Built my dream guitar rig, now I’m selling it — Part 1: The chase

Remember the days when it was all about the chase? You’d invest so much time into a relationship with the aim of finally getting to kiss the woman/man of your dreams. Then one day, you realise you enjoyed the chase a little more than the relationship.

Jonathan Thomas
Mar 23, 2017 · 4 min read
The rig of my dreams…but it didn’t last long.

I’ve spent the last five years amassing the most incredible lineup of pedals, the tools that help define and sculpt my tone…my sound. I’ve got a beautiful amplifier, and four guitars that some could only dream of. Put it all together and it’s an impressive set of things to behold. It’s impressive in the way it sounds, and it looks amazing when all set out in front of you.

However.

The last couple of years, I’ve been yearning for something more; both creatively and figuratively. This started back in 2014 when I came to the realisation that my life as a collector (hoarder, more accurately) was getting me down and holding me back. A year later, I’d sold close to 1,000 DVDs, 500 Blu-ray’s, 200 box sets, nearly 1,600 CDs and an entire collection of computer games and Metal Gear Solid memorabilia.

My mindset had changed. I no longer wanted to be bogged down by physical materials, bulk and weight. It was the same story there, I would spend hours looking at endless shelves of colour, wondering which movie to watch. It looked impressive and was a conversation starter when people visited. Although these prized possessions were my pride and joy, they didn’t bring me happiness — quite the opposite, and they defined my life.

Being a guitarist, you have many things to consider, two of those could be, ‘how does it sound when I’m at home practicing?’ and ‘how does it sound when I’m playing with others?’. The side effects of both are, “how do I get it there?”, as in, physically and “how can I improve it?”, as in, sound-wise.

What is tone?

There’s an elusive tone in every guitarist’s head; whether they are keen to admit it or not, it’s there. I’ve had a “tone” in my head since the age of 16, listening to David Gilmour play the long solo on Comfortably Numb and listening to Mark Tremonti thrash out some huge power chords in his days with Creed and more recently with Alter Bridge.

Any guitarist who is familiar with these artists, their music and knows gear, will understand that these are sounds that sit at almost polar opposite ends of the spectrum. Throw in some other major influences in my life, such as Slash, Gary Moore, Peter Green, Jimi Hendrix and Eric Clapton and all of a sudden, perception of “tone” get’s muddied. It’s no longer one “tone”, it’s many. But as a guitarist who genuinely loves all this music, I need these tones. Okay, so I don’t “need” them all, but I’d like to be able to play with these tones at any given time; my current gear limits that.

What is my tone?

There’s this other, minor, issue that some, myself included, forget…“my tone”. Yes, I want to be able to sound like my hero’s in the comfort of my own home when nobody else can judge, but I also need to be able to define my own sound, for my music. Just so happens, that guitarists, manage to find “their” tone when making a journey through listening and emulating — very little effort is needed to make that happen, it comes naturally.

For example, my clean sound isn’t gritty at all, and derives from my love of Fender amps and the chimey compressed cleans at high volume — similar to Mark Tremonti’s clean tone on the the first Alter Bridge album or Gilmour’s famous ‘Shine On You Crazy Diamond’ sound.

Mark Tremonti’s clean tone’s are as incredible as his heavy, high gain sounds. He mixes both to perfection in ‘Broken Wings’. It’s this juxtaposition of clean to high gain within the same song that forms the basis of many of my own songs.

I’ll always prefer Marshall style gain for rock sounds and a Mesa gain with a tight thud for the heavier tunes — again, listening to my hero’s has defined that — Slash and Tremonti, for example. Through them, I know what I like, and guitarists tend to play what they like to listen to. It may be their sound, but by proxy, it’s MY sound too — I write my own music using similar sounds.

Sheer amount of…things.

So where does this leave me?

On a seemingly endless struggle to get my little 20w Laney Lionheart (loaded with British sounding EL84 valves) to sound like a roaring (American sounding) Mesa stack. Yes, it can achieve some incredible clean tones; not quite like a Fender Twin. And yes, it can get in the ball park of a hybrid Marshall of some kind. But not without a lot of help from numerous pedals — which is fine, but where do you draw the line and how many pedals are too many?

This has lead me to compromise. Instead of being a “normal” guitarist who uses a small amount of tools to fulfil specific duties, my pedalboard has always deemed me guilty of trying to do too much with what should be something simple — try building a pedalboard for all this…

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Red Chair Riffs

For guitarists.

Jonathan Thomas

Written by

User experience designer and guitarist

Red Chair Riffs

For guitarists.

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