Guitarists often spend entire careers discovering, developing, and refining“their” sound. It’s a noble quest. Butsometimes a track may require something out-of-the-ordinary to bring itto life, and that extremely personal tone you worked so hard to make your own may not cut it. Time to stepinto the great unknown. Here are fourswift and relatively painless schemes for leaving the familiar behind.
Sounds simple—dumb, even. So why don’t more players move out of their comfort zones, leave their favorite guitarin its case, and try something strange? And I don’t just mean trading a Les Paul for a Strat, or vice versa.Borrow anything that tosses you into a different creative space: big hollow bodies,cheapo planks with sky scraper high actions, dobros, acoustic-electrics,kiddie models, and so on. And whileyou’re at it, don’t leave the instrument’sVolume and Tone controls cranked. Experiment with the subtle colorsavailable by rocking those knobs backand forth. Ever see Jeff Beck or LesPaul weave their magic? They are continually switching between pickups,adjusting volume levels, and playingwith Tone controls. There’s a reason forall those manipulations—different tones happen.
A Shure SM57 placed right againstthe speaker grille is a time-honoredand trusted method for miking an amp. But if you need a very differenttimbre, don’t just jettison the triedand-true, do something downrightstupid. Position a mic behind theamp—even if it’s a closed-back cabinet.Heck, lay the cabinet down sothat the speakers are firing into thefloor, and drop a mic beside it. Buy a$29 microphone from an electronics store (I’ve found some beauties atRadio Shack throughout the years),and position it off-axis to the speakercone. Throw the amp in a coat closet,a bathtub or shower, or even in yourcar (if your garage is close enough toyour studio space), and toss the micin the dumbest place imaginable (acoat pocket, gaffer’s taped to afaucet, under the passenger seat,etc.). Seek any option that may surprise you with something ghastly,bizarre, or even oddly useful.
Small wattage amps are all the rageright now—and Jimmy Page usedthem to great effect on the early LedZeppelin albums—but I’m talkingabout downsizing to micro levels.Danelectro, Marshall, Fender, DeanMarkley, and others make minipowered(1 watt or less) amps forsolo practice and mobile rockin’, aswell as for looking cool on your desk.These petite ravers can sound gloriously ratty when pushed to the limit,so plunk down a mic in front ofone. Whatever you do, it will soundnothing like it would if you had plugged into a pro-quality tube ormodeling amp, and that can be agood thing. In addition, because theseamps are so small, you can toss them into freezers, car trunks, garbagepails, coolers, ventilation shafts, andother sick environments to achieve the double bonus of a weird tone captured in a truly bizarro sonic space.
While many guitarists feverishly promotetheir creativity, let’s fa...