has arrived at where they are. The company’s
approach has always been to make
things as intuitive as possible—things are
where you expect them to be, and when
you need something, it seems to almost
magically appear. Apple’s devices are so
cleverly engineered that users can whip a
device out of the box, turn it on, and get
on with what they want to do.
Ironically, I’ve recently been getting
an enormous amount more out of my
MacBook Pro after going through some
high-quality online instructional videos, and
this has caused me to shift my thinking.
Rather than resenting the idea of having to
read a whopping great manual before getting
into the fun of playing with the new toy, I
now see an instruction manual as an additional
treasure trove of goodies—a Santa’s
sack of additional features to be drawn upon
as my heart desires. Wow—what good news!
As far as this “studious” approach reducing
my capacity for innovative use … meh. I try
to give myself more credit—I’m not going to
allow a manual to curb my creativity. Instead,
I’m going to allow the manual to expand it.
Now, let’s bring the discussion back to
guitar-specific gear. Be it the most straightforward
fuzz pedal or a complex rackmounted
DSP device, I urge you all, read
the manual. Treats a-plenty await.
To give you an example: Some years ago
I was gifted an EHX 2880 Stereo Multi-
Track Looper. I attempted to use my “get
in there and rock out” approach. Not such
a good idea. I got it to work. I got it to
record and I got it to loop. But not to a
point where I could use it live. Fast-forward
five years, where suddenly I was in a gigging
situation that urgently needed a looper. I
thought, “Hmm, it could be time to check
out the 2880 again.” So I did and I also
read the manual. Handy. Very, very handy.
Suddenly it all became a lot clearer and I
cheerfully floated off into loop land—a
magical destination I could have spent
the previous five years frequenting, had I
embraced the rite of manual reading earlier.
Some manuals will offer nothing new to
the user, but the only way you’ll find this
out is by reading it. The worst-case scenario
is there are no hidden gems and you can
provide yourself with a celebratory slap on
the back for “already knowing all there is
to know” about device X. However, there
just might be goodies—unanticipated
bounty for the intrepid manual reader—
that could open doors to previously
unconsidered sonic vistas. This would be
rather lovely, don’t you think?
Finally, in my previous column [“Stop
... Smell the Roses,” January 2012] I asked
readers to submit their most off-the-wall
guitar tone story. Thanks to everyone who
entered, I read some wonderful tales of
using headphones as microphones, 4-track
recorders being blown up, and the attempt
to faithfully reproduce Eddie Van Halen’s
“You Really Got Me” tone with a Peavey
Rage. I’m happy to announce that Chad K
is our winner—a shiny new Medusa is on
its way to you now! You can check out his
story in the online version of this article
at premierguitar.com or on the Red Witch
Facebook page (facebook.com/redwitchpedals).
Until next time—keep rocking!