Premier Guitar features affiliate links to help support our content. We may earn a commission on any affiliated purchases.

Don’t Shy Away from “Hard Mode”

Don’t Shy Away from “Hard Mode”

This Poly Effects Digit multi-effects processor is a good example of a "hard mode" pedal. Exploring difficult-to-master boxes equals learning, which equals discovery. Stick with it!

Plug-and-play pedals are fun, but mastering a complex effects box can open the door to brave new worlds of sound. Try it!

How long should it take to get comfortable with a new pedal?

This is something I’ve been asking myself a lot recently, as I dream up ideas and concepts. How intuitive does a pedal have to be? Can it be hard?

Effects have a really unique role in music. They go in between other things. They don’t make the sounds, nor do they amplify or record them. They are the most optional part of music and, as a consequence, they generally receive the least attention. Learning to play the guitar takes time, and that’s fine because everybody knows this and expects it. Same goes for working a mixing board. But the same patience is not usually extended to pedals, and I wonder if this is a missed opportunity?

The versatility of pedals has greatly expanded over the years, but our expectations haven’t quite caught up. Pedals aren’t just variations on a common theme, like they were in the ’60s and ’70s. Some now have entirely distinct workflows and controls. They defy classification. Look at the 856 by Montreal Assembly. It’s ostensibly a looper, sampler, and sequencer, but essentially it’s a system. It offers something entirely new, and you don’t get something entirely new without investing some time.

I think it’s okay for pedals to have a “hard mode.” It’s okay for pedals to demand time and patience and force you to learn something new. This is the path to discovery, reward through challenge.

Something special can happen when you have to struggle with a device. You form a bond, and you discover techniques and applications on the path to comfort. You make it your own. My favorite experience with this was the Octatrack by Elektron—a sampler that allows you to entirely reinvent the sound you’ve sampled. It kicked my ass for months, and then suddenly it was my favorite thing. I felt connected to it.

The purpose of pedals is increasingly open-ended. It’s best to think of them as a format rather than any specific thing.

There’s something powerful about applying this idea to pedals. Suddenly, this passive element between your guitar and amp can become something more than just a change in texture—an active tool … a second pseudo-instrument for you to engage with and manipulate.

But I’m debating with myself even as I write this. Is it unrealistic to expect that level of commitment? Is it inaccessible? One piece of the puzzle is that the level of difficulty is seldom discussed when it comes to pedals. If you’re taking up the trumpet, you already know damn well you’re going to have a time. It will be hard, and then it will be great. You’re prepared.

The purpose of pedals is increasingly open-ended. It’s best to think of them as a format rather than any specific thing. Electro-Harmonix has been building drums, sequencers, and samplers inside pedals for years, and this is becoming more common. A pedal is just a convenient, portable home for a musical idea. And you can kick it to make it go. That’s it. Where things get hazy is how focused and self-contained that idea has to be. Does too much flexibility spoil the fun? My gut says that it does, and the key is to find that line.

The important thing is that there’s room for both, and I believe we’ll be seeing a lot more “hard mode” pedals as time goes on. Sometimes you just want a chorus that sounds like a chorus, and you don’t want to fight to get there. That’s good. But there’s also room for pedals that bewilder and challenge. Pedals can be fast, efficient, and simple, but they can also be deep, versatile, and interactive, and unfold over time. Both are extremely useful.

Consider exploring the deep end and trying your hand at hard mode. You might find something in the struggle.

Full Slash Interview
Full Slash Interview on New Blues Album, S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Festival, Guitar Gear, Pedal Steel & More

The guitar icon shares what went into making his chart-topping blues album and what gear fans can expect to see at the S.E.R.P.E.N.T. Blues Festival tour.

This 1968 Epiphone Al Caiola Standard came stocked with P-90s and a 5-switch Tone Expressor system.

Photo courtesy of Guitar Point (

Photo courtesy of Guitar Point (

The session ace’s signature model offers a wide range of tones at the flip of a switch … or five.

Hello and welcome back to Mod Garage. Not long ago, I came home late from a band rehearsal, still overly excited about the new songs we played. I got myself a coffee (I know, it's a crazy procedure to calm down) and turned on the TV. I ended up with an old Bonanza episode from the ’60s, the mother of all Western TV series. Hearing the theme after a long time instantly reminded me of the great Al Caiola, who is the prolific session guitarist who plays on the song. With him in mind, I looked up the ’60s Epiphone “Al Caiola” model and decided I want to talk about the Epiphone/Gibson Tone Expressor system that was used in this guitar.

Read MoreShow less

Slinky playability, snappy sounds, and elegant, comfortable proportions distinguish an affordable 0-bodied flattop.

Satisfying, slinky playability. Nice string-to-string balance. Beautiful, comfortable proportions.

Cocobolo-patterned HPL back looks plasticky.


Martin 0-X2E


Embracing the idea of an acoustic flattop made with anything other than wood can, understandably, be tricky stuff. There’s a lot of precedent for excellent-sounding acoustics built with alternative materials, though. Carbon-fiber flattops can sound amazing and I’ve been hooked by the sound and playability of Ovation and Adamas instruments many times.

Read MoreShow less

The GibsonES Supreme Collection (L-R) in Seafoam Green, Bourbon Burst, and Blueberry Burst.

The new Gibson ES Supreme offers AAA-grade figured maple tops, Super Split Block inlays, push/pull volume controls, and Burstbucker pickups.

Read MoreShow less