I’m getting set for a lot of activities in the next couple of months: creating a patch set for the Line 6 Spider V series modeling amps, writing and arranging the music for my next record, “Blue Future”, recording keyboard parts for another record, and so on. Gear is wound through it, which is interesting.
With the imminent arrival of a (used) Spider V30 amp from Guitar Center, I’ve been thinking about gear, and in particular about how some people–myself at points in time included–fixate on gear as the key to making great sounds, cycling rapidly through changes in their setups, not taking the time to learn what their gear does before they get more. If you’ve got a lot of gear that does similar stuff–four delays, 5 reverbs,10 tube amps or modeling FX pedals, etc.–then at least one of three things is true: 1) you’ve been at it for a long time, 2) you’ve got a lot of money, or 3) you’re trying to use gear to cover up something else. If neither of the first two things applies to you, read on.
The something else may well be that you’re dissatisfied with your basic sound–the sound you make when you pick up a harmonica and play it–and no amount or kind of gear will produce a brilliant sound if that’s the case. Here’s the other side of that dirty little secret: when you can make a decent sound at the source, where the harmonica meets your lips, almost any gear you play through will sound just fine. Tube amps, modeling amps and pedals, a PA system with an SM58 mic–any or all of those will sound good when the sound coming out of the back end of the harmonica is good.
People who can’t make a good sound–a sound that resonates even at low volumes, a sound that fills the space around it, as opposed to a thin, screechy whine–are never satisfied with their gear, and are always searching for the Grail: the perfect amp or pedal that will make them sound incredible. Jason Ricci uses X? I must have X! But listen to Jason on one of his Youtube videos where he’s just jamming with a harmonica in his hands. Jason sounds good! Jason has sounded good through every setup he ever played through, even though he’s changed that setup on occasion and will do so in future. We can say the same of Little Walter and Charlie Musselwhite, both of whom probably played at some point through every combination of amp and mic known to humankind.
I love instruments, and amps and FX are instruments–the means to realizing sounds known and unknown. I’ve used a lot of different gear, and I keep being inspired by the sounds that new gear makes possible. But if you just can’t be satisfied with the sound of your gear for more than a few minutes–if you’re always looking for that piece of gear that will complete you–you either haven’t been looking very long, or you’ve got the wrong idea about what comes first. So put more time into playing the harmonica and learning how to play the harmonica than you put into looking for gear. When your sound on the harmonica is strong, the gear will be there for you.
the rock harmonica masterpiece