I was looking at my web stats today, and invariably, my busiest page is my discussion on overdrive vs. distortion. I clicked on one of the referral links to my site, and saw that it pointed to a forum where folks were debating this very topic. Over the course of the threads, the subject wandered (as they often do – especially with this topic) and someone made a reference to a guitar player being likened an airplane pilot, in that the pilot needs to know how every bit of his craft works in minute detail. Another replied in disagreement that the pilot didn’t have to know HOW every piece worked; the most important thing was that they had to know HOW to use those things but really only know how they worked at a much more abstract level.
It got me thinking about my view of gear. As an engineer, I’m definitely interested in the details of how gear, like pedals, operate to produce their sound. But as a player, I frankly don’t care. I just want to know how it sounds and if I can make it fit with my rigs. For instance with an overdrive pedal, I really don’t care about the voltage levels when I turn the gain knob up or down, or whether or not the pedal uses a JRC4558D transistor and how that reacts to the voltage levels. My main concern is simply this: Does it sound good when I twiddle the knobs? I got a chuckle out of my good buddy Jeff Aragaki when we first met and he started going into technical detail about his amps. He saw my eyes glaze over. I just looked at him and said, “Dude, TMI… Your amps sound f-in’ awesome! Just keep on doin’ what you’re doin’, I’m sold!”
Yes, I do know about the internal workings of a lot of the gear I evaluate. That’s just my natural proclivity to tech stuff, plus it gives my reviews on gear more credibility. But on the other hand, there are some pieces of gear that are completely magic to me, like my hand-wired Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay. I honestly don’t know anything about the internal workings of that pedal. But I do know that it sounds so f-in’ good that I won’t use another analog delay and I don’t care about what makes it do what it does. It just does it and it makes me happy.
If I didn’t write this blog, I’d probably be blissfully ignorant of the gear that I’d buy. I’d just plug it in, and go to town and play. But alas, I write a gear blog, and it serves me and my readers well to be at least moderately technically informed.
Finally, one thing I will say is that after hanging out on gear forums for so many years, I’ve come to realize that while there are some very well-informed folks out there, I do feel that there comes a point where I almost always ask, “Do you really need to know all this stuff to play it?” I feel there’s so much focus on minutiae sometimes that it takes away from the actual purpose of the device; that is, to make music. So think about that when you engage in one of these discussions.