I’m not a very good guitarist. In fact, some people would probably say I’m really awful. And that’s ok. But I’ve owned guitars. I can play a G chord. I can fumble my way through some 3-chord punk, alternative rock songs and a Beatles tune here and there. At the very least, I know a tiny bit about guitars and things. For example, I wouldn’t confuse a drum kit with a guitar, so score points for me there.
My first guitar was an acoustic guitar made by Ibanez. At the time I got it, I was very into the acoustic-oriented bands that were dominating adult rock radio at the time, the mid-90s. You know, bands like Hootie & The Blowfish, Blues Traveler, the Goo Goo Dolls and Barenaked Ladies, for example. So this was perfect for me. I could imitate some of my current favorite acoustic guitarists and learn to play the basic chord structures of their songs. But the itch to do more grew, and I was ready to branch out into the foreign, exotic, sexy world of electric guitars. I bought one of those starter pack guitars that come with an amp, some power cords, a strap, picks, a guitar case, some kind of instructional materials, and everything you needed to transform yourself into Jimi Hendrix in a matter of days or even moments. I was all set.
Except I wasn’t. Because, really, I could only make two types of sounds. There was the clean, flat, boring, plugged-in-acoustic one. Or I could push the little red button on my starter amp and get a muddy, cloudy, mess of a distortion. However, I was, at this point, somewhat blissfully unaware of what I was missing. I made do with what I had and spent my evenings rocking my house (sorry family).
One day I went over to hang out with a friend on Long Island’s prestigious, luxurious north shore. He was also an amateur, aspiring, guitarist, and perhaps slightly more advanced than me – after all, he wrote a solo, even if it didn’t belong to a song yet. But he was very excited when I arrived and wanted to show me something cool in the family room. When I stepped inside, what did I see strewn about the floor but a whole bunch of effects pedals surrounding his electric guitar like a battalion about to march on and conquer a fierce enemy.
This. Was. Awesome.
We spent the afternoon playing with every different guitar sound we could conceive of. Wah. Chorus. Flanger. It didn’t matter. Blues tone. Rock tone. Metalcore tone. The possibilities seemed endless. Granted, we both still stunk, but we were making really cool sounds while we stunk! (Sorry friend’s family.)
That day, I learned about the array of amazing things you could do with effects pedals. Sure, guitar is about your hands, but you also have to play with your feet. You have to know when a song needs more distortion, and when a song needs a jangly chorus with reverb. Without effects pedals, you’re painting with only primary colors, you’re singing in only a major key, movie-acting with one emotion. Guitar pedals open up a world for you in music. Of course wonderful music has been made in the time before such magical machines existed, and great music will continue to be made without them as well. They’re just tools after all. But what glorious tools they can be.
Watching the short documentary posted above about Joe’s youthful experiences with MXR pedals was a real treat for me and sent me nostalgically back to those childhood days discovering pedals with my friends. I don’t know a whole ton about Joe’s use of particular pedals and such, but I’d definitely love to learn more. I do, however, appreciate how indispensable they are to an electric guitarist, especially a supremely talented one like Joe. Watching Joe’s fingers as he plays is magic, but I definitely need to start paying attention to how he’s playing guitar with his feet.
For your further reading pleasure, here are some blogs about effects pedals: