Why Use Effects?
By Chris Loeffler |
Each instrument has a general sound it is known for, based in large part on its construction and the way it’s is meant to be played to generate it’s tone. A guitar’s primary tone is that of fretted notes being strummed or plucked and amplified through acoustic means, while a piano’s sound comes from mallets striking tuned strings. Jumping from pure acoustic to electric introduces additional sonic elements that build on that tone, typically introducing post-instrument EQ and introducing varying levels of distortion as part of the amplification process.
Following the electrification of instruments as a way to make the instrument sound larger (a necessity to reach volume levels appropriate for larger audiences), it is a logical extension that eventually other aspects of the instrument playing experience, such as replicating the space and sound of a room and natural refractions, would find electric solutions. That’s where “effects” come in. Like most technological advancements, though, sonic pioneers quickly found that they could go beyond replicating natural acoustic elements of an instrument’s core tone and go into the realm of hyper-real effects impossible to recreate acoustically, such as phase and pitch shifting, flanging, modulation, and infinite decay.
The general preference expressed by teachers is to learn your instrument first, and get into the gear side of it later. That said, with nearly 50 years of instrument (especially guitar and keyboard) tonal vocabulary, it’s harder and harder to separate the two. If you’ve heard a budding guitar player try to play through “Come As You Are” without a thick, liquid chorus effect you understand that effects are no longer necessarily an aside to the instrument, but a part of it.
Some players state the only thing they need between their guitar and the audience is an instrument cable and an amplifier, while some have embraced effects and incorporated them to such a large degree in their playing and songwriting that they wouldn’t be recognized if the effects were removed. Whether playing with less is “pure” or drenching your instrument in effects is “creative” is a philosophical non-starter; they’re different means to achieve the same end… making music.
We use effects to give our instruments’ tone additional elements to fit the instrumentation or musical vision of the player. -HC-
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.