Dangerous Defaults, and The Great Christian Pedalboard Escalations of the 21st Century.

In the early 2000′s, I was gigging regularly in three bands as a sideman, fronting my OWN band, and playing every weekend in a megachurch to around 5000 people.

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In an attempt to get the most sounds possible (remember- I had around 5 steady gigs), I had ended up with a gigantic pedalboard holding 13 stompboxes, controller switches and pedals, and a MIDI controller. These then went into six rack-mounted effects processors, and ran stereo into a pair of UK-made Vox AC-15 amplifers.

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I was constantly unhappy.

Something always needed adjustment, and it was never right. My cable costs alone were astronomical. It took a full hour to break it down and load it into my car, and another hour to set it up.

I had an epiphany about it and simplified my whole rig down to a pedalboard with about 9 pedals; no rack gear and only one amp. At the time, my final pedalboard (NINE PEDALS!?) still seemed pretty big. By today’s standards, it’s quaint.

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Fifteen years later, I’ve earned a modest reputation as a guitarist, etc. I was lucky to be associated with great artists who got (deserved) attention, and I happened to have played in several of the largest houses of worship in the area, right as each of their respective music ministries was really hitting its stride (I like to think I was partially responsible for that).

Today, what has really come to surprise me is how much MONEY is being spent by church guitarists on gear. Sweet Christmas, the pedalboards make mine look cheap, old, tragic and small!
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One of the conditions I have come to recognize about myself is that, after a certain point, there is a law of diminishing returns with music equipment. In fact I think it actually becomes subtractive. Even as a pro guitarist, there is a limit to the number of guitars I can own before they become burdensome (seems to be around 15 for me). After that, I literally use them less; grabbing the nearest one because it’s convenient. It becomes a default. A DEFAULT.

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The same goes for effects. The more I have, the less I explore and experiment. I settled on a “meat & potatoes” approach to my gear at some point, where I wanted the basic tools to allow me to express my PLAYING. What I’m observing now is an approach by which church guitarists are using expensive guitar rigs so that their playing expresses their effects. They have all kinds of novel noises, but no strong guitar presence.

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24 strings plus glorious mustache = strong presence.

Not too long ago, a famous worship band went on tour. They appeared on some daytime talk-shows here in the USA, and then performed in Israel by the Sea of Galilee, all looking very sincere (so much gravitas). The daytime TV performances were of particular interest to me, as I could see the musicians doing their jobs. I saw two gigantic pedalboards with complex lights. What I heard was, chords, chords, two-note thing, chords. Ugh. It takes TWO of you to accomplish so little?

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Recently, I joined Instagram. Mostly I’ve been photographing my guitars, and gathering guitar-related followers. A few of these are church guys. One proudly displayed his latest pedalboard layout in a photo. It has to have $2500 worth of equipment on it. Maybe he’s gigging all over the place, but that’s not the impression I got.
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My amazingly creative Instagram handle is “david_eberhardt” if you’re interested in finding/following me.

The point of all this is not the excess of equipment. It’s the related dearth of sonic imagination.
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There’s some sort of trade-off. I don’t know where it happens, but this idea has been driving me for some time. I’m convinced that the more options we have, the less creative we become. Hollywood’s preference for CGI spectacle over plot or character development is a good indicator of this.

When I had comparably very little equipment in my freshly-started home studio, I produced some of my best work. It won awards. It got me on the radio. People started following me. Back then I was doing everything I possibly could to discover sounds and fit musical phrases in to songs.

A few years later, I had too much gear, and I felt like I was chasing after the music instead of having it roll out of me naturally. I was basically throwing gadgets at the problem, instead of looking inside myself for the solution. Somewhere in the process, I also discovered DEFAULT.

Maybe that’s why modern worship music seems so artistically bankrupt. There are fewer deep introspective musical approaches, but plenty of products marketed as solutions. There is plenty of technology, but not much technique. There is not enough artistic desperation, but plenty of default.

Years ago, I heard the story of how Peter Gabriel famously took all the cymbals from the drum kit to force Genesis to start playing differently. It inspired me to force periodic challenges upon myself. I tend to prefer playing a Fender guitar (I have perhaps too many of these), so every January, I force myself to play my Gibson Les Paul as much as possible until the weather looks like Spring. This month, I forced myself back to my classical guitar to learn a piece I’ve been meaning to learn since I was in high school. I’m planning to start practicing acoustic guitar chord-melody pieces again shortly.
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A lot of it boils down to starting over, from scratch, to get away from the defaults.

Some years ago, I decided to explore a new sound with my bandmates. We were a mostly heavy rock band that was venturing into art-pop. I came upon this idea that if I tried a finger-picked acoustic guitar passage against my drummer’s African hand percussion, we might discover something interesting. We did. Adding a little electric guitar ambience gave it a great mood, and we discovered something that became very successful in the work we did together and separately in several bands/projects in our area for quite some time.  That song was “Our Yesterdays,” which you can hear, HERE: https://youtu.be/L1Yd69PRQSY

How do you avoid defaults? What challenges do you put in front of yourself to keep you growing as a musician and an artist? Are there any disciplines you employ? What about equipment? Do you have stuff you could get rid of? On what merits do you keep or unload gear? What do you do to find inspiration?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Shout ‘em out!

