I’ve never been a huge fan of guitar competitions, but I think this mainly stems from my lack of playing confidence. But then one of my favorite pedal companies out there, Pro Tone Pedals, decided to host their very first competition for Pro Tone users. The rules of entry are simple: you record original riffs with your Pro Tone Pedal(s) and post the recordings on Soundcloud with recording details, settings, etc, and a selfie of you and your pedal(s) for the track’s picture, and you’re submitted. Winners will be judged not only for engineering capability, but also composition and originality.
While knowing full-well that I’m much better at writing about guitars than I am playing guitar, this still sounded fun and I’m on vacation anyway. The kids are in school and my wife spends the day doing homework, so what else could I do?
I fired up the Macbook and started working on crafting the tones that I would use. Normally I’m the type of guy who gets in the ballpark, shrugs his shoulders and says “good enough!” and the proceeds to play – because the playing is what always ranks as most important to me. Just having fun. But today I sat down and really tried to listen to the tone. Was the distortion fuzzy at all? Was there a good level of note definition? Did it sound thin? I spent a good 10-15 minutes just trying to nail down the tones before moving on to actually playing the riffs and the result was that I was actually happier playing the riffs. How about that?
Recording the riffs themselves was initially frustrating. I was missing triplets here or there in the riffs, or not giving enough time before the hammer-on to really appreciate the note change, but once I calmed down and relaxed, everything flowed a lot more smoothly.
Overall, I’m pretty happy with three of the four riffs. The fourth riff was written using the BIAS app for the iPhone, which was still in beta at the time and I couldn’t record with it. But the sound was REALLY good. I tried to recreate it in AmpliTube, but just couldn’t nail the natural dirt that comes with hitting a cranked Fender hard. I don’t even think I came close. But it doesn’t sound BAD, just not exactly what I wanted. Bummer.
This recording session is also a good way to experiment with something. When I found out about Pro Tone’s contest, they also published a video with the ONE secret to recording good stuff (prep work). In the video, an audio engineer explains that, while everyone wants to focus on big things like guitars or amps, little things like changing your strings makes a HUGE impact on your tone.
Which is believable.
But what hit me more was when he said that, when confronted with attitude about having to stop just to change strings, he reminds people that albums are forever. That’s true enough! So today I recorded all of my tracks with old strings and tomorrow I’ll record them all again with new ones. At the very least it will be a fun experiment.
While I never looked at playing guitar as a competition and more of a source for self expression or catharsis, participating in this competition has changed how I approached my playing. I’m finding myself paying way more attention to tone and the little things in my playing. I’m not saying that I’m usually fine with being sloppy, but I don’t generally beat myself up when notes slip either. Knowing that these tracks are going to be judged by people for a reason made me a bit harder on myself, my playing, and my tone. The result of the increased self-inflicted pressure, though, was a happier player and a more productive session. Go figure.
For more information about the contest and how YOU can enter it, click HERE.