Today was my kids’ last day of school at the parochial school they attend, so two of my close cohorts and I played the end-of-school Mass to rock it up one last time before the summer. The Mass was scheduled to start promptly at 8:30am, and I had a meeting at work at 10am, so I decided to keep it simple and bring a fairly sparse rig to the service. Normally, I use either my DV Mark Little 40 or one of my Aracom VRX amps (18 or 22). But today, I wanted a combo, so I brought my original 1958 Fender Champ, and my nano pedal board which just had a tuner, overdrive, chorus and reverb. Since I hadn’t hadn’t gigged with her in awhile, I decided to bring “Amber,” my ’58 Les Paul Standard Re-issue.
About 7am, I loaded up my gear into the car, and headed out to the church. When I got there and opened up my trunk, I realized that I hadn’t strapped my pedal board to my gig bag, so I did that; pulled out my amp and cord bag, closed the tailgate, turned around to head to the church, then heard a crash behind me. Yikes! I apparently didn’t snap the buckle to the pedalboard’s strap well enough. Oh well… I figured the case was padded, so no harm, no foul.
Once I got into the church, I immediately set up my rig. Once everything was copacetic, I switched on my power strip, and was shocked to see that none of my pedals were switched on! I was using a 1-Spot for this little board because it’s so convenient. I’d had a connector string go out on me once, and always keep a spare in my cord bag. So I unplugged the 1-Spot adapter from the connector string, and plugged it into one of my pedals, and immediately my heart sank as that pedal didn’t power on. I tried it on another pedal and got the same thing: NOTHING!
Well, not one to panic, I knew that all I _really_ needed was some dirt at times because the Champ doesn’t break up so easily, so I pulled my Timmy off the board, put the board away, then hooked my cables to the pedal. I had a fresh battery in the Timmy so I knew I could use it.
We started rehearsing once I had everything squared away, and the sound that was issuing from the amp was pure ear-candy. Normally I like to grease up my tone with a little reverb and a touch of chorus, but the tone was sounding so good, I didn’t miss it at all. When I needed dirt, the Timmy gave me the snarling dog grit that I love to hear with my Les Pauls. Add to that the natural sustain of my R8, and it was a purely inspirational experience!
Because we were playing a church service, I had to play a both clean and dirty, sometimes within the same song, but I didn’t need any effect support other than my Timmy. As far as cleans were concerned, I had forgotten how incredible the Champ sounds clean; especially when my Les Paul was hooked up to it. In a previous article, I mentioned that I hadn’t played my Champ in awhile because it would hum after about a 1/2 hour of playing. That changed once I got the RocknStompn power strip. No, this isn’t an ad for that. It’s just that that one component provides such great power signal filtering that I find myself going to that amp almost automatically now because its sound is so magical, and powered by the RocknStompn, it’s DEAD QUIET!
I think what I needed today was just a dose of tonal purity, stripped down bare, with nothing to hide. Like Japanese art, there’s beauty in simplicity as the simplicity conveys the essence of the art, unencumbered by ancillary or unnecessary adornments that could detract from the pure essence. That’s what it felt like this morning. Pure. Essential. It was amazing.
My right-hand man in the band remarked after we finished rehearsing a song that I sounded like I was channeling Jeff Beck. I smiled and thanked him for the compliment, though in the back of my mind I was saying comparing my playing to Beck’s is like comparing a Pinto to a Maybach. But it did get me thinking that other than the occasional use of delay, Jeff Beck’s sound is pure. He has some other effects, but mostly it’s just his guitar and amp. Simple.
Admittedly, I had to work the strings a little more to coax as much sustain out of them as possible. But that was undeniably a good thing because it made my playing so much more expressive. I didn’t rely on any speed – gawd knows I’m not that fast. But when I soloed, I took my time, and let my notes breathe because I knew in the back of my mind that I didn’t have anything to help me with sustain. It was just me and the guitar. A guy I know, Anthony Bonadio, who owns Reason Amps, once told me that all he uses is a booster pedal. I never really got that until today.
I realize that all this might sound old-hat to many, and I’ve spoken about this in the past. But the experiences in the past didn’t hit me like it hit me this morning. Purity definitely has its place, and simple is good. Now this doesn’t mean I’m going to sell off my entire pedal collection. 🙂 But I think I’m going to take the approach of starting out simple first, then adding effects as I need them. For so long I’ve had some pedals on all the time. I’m going to shut them off and let my fingers do the talking.