Don’t Buy Gear For A Gig You Don’t Have

There you are, dear guitarist. You’re sitting at home with your guitar. It’s not the best guitar, but it’s pretty good. Could it be “better?” Maybe, but then what’s the definition of “better?” That’s another topic.
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I joined my first working band when I was about eighteen. My guitars were an Electra Phoenix, a Westone Spectrum FX, and an Ovation Custom Balladeer. My Electra looked just like this… until I added EMG pickups, and a Kahler tremolo.

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The Westone was snazzier, and the Ovation was the envy of my peers.

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Chick magnets!

My only amplifier was a Crate 20w solid-state combo that I had gotten when I was about fourteen. It didn’t sound very good, so my bassist (who was really a guitarist) let me use his Gallien Krueger 250ML amp. We ran it directly into the PA system via the microphone cable output on the back. Combined with the handful of cranky old effects pedals I had picked up, it sounded enormous. The Crate amp got used for my acoustic.

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It would be several more years before I would discover what a real tube amp could do.

Before the gig, I spent about $30 on three guitar stands, reasoning that a real gigging guitarist needed stands for his guitars. That way they would be within reach on stage, without lying on the floor (bad idea), leaning against something (risky), or sitting in their cases (inconvenient). I’ll never forget how cool my side of the stage looked with my three guitars on stands, plus two (dorky little solid-state) amps stacked one atop the other. Thus began my process of buying gear for gigs. THAT purchase was sensible. Subsequent purchases might not have been so practical.

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Somewhere along the way, the allure of expensive solutions appeared. A few years passed. Now I had a great Stratocaster… but it wasn’t American. Now I had a great amp… but it wasn’t vintage. I got great sounds from my modern effects processor, but… it lacked vibe. So I got a vintage amp and some vibey pedals. By dumb luck (really- the singer was my friend’s little sister. Some other friends started producing an album with her, and I recorded some guitar tracks as a favor), I ended up in a band that got a lot of attention. As a result, “tapers” came to our shows and recorded our performances. Today, I have a small collection of those recordings, and, in listening back, I honestly cannot tell you what gear I was using.

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At the time, I reached the conclusion that I needed “pro gear” to be considered a pro; and if I was considered a pro, THEN surely I would get more pro gigs. This led me to a lot of bad purchase decisions, basically in an attempt to buy my fame and fortune, one gadget at a time. I observe this trend running rampant today.

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Two things: (1.) This guy should get some stands. (2.) I may or may not have a room that looks like this.

I haven’t played a “real” gig in a while. I work for a church with an approximately 3000-person congregation, and find myself on stage there pretty consistently. Between that and my own studio work, I am pretty content. Nonetheless, I think about booking a live gig here or there, but to do that, I imagine all sorts of needs: I surely NEED a high end vocal mic. Definitely, I will NEED expensive pickup solutions and preamps for my acoustic guitars. I have a small PA, but I will NEED monitors for it. Even though my 1941 Epiphone archtop has traveled in a gig bag since I bought it in 1997, I’m going to NEED a hard case for it.

I haven’t booked a single gig yet, and already I’m buying a microphone, pickups and preamps, monitors, and a case. See how that works?

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A few weeks ago, I was gear-porning on Sweetwater.com, looking at studio mics, upgrades for my pedalboard, some VST plugins, and even a couple of instruments. I got up to get a drink, and when I came back to my computer, the lust-spell had been broken. I closed each shiny browser tab, saying “Nope,” “Nope,” “Nope.” “I don’t need this yet.” That’s when the wisdom landed in my lap.

“Don’t buy gear for a gig you don’t have.”

Have you ever imagined a need for a piece of music gear? Was it an instrument, amplifier or another gadget? Did you buy it? If so, did it really solve your problems? How about real solutions? Have you ever bought something that was a perfect solution? What was it?

Share your thoughts!

Acoustic Music in October

So far I’ve posted a lot about music and guitar from the abstract and philosophical perspective, with a few links to videos I’ve made.  I’m not really a video guy (total noob at best), and the process is time consuming.  Also, my only camera is on my phone.

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I compose and perform and record and produce music as a vocation. So, taking a break from my usual bloviation, I offer these two simple songs I recorded for some friends’ wedding in early October a few years ago. This was during a time when I was recording a LOT with just one microphone, acoustic guitar, vocals and occasional percussion.

