Pandemic got you in a rut? Making the easy jump to the guitar's cousin is guaranteed to jumpstart your creativity.
When I wrote my previous column, which outlined how the COVID pandemic has dramatically altered music instruction [“There’s Nothing Like a Crisis for Guitarists,” August 2020], I wondered if the new limitations would be ancient history by the time the column was published. Unfortunately, there has been no reversal to the good ol’ days yet, and we’re all instead settling into the new abnormal: rules and protocols that we’ll have to live with for some time.
But what does this mean for the typical guitarist? Even if Average Joe has adapted to Zoom lessons and workshops, he’s still looking at a rather bleak landscape when it comes to public performances or open-jam sessions, while in the past he could put recently honed licks and techniques to the test. Joe has practiced hard, he was making real progress, but then the pandemic pulled the musical rug out from under him. How will he keep the energy flowing? He is a guitar player, so bets are Joe won’t shove his dreadnought or Strat under the bed and switch to online chess.
The most obvious and immediate indication of how homebound guitarists like Joe have been using their extra time and energy is the increased sales of home-recording gear. Some stores have been unable to keep audio-to-digital converters in stock. Sales of large amps, which have actually been slow for some time, have reached the “are you kidding?” stage. And small, compact amplifiers are judged not by their rattle-the-windows headroom, but by their tone quality when the attenuator is dialed down close to zero. After all, there may be someone trying to sleep in the next room. Acoustic guitarists are the winners in this new less-is-more thinking, since even a big jumbo can be strummed quietly. And if that isn’t enough, stuffing a hand towel in the soundhole is a cheap fix.
Thanks to all the types of music that utilize a barely-altered guitar, there are lots of low-cost options Joe can explore. For adding some extra sizzle to a home recording, adding a high-strung (aka Nashville tuned) track will only cost him three additional guitar strings and the time it takes to change them. To experiment with slide guitar, the only cost may be the slide itself, although some guitars will benefit from a few tweaks to raise the string action a bit, such as loosening the truss rod slightly. If Joe is feeling even more adventuresome, converting a guitar for playing square-neck-resonator style isn’t much more expensive. That said, he might want to use a second acoustic, since converting a guitar back for conventional playing takes a little longer. (And if this second guitar has a neck that’s so warped it’s almost unplayable, so much the better!) The combination of a riser nut, the bar (or steel), and an extra set of strings for the low tuning can still be had for under $50.
Converting an acoustic guitar into a completely different-sounding instrument can be done easily with just a few inexpensive items.
For a lot of guitarists, however, this new wealth of extra time is inspiration to expand what instruments they play, including some they might never have considered just a year ago. The most surprising of these, at least at the music store where I work, is the open-back banjo. There’s no celebrity I know of who poses for their Instagram followers with a banjo, and no current pop hit that features banjo licks. So, what’s their motivation for electing to pick up a banjo?
Although they have no intention of leaving the guitar behind, the segue from guitar to banjo is powered by the fact that if you play one fretted instrument, others are not as intimidating, despite their differences. The new tunings and playing techniques certainly take time to learn, and the weird drone string and all-downstrokes strumming needed for many open-back banjo styles is a far cry from pentatonic scales and CAGED chord positions. But even taking up open-back banjo seems like less of a leap when there are hours of additional free time to get over the new hurdles.
The key word here is time. While all of us miss the now-limited—or even cancelled—activities and options from our pre-COVID lifestyle, it’s a good time to stretch out and try to play different music that our busy schedules too often didn’t previously allow. Go for it!
Looking for more great gear for the guitar player in your life (yourself included!)? Check out this year's Holiday Gear Finds!
D'Addario XPND Pedalboard
DR-05X Stereo Handheld Recorder
Wampler Pedals Ratsbane
Flare is a dual-function pedal with a tube-like booster and a 1970s-style ring modulator effect that can be played separately or together.
Flare’s ring modulator is based on the iconic tone of the original Dan Armstrong Green Ringer. This vintage classic was made famous by Frank Zappa who loved the unusual modulations created by generating a harmonic octave over notes. Messiah’s version offers two control knobs: a “Sparkle” tone attenuator and output Level control. Its taupe-gold body, purple and green knobs and stick-figure rock ’n’ roller holding up a flame convey an appropriately rockin’70s vibe.
In a unique twist, Messiah’s Flare pairs the ringer with a warm tube-style boost instead of a fuzz. Flare feeds the booster into the ringer for an extra punch, while preserving the Green Ringerspirit. The ringer side also turns any fuzz into an octafuzz, and it has the ability to quiet signal background noise fed through it.
The booster side features a single Boost knob to control the MOSFET circuit, making it very tube-amp-friendly with a warm, organic boost and gain of up to 32dB.
The pedal is a distinct improvement over the 1970s pedal that inspired it. “Most ringer pedals don’t track well,” Tom Hejda, owner of Messiah Guitars. “The player can’t rely on repeating the same effect even with the most consistently played notes. We carefully matched the components, so our ringer follows your every move, producing that slightly dirty octave you expect on demand.”
Messiah developed this vintage octave pedal with flexible features so that people who love that messy, dirty Zappa-esque sound can get there with ease but there’s also something for those who have not fallen in love with fuzz or the Green Ringer alone. Flare offers an array of sonic options while retaining simplicity in the controls.
Each Flair Pedal Includes:
- 3 control knobs: Boost, Sparkle, and Level
- Two effects – Ring Modulator and Boost – can be used together or separately
- Space-saving top side jacks
- Durable, cast aluminum alloy 125B enclosure with fun artwork
- Easy to see, illuminated True-bypass foot switch
- Standard 9V pedal power input
Flare Pedal Demo
Messiah Guitars pedals are designed with an explorative player in mind. Like their custom guitars and amplifiers, Messiah’s pedals are hand-crafted in Los Angeles for a long life with guaranteed quality.
Flare retails for $199.00 and can be purchased directly at Messiah Guitars or you can hear it in person at Impulse Music Co. in Canyon Country, CA.
For more information, please visit messiahguitars.com.
This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal.
If it looks like a duck, acts like a duck, and QUACKS like a duck, then it must be a duck. That's how we came up with the name for our new envelope filter. This feathery little guy is a joy to play because of its incredibly quick response to your right hand - much faster and more expressive than your typical auto-wah pedal. Trevor explains how this is possible in the launch video, as well as gives a demo on Le Canard’s operation.
The attack control determines how quickly the filter responds to the envelope, and the decay sets how quickly the filter releases afterward. The range controls which frequency spectrum the filter does its magic on. Add to this relay-based full-bypass switching with failsafe, and you've got one crazy little quacky beast. It is so expressive that you'll want to give up on your rocker-wah forever.
The MayFly Le Canard envelope filter features:
- Super fast responding envelope follower. Touch it and it jumps!
- Range control to dial in the character of the filter
- Attack control to control how fast the filter moves on that first touch
- Release control to control how slowly the filter slides back to baseline
- Full bypass using relays with Fail SafeTM (automatically switches to bypass if the pedal loses power)
- Cast aluminum enclosure with groovy artwork
- MSRP $149 USD ($199 CAD)
Introducing the MayFly Le Canard Envelope Filter
All MayFly pedals are hand-made in Canada.
For more information, please visit mayflyaudio.com.
Outlaw Effects introduces their next generation of NOMAD rechargeable battery-powered pedal boards.
Available in two sizes, NOMAD ISO is a compact, versatile tool that offers the convenience of a fully powered board plus the additional freedom of not having to plug into an outlet. NOMAD ISO is ideal for stages with limited outlet availability, quick changeovers, busking outdoors, temporary rehearsal locations, and more.
NOMAD ISO builds upon the legacy of the ultra-convenient and reliable NOMAD rechargeable pedalboard line originally launched in 2018. The brand new NOMAD ISO editions feature eight isolated outputs (1 x 9V DC, and 1 switchable 9V/12V DC) for even more versatility and clean, quiet power. With an integrated lithium-ion battery pack boasting 12800mAh capacity, NOMAD ISO can fuel a wide array of pedals, and will last over 10 hours* on a single charge.
Each NOMAD ISO pedal board includes adhesive hook & loop pedal-mounting tape, eight (8) standard DC connector cables, and one (1) reverse polarity DC cable, giving you everything you need to build your ultimate "off-the-grid" rig. A rugged, road-ready padded gig bag with shoulder strap is also included, to safely protect your gear while you're on the move.
NOMAD ISO S
NOMAD ISO S: MSRP $309 / MAP: $249
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 5 ¼"
NOMAD ISO M
NOMAD ISO M: MSRP $349 / MAP $279
Dimensions: 19 ¼" x 11"
More info: https://www.outlawguitareffects.com.