I’ve read lots of interviews with famous players who say similar things about how they started out. Typically they were inspired by a guitarist on stage or on TV, and that guitar became THE guitar that they had to play. If you were inspired by Jimi Hendrix or Stevie Ray Vaughan, you’re likely to be a strat person. If you were first into Peter Green or Jimmy Page, your dream guitar is likely to be a Les Paul. For many, that first impression is indelibly written into their idea of the perfect guitar.
Seventy Years Young
The Stratocaster, Les Paul and Telecaster (amongst other iconic designs) have remained largely unchanged for around seventy years for a few very good reasons. They are all comfortable to play, built well and sound great. Even the earliest models seemed to have got it right. They were designed by teams of experts who consulted professional players and made changes to the prototypes after listening to lots of feedback (both kinds!).
But what if you want something a little different? Does it really matter? Can you make the same music on any guitar?
Bucking the Trend
Chris Buck has been known for years as a Stratocaster player. It’s a comfortable, versatile guitar that seems to have served him well playing blues-based music. But recently, he decided to switch to something new.
In the video below, Chris says of the Stratocaster – “…when a guitar has such a defined and instantly identifiable character and voice, it can actually make it harder to find your own.” Coupled with certain pedal and amp choices, it’s easy to get into a rut.
“For me, at least,” Chris continues, “taking a step back from [the stratocaster] and picking up something with a little less history and baggage like the Yamaha Revstar really was incredibly important in me finding my own feet and not just walking in other people’s shoes.”
Trying a different style of guitar, particularly one that might not have the history that the tried and true designs have, can open up new avenues of creativity. Instead of thinking like your guitar heroes, or hearing things that would have been played on that type of guitar before, you’re starting with a clean slate. When you look at that guitar on the wall, or stand, it’s not telling you what it thinks it ought to sound like. You can impart your own personality onto it, and make it yours.
The Mortal Coil
Even trying different pickup combinations can help break out of the sound mould. Instead of three single coils or a pair of humbuckers, it’s worth throwing a P90 into the mix. Replacing a bridge single coil in a three single coil setup with a P90 can give you a boost and a bit of extra mid range, taking the edge off that ice-pick type sound that the bridge pickup can be known for. Humbuckers pair very well with a P90 in the neck for added grit and a clearer tone. Or try adding a mini humbucker in the neck position. Nobody said you have to stick to the way pickups were used seventy years ago!
What have you discovered? Have you found new inspiration from using a newer style guitar, or an unusual pickup combination? Let me know in the comments below.