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The first song is a cover of a Train song. Somehow I even managed to sing a bit like Patrick Monahan (at least, I think so).

http://davideberhardt.com/mp3/covers/Dave_Eberhardt_-_Marry_Me.mp3

The next is a song by Griffin House.

http://davideberhardt.com/mp3/covers/Dave_Eberhardt_-_Give_A_Little_Love.mp3

My typical studio production involves creating layers of guitar sounds and stacks of vocals (I blame my fandom of Queen and Boston- don’t judge me). I really enjoy the exercise of paring everything down to the most basic elements, from time to time. Being a fundamentally insecure person, it’s a good practice to get out from all the sounds I hide behind.

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What do you do to break up your routines? If you’re naturally an acoustic-plus-vocal artist, what’s a foreign avenue you explore? If you’re connected to a particular music style, what alternate styles do you investigate?

Speak up!

Defining The “Speso.”

The first electric guitar I ever played was a vintage Fender Jazzmaster. I have no idea how old it was, but it was already old when I discovered it at age ten or eleven.

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It was owned by the oldest brother of my childhood best friend. I knew it was forbidden, and so I treated it with grave respect… every time I secretly played it… when he wasn’t around.

Sometimes I had access to his old Fender Twin Reverb. It wasn’t sacred like the Jazzmaster, and I recall being fascinated by the reverb and vibrato.

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I found a classic Twin Reverb in my mid-20′s. I ended up gigging with it for several years. We had a good run together, but Jazzmasters remained elusive- they were hard to find, and expensive. This is still the case, when comparing to Stratocasters or Telecasters.

When my main gig ended, I taught lessons in a couple of local music stores (this is a great way to see cool gear before it gets sold). A consignment Jazzmaster showed up one day. It was a ’61, and seemed to be all original, but a previous owner had stripped the finish down to natural wood. That ruined its status as a collector’s item, and made it perfect for a player- exactly my type. More importantly, it sounded amazing. I looked like this when I played it.

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So I taught lessons on it, fell in love, and started saving money for it. As these things happen, I had an expensive car-repair, followed by a water-heater failure, followed by something else expensive. I had no Jazzmaster money after that. The seller got antsy, and moved his guitar elsewhere.

A few years passed…

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I started shopping casually on eBay for Jazzmasters, researching and comparing. After several months, a familiar-looking natural ’61 Jazzmaster showed up. Same one? I asked the seller about certain features, and yes, sure enough, it had to be THE SAME ONE. Unbelievable! I was similarly penniless at the time, for similar reasons as before. I started making arrangements to sell other gear so I could afford it. Then, out of the blue, the auction was removed. Two days later, it showed up again on eBay, on the other side of the country, as parts. PARTS. Aaugh!

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It seemed like a bad idea to buy a box of parts. So, after some wise council, I finally let it go. THE VERY NEXT DAY (I’m not making this up), a Jazzmaster appeared on the local Craigslist. I had never seen a Jazzmaster there. It was a Japanese model from the mid-90′s, certainly more affordable, and less of a risk. I met the seller, checked it out, and bought it. Truth: it actually sounds better than that parted-out ’61.

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I’m really happy with my Jazzmaster. It makes a sound like no other guitar I own, but I’ve started to recognize that it isn’t the guitar that makes itself sound so good, it’s how I react to it. And here’s the thing- I can react that way to ANY guitar. The special part isn’t the guitar, it’s my unique interaction with it. Boom.

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That ’61 Jazzmaster sounded great in my hands, no doubt about it. There were plenty of other competent players who handled it. Why didn’t THEY buy it? Were they all deaf? Did they lack my tonal majesty? I don’t think so. I think the “SPEcial SOmething” about it was my spiritual/emotional/artistic reaction when I picked it up. So here’s where I invent my own unique term- The “Speso;”™  that particular reaction from the inside that we attach to a person, place or thing.

I recognize that I have a different Speso ® for each instrument to which I become attached, and it isn’t just guitars. My relationships each have a Speso™. My songs are each an out-loud Speso®. My family’s cabin in the Poconos has a Speso™.

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Dang preexisting government acronyms! In any case, I’ll keep using the term.

You can buy any guitar, or have any relationship, but there’s THAT ONE that’s special; separate from the rest. I think the difference isn’t the guitar or other person (or whatever), I think it’s the Speso; the unique connection ingredient, that resides mysteriously inside each of us. It’s that thing, where when you made contact with the other person, or that one guitar, and there was an instant connection. THAT is the Speso; the unique facet of your identity that becomes matched or complemented by the connection to the other.

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Today is my wedding anniversary. I have an obvious Speso for my sweet little wife, having literally chosen her over every other woman on Earth. I have completely different, much-less important Spesos (Spesoes? Speso’s?) for my guitars, but that’s the easy example we’re reaching for today.

 

What guitar / amp / music object exemplifies and undeniable indefinable Speso for you? What was it that connected you, over anyone else, to THAT guitar, over every other one at the time? Was it another version of one that you already had? Was it something completely different? How long and how deeply did it go?

Describe your Speso. Go!