When thinking of guitarists who take using effects to a different level, several players may come to mind such as The Edge (U2), Tom Morello (Rage Against The Machine), Vernon Reid (Living Colour), David Rhodes (Peter Gabriel) and Eric Clapton. Although most of the players listed are obvious choices for "effects junkies," I'm sure you're wondering where Clapton fits into the mold. It's obvious that the first 4 guitarists mentioned are masters at making the most of their gear, whether it be using such effects as digital delay, pitch shifters, reversed guitar sounds and a library of other miscellaneous effects. When looking at Eric Clapton - if you listen to his tone during his Cream days, you will hear perfection in terms of how to make a distorted guitar sound. Let's not forget that the second you use the slightest bit of distortion or reverb, you've already altered your sound.
Prior to reading any further, please keep in mind that I am an "effects junkie." The more reverbs, delays, choruses and distortion I can layer on my guitar sound, the more comfortable I feel. With that being said, the object is to know when enough is enough and how to avoid going overboard with using processed effects. Fortunately, most of my music is written on an acoustic guitar prior to being transferred over to an electric. In my opinion, a song must be able to stand on its own unaffected and in its most natural form before any type of effect is added and there's no better way of finding this out than by playing it without any interference. To hold your own with or without effects only makes you as a player that much more valuable and diverse. It also gives the listener a chance to hear a different perspective on your music.
When you choose to alter your sound in any way (ie flange, tremolo, phaser, overdrive, etc.), be sure to play to that sound. When recording my album, my producer (who also doubled as my keyboardist) would always mention that whenever you change your sound and add an effect, you should play to that sound. He never wanted to play like a piano player when his keyboard was programmed to sound like a synth string section. The same theory holds true for guitar players as well. Try playing all 6 strings on the G bar chord (3rd position) that you learned in your first couple guitar lessons with a clean sound and then try it with a distorted sound. You'll probably find that playing the whole chord with distortion sounds muddy but when you only play the first 3 notes of that chord, it sounds a lot better. This same principal applies for your entire arsenal of effects. The more sounds you layer, the more difficult it will become to make sense out of your music if you don't play to the sound you're going for.
There are people who think that by using effects, it takes away from the feeling/ soul of one's music. Although this may hold true to some extent, if used in the right context and done tastefully, it can help add to your music and further develop your personality on the guitar. In this day and age, it's hard to point to an artist that doesn't use any processed effects. Most players will use, at the bare minimum, at least a little reverb to keep their guitars from sounding dry. I'm sure even the purists would prefer this sound and also agree with this approach... and admit that Clapton's guitar sound during his days with Cream is as good as it gets.
Patrick DeCoste is a Boston area guitarist whose original music on his debut CD features well-rounded exploration, tasty lines and burnished production, giving one's imagination license to wander..
His latest CD is entitled "Inside The Unsaid".
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