I'm pretty new to playing electric but quite enjoy it - except that guitarists all seem obsessed with their kit, spending untold hours twiddling, customising their amps, dreaming of new pedals...

I don't want to try 20 amps, then replace the valves with ones from an old fridge and put it in a special customised cabinet which has to be tilted at 4.2 degrees and painted the right shade of green.

Is it common to just buy a guitar, an amp, plug them together and then forget about everything other than playing?

(OK slightly silly topic but with a serious centre, maybe should be marked CW?)

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    On the contrary, I'd say you've got the right attitude. – Alex Basson Jan 29 '15 at 12:41
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    One of the best electric guitarist I know does not use a pedal at all. Another awesome guitarist who plays lead in several bands because he is so talented, only has a distortion pedal to use when it's called for. – Rockin Cowboy Jan 29 '15 at 14:52
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    I find that if you get one really good piece of equipment be it a guitar, or a special amp It gets you 80% of the way to a good tone and sound. Special guitars make average amps sound great, and Special amps make average guitars sound great. I haven't met a serious guitarist yet that did not have too many guitars and or amplifiers of varying quality. – amalgamate Jan 29 '15 at 15:46
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    Don't spent too much money on cheep equipment... If I could turn in all my crappy guitars for one really nice one I would be a happy guitar player. (Not that I don't have nice ones too.) – amalgamate Jan 29 '15 at 15:48
  • Pedals are like sprinkles and icing. I cant imagine a birthday cake without them but they are not the cake, and not as important as the cake. – amalgamate Jan 29 '15 at 15:50

Did you not get the 10 Commandments with your new guitar, starting with 'Thou shalt spend inordinate amounts of time, effort and money etc ?

Seriously, the search for the Holy Grail is what spurs most guitarists to spend. It's usually a special sound that exists in the guitarist's head and in reality in the fingers of his favourite player. If my wife needs a hundred pairs of earrings, then surely I need at least a dozen pedals, etc. To try to sound just like your hero is not shameful.It's a great target to aim for. Some of us do need specific gear - play 'Message in a Bottle' without chorus, Shadows stuff without echo, you know what I mean.

Inspiration is a lot of it. Flick through some random sound on a keyboard, and at certain ones, you'll almost be forced to try to play the tune that sound was made famous with. Buy, buy.

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  • The first sentence won me – Shevliaskovic Jan 29 '15 at 13:35

This depends on what you are satisfied with.

If you are satisfied with the sound that the amp gives you, you don't need to change anything. You can play with that sound.

Many people don't like the default sound, so they try to find some other sound.

I, personally, think that it won't harm you to try to find some sound you like most. As a guitarist/bassist, I try to find my own personal sound. I don't like spending hours each day trying to achieve this, but I have spent some time in order to find what I like - or should I put more correctly - I have spent some time to take what sound I have in my mind and use it on my amp.

But from experience, I can tell that most people try to work out their sound in due time. I don't think anyone becomes that obsessed with it from the beginning, but after you play some time, you'll want to try something different.

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The instrument "electric guitar" does not end at the cable. A significant part of its sound and appeal comes afterwards, and there are a significant number of ways to play with that and combine and change stuff without endangering your instrument. Except, of course, for blowing an amp/tweeter/whatever.

And most of the ways in which you can play in the electric pathway have way more of an effect on the result than what you can achieve with mechanical modifications.

So the gear siege is part of finding your acoustic and instrumental identity.

Of course, it is easy to lose sight of your actual playing skills over that. Playing skills are an important asset for pretty much any gear, and so is the playability of the actual physical instrument.

So it makes sense to spend the majority of one's time on those. The combinatorial skills needed for managing the rest of the gear requires its time and willingness to experiment, but not nearly the same amount of experience, muscle memory and coordination.

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Short answer: No.

Long answer: If you want to.

As an example, take the popular British R&B guitarist Wilco Johnson. He has a guitar, a lead and a combo amp, and that's all he uses. Of course he tweaks his tone and his gain, but mostly the sound comes from his fingers.

For other acts, virtuoso playing isn't their speciality -- coaxing interesting sounds from a mount of equipment is what they're good at. Without wanting to belittle their playing skills, I'd put Kevin Shields of My Bloody Valentine and U2's The Edge in that category.

You can certainly be an electric guitarist that an audience can enjoy, without any pedals. But if you enjoy experimenting with pedals, or the sound you want requires a pedal, then feel free to do so.

It should be said, though -- if you're an acoustic guitarist and you don't like the sound your guitar makes, you might invest in an expensive new guitar. If you're an electric guitarist, the whole chain of guitar, pedals, amp and cabinet is your "instrument".

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    I was fascinated watching Joe Campilongo playing - I think he just has a smallish regular amp, his guitar (OK a custom-made Fender) and that is it. No pedals at all. – Mr. Boy Jan 29 '15 at 14:16

I believe the key lies in "good enough", something other answers are also touching on. Get a sound that you are comfortable with and use that. Experiment with new stuff if you like from time to time. The trap many people seem to fall into is trying to achieve the dream sound, which might not exist. Perfect is certainly the enemy of good in these cases, as time spent playing the instrument is spent tweaking equipment.

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I currently have 18 guitars. With my main band I use three of them, two for their acoustic properties (an Ibanez 7 string and an Ibanez 6 string) and one for pyro (BC Rich Warlock 7 string)

In another band I only use a 72 telecaster. In another I use a couple of acoustics- a 6 and a 12 string. In some of my studio work I use a twin neck SG.

And the effects range from just the overdrive on my Marshall, up to a PodHD500 through Laney amps, via a range of old and new pedals depending on the required sound.

And I still have a shortlist of guitars I need. All have different acoustic and electrical properties, and I tinker with the electrics still further. It's not a pursuit of the perfect sound - it's more finding sounds for particular songs or environments.

(Plus - I have a deal: every time my wife wants a new handbag I get myself a new guitar)

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    Either she buys Very expensive handbags or you're ahead on the deal! – Mr. Boy Jan 29 '15 at 17:54
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    Bit of both. Actually I buy the handbags for her and my guitars, so you could say I lose either way :-) – Doktor Mayhem Jan 29 '15 at 17:54
  • @DrMayhem - I would call that a "win-win". You get a new guitar, wife gets a new handbag - everybody wins. The money?? - well you can't take it with you and you can't play it! Rock on .... – Rockin Cowboy Jan 29 '15 at 21:35

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