Let’s Get Frank About It: One Guy’s Gripes About Guitars and Tech

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Alright, I’ve been stewing for a while over what irks me. I am not big on mixing new technology and guitars. There, I said it.

First off, I know Guitar Hero is just a game. The game teaches the masses nothing about playing a guitar. It might as well be in the shape of a plastic armadillo with buttons on it. It would get the same job done. The Johnson Smith Company is selling a contraption called an E-Z Chord device that clamps on your guitar neck and you can play chords with one finger? At least do that. It involves a guitar AND teaches you nothing. Go to skymall.com and pick up one of those for under $50. That’s right, a Swap Meet guitar and one of those is still cheaper than Guitar Hero, and you will instantly be fully qualified to join SMG.com as a guitarist. Please post a picture of your new axe and that awesome alien device clamped to its neck, which renders the guitar unplayable.

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Guitar Effect Pedals – Photo by BTBAM

There are folks in the industry who dream up stuff that is unnecessary and market it to the masses as mandatory equipment. Like what you ask? How about guitar tuners. I took a few, and I mean a few lessons when I was a kid. On my first lesson, the instructor showed me how to tune a guitar by ear. On my second visit, he twisted all the tuners up and down in different directions and handed the guitar back to me and said “fix this”. I did, and lesson #2 began. It didn’t require a $99.99 tuner from the mega guitar store (I don’t need to say the name, do I?).

How about guitar pedals? What? Seriously, I have a couple I like. The gain and tone knobs do it for me most of the time. Some guys I know have a suitcase full of them for gigs that takes up as much space on the floor as a drum kit. I watch these guys during shows and most only step on a couple, maybe three the whole night. The rest are brightly colored “flair” that serve as a shoulder rotator cup irritant for the person who has the honor to lug that suitcase around. I remember how Great Grandma had an organ in the parlor that had some settings that made weird sounds. I would mess around with them. I also remember that after 5 minutes of playing with those switches it made everyone in the rooms’ pupils turn red as they all contemplated my early demise! Enough said about that. Besides, I never saw live or on video, B.B. King , Eric Clapton or Jeff Beck standing on a mountain of pedals.

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Fender Road Worn Strat

Road Worn guitars also drive me nuts. Sorry Fender, I love you guys but the whole idea of selling “pre-damaged” guitars at an extra cost does not sit well with me. We used to call new guitars with flaws “seconds” and they were sold at a substantial discount. The guy or girl that came up with that idea should get a Nobel Prize in AUDACIOUS MARKETING. I am not intentionally hard on my guitars, but most dings, cracks and finish fades I have inflicted on my guitars were not only accidental, but were so sickening to me when they happened, I actually was grief stricken and felt nausea coming on. Why not throw $1,500 bucks out your car window the next time you are on the freeway and call it a “pre-stolen” guitar? Rather than make up stories about world tour gigs where your guitar got banged up, you can tell a wild one about how your guitar was stolen out of your Lamborgini while you were dining with Jimmy Page. You can be a Guitar Hero master and pull that one off. No guitar playing required. Ah, but what about the Lamborghini you ask? Stolen the next day. Who would have guessed?!

I didn’t mention the Gibson Robot Guitar. Why? Because I want one! The thing about me not liking mixing technology and guitars? As it turns out, I lied. To my friends at Gibson, I like the blue one the best.

  • Mickey

    plastic armadillo, LMAO!

  • Dan

    I couldn’t agree more!
    aint nothin’ on the floor in front of me but my feet.

    cept now that I have the strat it needs a dan electro fabtone.
    you cannot take my fabtone away!

  • Jacob

    i’d have to say that in this day and age, an electronic tuner is, in fact, a necessary piece of equipment. onstage before your set, it is indispensable. amidst all that noise and chaos, it is much easier to get yourself reliably in tune electronically than it is with your own ears. not to mention, it appears much more professional to the audience if they don’t have to listen to you tuning.

    as for the robot guitar?! really? i think that’s a bigger abomination than the road worn instruments OR using an electronic tuner.

    for the most part, i agree that pedalboards are more often about looking cool than being functional. i use simply a volume pedal in front of my amp, sometimes paired with an overdrive pedal for a dB boost when i play solos. this is partly because i simply can’t afford all of the gear i want, and partly because i’m pretty happy with my clean and dirty tones.

  • buskerbuoy

    I pretty much agree with everything you wrote. I hate watching Hendrix and Townsend smashing guitars and amps because I was 40 years old before I could afford a decent guitar. As for the robot its expensive and it is literally mechanical – theres a lot that can go wrong with that sucker and there very expensive. Plus the finish looks kinds cheap. I’ve got a VG Strat which I love to death and I don’t believe that it will be long before someone brings out a guitar that you will be able to programme any tuning into. The VG is only half the way there. Imagine being able to tune your guitar up and down at the flick of a switch to suit someones voice without having to transpose.

  • Syd

    The gut-wrenching accident is exactly one of the things I like about the Fender Road Worns- it’s like a beater car that you never have to worry about where to park, how often to wash, who smokes in it, or if the kids are spilling stuff on the back seat. But the broken in feel- that would take me to the age of 144 yrs to do myself. I think it is kinda silly in many ways, but for the extra work to break them in, for the nitro finish, for the 6105 frets and Tex-mex pups, I think they are worth more than a standard MIM guitar.

  • I agree on a lot of what you said, especially the relic comments (as can be seen by my post here http://www.guitartoybox.com/why-the-relic-fad-should-just-die/ ) , but I don’t really agree on the effects. Sure some people use them to compensate for their ability or genitalia size, but what would Hendrix be without his fuzz and wah? What would Gilmour be without delay, chorus, flange?

    And any working musician needs a tuner, not only for the onstage noise factors, but also so all people performers in a group have the same reference point to tune from.

  • Ben

    A few things. Get a tuner…it is necessary. If you came into my studio and tuned your guitar to itself, I’d tell you to go buy a tuner or don’t come back. I wouldn’t allow you to waste my time and money because you wanna be a cowboy. Additionally, if I paid to see your band, I don’t want to listen to you re-tune after every song just to be out of tune with the rest of the band after 4 songs. I played with a guy who did that and I finally went and bought him a tuner after watching people grimace at how out of tune he eventually was. Yes he was being hardheaded about buying a tuner, but I was tired of him making the rest of us look bad. Having a tuner is the professional thing to do.

    Secondly, you are going to miss out on a great guitar because you can’t get past cosmetics. It’s not what the guitar looks like, but how it plays. As a flip-side comparison, I bought a Les Paul online one time because I was in love with how it looked. I spent $2000 and when it came in, it played like a ton of bricks even after investing money to have it setup. I turned around and sold it a month later and lost $400 on the deal because I cared more about looks than what was really important.

    As for pedals, you may not find them necessary but you are too quick to generalize the guys who do use them. Also you and granny probably had some bad experiences that left a bad taste in your mouth. Just because you or others don’t know how to use pedals and waste money on novelty pedals doesn’t mean that we’re all that stupid. Pedals are tools, not toys. And pedals aren’t always appropriate. I usually get turned off by guys who use too many effects. But guys who use them sparingly and tastefully have discovered how to make it part of their art. Most dudes who are serious about their music buy pedals to achieve certain tonal goals and most of us who make the investment ourselves don’t waste money on things that we don’t intend on using. I for one get hired to play jazz, blues, rock, R&B, wedding gigs, and I still have my own band for original material. I have to have certain sounds at my disposal and I do it as a way to stay true to the music as it was written. Whether I use every pedal at a particular gig always depends on the nature of the gig. But it’s always better to have em and not need em than to need em and not have em.

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