Nowadays we can endlessly research all our gear decisions. But is that “knowledge” always a good thing?
“If the doors of perception were cleansed every thing would appear to man as it is, infinite. For man has closed himself up, till he sees all things thro’ narrow chinks of his cavern.”
So wrote William Blake in The Marriage of Heaven and Hell. A smart man, no doubt, with a fascinating observation about how we interact with the universe: We limit ourselves by dogma and consequently miss out on many, many goodies.
Goodies are good. We all like goodies. According to Blake, there are many goodies in front of us, just waiting to be plucked, but we can’t see them and therefore miss out. We don’t see the whole picture.
Well and good, you may say, but what in Boba Fett’s name does this have to do with guitar pedals? The answer is: everything.
Back in Time.
Pretend it’s 1990. I’m about to turn 15. Over the previous eight months I’ve developed an unhealthy fixation with the guitar and all thing associated with it. I purchase Ralf Denyer’s The Guitar Handbook and absorb many facets of the great mystery. As my birthday approaches I scour the local paper’s “For Sale” section and am finally rewarded: “Guitar effects pedals for sale.” My ever-patient father drives me the 45-minute journey out into the middle of nowhere to purchase three devices: a light blue Ibanez “script” phaser (wonderful), a Turbo Rat (heinous—light years from the glory of the standard Rat I would later come to know and love), and finally, a giant orange DOD Flanger.
I had an idea what the phaser did—my father’s Dire Straits records opened that door. I knew about overdrive, so I understood the Turbo Rat. But the Flanger? What the hell did that do? I had no point of reference. “Regen” ... What?
This lack of knowledge or preconception led me to sit with guitar, amp, and pedal and just play—feeling it out, experiencing the sonic unknown, and letting it lead me on a merry jaunt. Marvelous. Having no preconceptions meant my mind was open to all possibilities. I was not viewing it “thro’ narrow chinks of my cavern.”
Too Much Information?
Today’s world is one of information overload. It can feel like nothing is unknown. Apparently all mysteries can be Wikipedia’d or explained via a YouTube clip. Every forum has myriad members who seem to know all the answers.
Today’s equipment purchases generally involve research—gaining a feel for the various products offered in our area of interest. Looking for fuzz pedals, for example, might involve weeks of viewing YouTube demos and reading endless forum threads and magazine reviews. We watch/listen/read to learn the pros on cons of Pedal X vs. Pedal Y.
But remember the time where this was not the case. When people tried out something new and unknown with no preconceptions, no bias. Imagine when Jimi Hendrix tried out Roger Mayer’s Octavia, or Jimmy Page tried the Tone Bender, or Keith tried the Maestro Fuzz-Tone. How would they have approached these sonic tools? Certainly not with the cart before the horse! They would have explored, played, twiddled, and tweaked till something felt interesting, cool, or magical. Till something started appearing. Open minds and ears open doors to … goodies. Just listen to “Foxy Lady,” “Dazed and Confused,” or “Satisfaction.”
Strange things happen in the world we now live in. I recall posting a four-minute clip of a prototype pedal I’d designed. This clip was reposted on a number of forums, and soon there were comments from people discussing its pros and cons in depth. Surreal, considering no one other than me had played through it. And yet people were so assured of their opinions that they were comfortable passing judgment on something they’d not played through.
Imagine if Jimi had adopted that attitude! “Yeah, sorry man, but uh, you know … I already have one modulation effect. I kinda know how they all sound.”
Embrace the Mystery
As creators we have a responsibility to embrace the mystery anywhere we can find it. Let us open our minds and welcome the infinite with open arms. Let’s suck the marrow out of everything that comes our way. Everything has potential.
My challenge to you, dear reader, is to go over to your guitar rig, plug everything in, and start fiddling. Change all your settings. Plunge into the unknown. Set aside everything you know and use your ears to navigate the void.
“Well, I’m bold, bold as love … I’m bold as love … just ask the axis.”