Category Archives: General

If I Could Have Only 3 Guitar Pedals

If you could have only 3 guitar pedals on your pedalboard, what would it be? Well although it may sound like a kill-joy, this is a very real situation where one can only have afford this number of ‘toys’ or someone intentionally wants to go back to basics.

I know of someone who have 30 guitar pedals hooked up in his pedalboard. Maybe more at the time of writing. Yes, he is not normal as I know him to have done it more to humour himself than for practical reasons. Well for the normal mortal beings and those with practical reasons, having only have 3 guitar pedals and never to have one more is a feasible proposal.

For me, the Top 3 will be

1) A Looper

If you have been following me, you’ll know the deep feelings I have for a looper pedal. It is to me the essential beat box and rhythm machine. Before a looper came into production, recording yourself and playing back is cumbersome. The way of learning through listening and evaluating yourself is a needed process in learning but it was so challenging to setup the equipment for it that not many people   actually does it. Nowadays, recording yourself is made easy with a looper.

The most typical use of a looper has been to lay a chord progression say a II V I (Yes I am a jazzer) and then later play a solo over it. Not only can you play but you can also record the solo to listen to how your solo actually sound as a listener. This itself makes the looper an invaluable piece of gear worth the price of admission.

2) A Delay Pedal

The second pedal is special. Everyone who could fork money to pay for a pedal deserves to sound BIG. By big I mean to have a sound that is not thin or hollow but one that is 3 dimensional, somewhat layered and sonically thick. I know people will at this point will think of a reverb or an octave. But while both are pedals I love, the delay is a better option.

Why is it preferred over a reverb? Well the reason is simple, a delay can be made to work like a reverb. Just set a low duration and small repetition and a delay becomes a reverb. However the opposite cannot be true. A reverb cannot be made to work like a delay.

As a reverb is like a single repeat delay, with the delay you will get 2 pedals in one. For that the delay wins for a good time-based pedal.

An octave on the other hand is a one trick pony creating one kind of layered sound even though it can simulate separation of differing pitch. Hence it is suitable for only limited application in genre such as contemporary jazz and rock. It is not as versatile as a reverb or delay.

Your taste may vary but a delay pedal stands as still the King of time based effects.

3) A Tuner

Playing in tune is the BEST effects ever. Period!

Knowing there are those who were like me who could not tell if a guitar is in tune or not around, this is quintissential.

Ever since I invested in a tuner pedal (and a clip on one too), I believe I sound twice as good as I have before. While I could not tell by my underdeveloped ear, the people around me could. So for friendship and family harmony, get a tuner as one of the 3 pedals you can get.

Now seriously that is only me. What about you? Share your TOP 3.

How about if you can have 5 or up to 7?If I could have up to 7,  it’ll be 4) Distortion or Overdrive, 5) Reverb, 6) Fuzz or Wah 7) Compressor.

Elaboration of these will have to be another post, another time.

I hope with the 3 essential pedals if you could only have that number of pedals on your board will help you simplify your tools to play good guitar.

Thanks for checking this out.


Why I Suck At Guitar & How To Avoid It

When I was a younger player, one of the questions I often ask myself was

“Why am I bad at playing the guitar?”

And the common answer I got was that  “I don’t practice enough”.

Well, while it’s true, its only partially true. I found that this partial truth has harmed me in my progress of playing better guitar. As I really love playing, the amount of time I practice wasn’t really the biggest issue.

I discovered the biggest issue was not knowing the real reason why I suck.

When I thought my bad playing was because of my lack of practice,  I made it a point to practice more. The more I practice, the more I practice my bad playing habits rather than correcting it.  You see, I invested more practice to reinforce all my bad playing habit. 

In short, not knowing the real reason why I suck, has made me practice exactly what got me into the rut in the first place.

So there must be a better reasons why we suck. And we need to find out what it was quickly.

Not practicing is a symptom, not the cause of bad playing. Something deeper is at play here. Sadly I had to spend almost 20 years playing bad guitar to discover these top 5 BETTER REASONS why someone can suck at guitar:

  1. Because I focus on notes more than feel
  2. Because my guitar sets me up to fail
  3. Because I’m comparing myself to unreal gods
  4. Because my goal for playing is wrong
  5. Finally,  because the guitar is really not my instrument.

With these ‘better’ reasons, I found these ways to avoid them (and hence free myself from practicing bad habits)

  1. Focus on feel and my ability to keep a beat. I play with a metronome
  2. Get a better guitar and/or make sure it is setup to play optimally
  3. Compare only to yourself. Focus on improving not envying other people’s playing.
  4. Set the right guitar playing goals that is personal to why you play.
  5. Quit guitar, and find something that is more an extension of you musically.

It’s sad to say that the last reason is there on the list. But the truth set us free to pursue a more suitable musical instrument for ourselves.

I have personally moved from guitar to harmonica, to piano, to bass and then to producing music before going back to guitar again. This journey is for another post altogether.

I will write on each of these topics in a 5 part series in the weeks to come and link the article above.

Until then, drop me a line for comments about practicing bad habits and stuff that prevents us from getting good at playing.

I love to hear what you think

Foundations of How To Play Good Guitar

Playing Good Guitar is possible for everyone. It’s the myth to think of the guitar as a hard instrument to play well. I think its more because many people do not start well that they very quickly come to a dead end in their journey.

Well to me playing good guitar has 3 key foundations. Instead of all the other things to focus on, I believe if we start off with these 3 principles and get them right in the beginning, we will have greater satisfaction in music making down the road. You will free yourself from many obstacles that is not necessary. Stuff like the negative energy that comes from comparing yourself with others, from being impatient and other roadblocks in playing can really be eliminated if we focus on just 3 things.

As we just want to zoom in to play good guitar (as oppose to great showy acrobatic kind), let’s get started.

Foundation 1: Find A Good Guitar, Because It Is An Extension of You
Because the guitar is going to be a part of you as a player, take your time to find a good one. You may not have a choice of your biological instruments like your vocal chords, your strumming hands or your lung capacity, but you can have the a choice what is the musical instrument you play. One of the joy of playing guitar is to find one that represent you and is able to bring out your song. The wrong guitar for the beginner can really mean discouragement to play and giving up too early. Hence missing out on what could be a lifetime enjoyment. This foundation focuses on many things like choosing #1 the right type of guitar, #2 the right strings & setup & also #3 the right accessories & guitar extensions

Foundation 2: Connect With Your Guitar & Playing, Because You Are Making Good Music Together
Because good connection with your guitar helps you makes good music. We make sure we have the right relationship with the guitar, or else we may end up fighting it rather than playing it with joy. In this foundation we focus on #1 first your body before the guitar body, #2 Your inner script about yourself as a player of your guitar and #3 the chief reason for playing.

Foundation 3: Play Only Music, Because Ego and Perfectionism Does Not Satisfy      
Find out what is music and play only music. Many things (that sadly has nothing to do with music) have the potential distracts us in our quest. This principle focuses on #1 The fundamental tone & its variation #2 the harmony or chords or tone collections and #3 silence, space and right timing. These ‘musical’ elements may not be as sexy as exotic scales or choice of clever note intervals, but it is fundamentally what makes the sound we play, music. It’s important to know what makes good music in your playing, so there’s enjoyment in every practice session.

With these 3 foundations in place, we bring out our first song. Once we play our first song with the right foundations, I believe it will very quickly bring out our 2nd, 3rd and 50th song with greater ease. I discover these 3 foundations over many years of trying to play good guitar.

Don’t believe me, try my ‘play good guitar’ meditation and tell me what you think.