Playing "Naked"

Did that lurid title pique your interest? You can safely scroll down through the rest of this lesson and have no fear that your family or co-workers will think you have some strange new musical fetish. What I'm talking about here is playing your guitar with a minimum of fuss and overhead. Let me set the stage for you…

My band had a show coming up and we just wanted to get together for a quick rehearsal just tighten a few things up. Since we were going to be playing in just a few days, I was trying to minimize the amount of gear-hauling I had to do. For a live show I typically bring two guitars (always have a backup), my big pedal board and the monstrous 5150 (for larger venues) or a Marshal DSL40C combo. But for this rehearsal I just brought one guitar, no pedalboard and the Marshall. That's it.

As a cover band we strive to play things as close to the original recordings as we can (with a few editorial changes here and there). This means I've spent a lot of time dialing in all of the effects for the various songs we play. The crazy ray-gun effect in the solo for Rebel Yell? Check. Jet-plane flanger for Unchained? Check. Leslie-like vibe for Little Wing? You betcha. All of this makes for a rather complicated pedal setup so I like to rehearse my pedal-dancing as much as my guitar-playing.

But in this past rehearsal I didn't have any of that—it was just me, the guitar and two channels on the Marshall. This could have been a disaster. At the end of the rehearsal I might have had to apologize to the other guys and reassure them that things would sound right the night of the show. But rather than being terrifying ("oh my god, how am I going to sound at all like the record?") it was liberating. By ditching all of the complexity (even if only for a night) I could focus more on my playing. And when I could focus more on my playing, the songs that had often given me the most fits suddenly sounded a lot better.

Even more surprising was that with this increased focus and awareness I learned just how much I could affect the overall tone just with my approach to the instrument. Rather than relying on certain effects pedals, I could alter my "touch" to approximate the same sounds. It didn't surprise me that my playing was better when going "naked", but I was surprised at how much variation I could get using such a simple setup.

Does this mean I'm dropping my complex rig in favor of Angus Young-like simplicity? No. I really like my setup and, for me, this approach works well. But this was a good reminder to occasionally put that stuff away for a bit and just get in touch with the bare essentials. If you try it, you may be surprised at just how much you learn about yourself.