Cause & Effects: Can new gear really make you a better guitar player?

The start of a new year is a great chance to get into some new gear – but how much can it really impact our playing lives?

Guitarist playing a blue electric guitar, photo by We Are/Getty Images

Guitarist playing a blue electric guitar. Image: We Are/Getty Images

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As we reach the end of the first month of 2024, some of us will have already have kissed goodbye to New Year’s resolutions, while others will still be going strong. Chances are if you’re a guitar player you probably also received some festive guitar-related gift that you’ve been getting use out of – whether that’s guitar socks, tarnished nickel scented shower gel or a plethora of guitar picks for you to store in the creases of your sofa.

The luckiest among us might even have received a new guitar, amp or pedal. I personally received a custom modified guitar pedal from my friend Dan, and despite being a pedal designer, I honestly couldn’t have been more thrilled. There’s something about getting a new (to you) effects pedal that excites and subsequently inspires – so whether you got a pedal-shaped gift, or treated yourself in the January sales, here’s how to use that experience to shape your musicality for 2024.

A white electric guitar and a red amplifier onstage surrounded by cables and effects pedals, photo by Tennessee Witney/Getty Images
Image: Tennessee Witney/Getty Images

So, what is it about a new guitar pedal that initially excites?

I just think there is something very cool about opening a box to find a colourful hunk of metal gleaming back at you. It feels to me like the adult version of receiving a new colourful toy; for me it triggers all sorts of nostalgia reminding me of the time I unwrapped a He-Man action figure as a child.

All of this occurs before I’ve even plugged the thing in, it’s not even been able to fulfil its primary purpose of making noise for me. This initial reaction is very much related to “eating with your eyes”, enjoying the potential based upon how the guitar pedal looks, it absolutely doesn’t affect how it sounds but we are simple creatures and I’m here to tell you most of us judge the physical aesthetics first.

A guitarist altering guitar effects pedals onstage
Image: Mick Hutson/Redferns via Getty Images

What comes next? Research

After the first impressions and the unboxing experience comes the research phase, for some this happens before the pedal is received but for others it happens over the first few weeks of using a pedal. Depending on your level of geekery I expect a pedal enthusiast to have figured out the following before they’ve even plugged it in:

  • Where to place said pedal in your signal chain.
  • How it reacts to certain amps and guitars
  • How it stacks
  • Its positive attributes
  • Its negative attributes?
  • What “so and so” thinks about it on a random forum

All but the last point are all valid points of reference at this point, it’s good to know as much as you can about a pedal before you plug it in. Some people love anarchy though and go straight to rocking it out as loud as they can. To you chosen few, I doff my cap. For those that prefer the scientific method, I appreciate the effort made to absorb all you can about the effect pedal, indeed by the time you get to plug it in, many of you are deep dive specialists on the pedal and could submit for a PhD in the specialism.

As for opinions on a forum, please read these with caution especially if you haven’t had the time to play the pedal yet. I say this because one person’s experience will be wholly different to yours and absorbing their experience will taint yours, consciously or subconsciously.

Guitarist’s foot about to step on an effects pedal onstage, photo by Portorikan/Getty Images
Image: Portorikan/Getty Images

Plugging it in!

Finally, you get the chance to play the pedal (unless you embraced anarchy and went straight to the gratuity), hopefully it’s in a manner that you can focus on it and enjoy everything it has to offer. Focus and time are key though to form first impressions. I am amazed how many times I’ve seen eBay adverts for pedals where it’s been plugged in for 30 minutes and listed for sale. Bonkers.

Assuming all is well the answer is to play riffs/scales/passages you are familiar with and see how the pedal responds to this music. Hopefully you’ll have success or at least find yourself in the ballpark to tweak the pedal down to your requirements.

New Gear, new you?

Now the tricky bit, using the bit of new gear to springboard your playing/practice/ live routine for 2024. One pedal can’t be all things to all people, but you can use it as an excuse to practise more, an excuse to try new songs that best utilise its strengths, or a reason to change your board entirely.

I liken it to getting shoes for squatting at the gym — they won’t improve anything unless I use them. However the very fact that they are new will lead me to doing more squats and therefore making improvements. Same with a new pedal, it 100 per cent won’t improve your playing but it can be a catalyst to playing more, practising and being more consistent. Whatever inspires and gets you to the end goal is worth it.

A guitarist playing an electric guitar and using an effects pedal, photo by Getty Images
Image: Getty Images

And if you only got socks?

Put those socks on and use them to rock the pedals you do have. Choose a pedal you currently own to do a deep dive on and make it the cornerstone of your guitar regime in 2024. Either way I think you’ll enjoy where it leads!

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