Tuning Up: The Most Underused Effect in Your Arsenal?
Next time you find yourself lusting after yet another piece of gear, try this experiment.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: We guitarists are kind of pathetic. (Sorry—maybe “lovably incorrigible” is a nicer way to put it.) No matter how good our rigs sound, we’re always on the hunt for some new piece of gear. We’re hopeless hoarders. Consumers gone wild.
Sometimes we’re so self-deluded we actually believe each new bauble will revolutionize our sound, but let’s be honest: Often the latest must-have is only “must-have” because it looks cool or we’re insecure. Don’t get me wrong—I’m as guilty as you. I mean, has there ever been more great gear to go into overdraft for? Name your niche, and there’s a face-slapping deal somewhere that keeps you up at night lusting and plotting.
But how about this: Next time you find yourself beguiled by yet another instrument, stompbox, or amp, try a little experiment in self-denial. Not because you’re one of those people who gets off on withholding, but because sometimes it’s good to find a way other than the guitar-universe equivalent of popping a pill to fix your perceived ill.
Your own personal exercise in asceticism can take many forms—bypassing your pedalboard, drastically altering your usual gear settings, exploring new tunings, etc.—but, frankly, those are kind of obvious/lame nonstarters. The answer is in your hand.
I’m not invoking tired, vague, clichéd hoodoo about tone being “in the hands,” though. And I’m not talking about ditching your plectrum or trying a different kind (though that’s not a bad idea). But if you guessed the latter, you’re getting warmer.
When was the last time you focused your attention on your pick grip? Specifically, the massive impact it can have when you grasp it like it’s a lifeline keeping you from being sucked into an inter-dimensional vortex at the end of which Beelzebub himself is waiting to digest your soul for a thousand years in a manner not unlike the ridonkulous sarlacc creature from Return of the Jedi. (Yes, grab it exactly that hard.) If not, give it a whirl and see how putting a death grip on that sombitch and hacking like hell at your guitar is often way more badass than what any pedal can do.
At the other end of the spectrum, try daintily holding your pick like an attention-challenged brittle-bone-disease victim after 12 pints of lager. That’s right—just enough to not drop it. Now strum a chord. See how it sounds like angels plinking their little harps in heaven?
And, lest we leave the triumvirate incomplete, let’s look at moderation, too: Though in everyday life it’s never as fun as common sense claims, medium is indeed useful when it comes to holding hands with your plectrum. In fact, the middle ground between intergalactic Beelzebub and ADHD-addled osteogenesis imperfecta sufferer is probably where your pick grippage usually is—but the important part is training yourself to be vigilantly cognizant of the effects of your grip.
You’ve probably already experimented with grip gradations (sans internal dialogues with silly beer and disease references), perhaps sometimes without even realizing it. But if you get in the habit of constantly monitoring how the tightness or looseness of your grip is affecting the sound, you’ll start injecting your tunes and riffs with a new level of nuance a lot more often—and without all the complications and expense of yet another piece of gear.To be clear, this isn’t a rant against gear lust per se. Like you, I’ll probably always be pathetic/incorrigible. But the more we explore the hands-on stuff, the more sounds we’ll be able to coax out of the gear we already have (and the gear we’ll get later)—with the added benefits of more dynamics and maybe even a little extra cash in our pocket.