Pictured: One of Bonamassa's live-performance pedalboards.
Joe Bonamassa certainly struck a nerve in most guitarists when he opined that he felt pedal users were "lazy." Our social media and web engagement exploded through the roof with commentary from the GP community and beyond. CLICK HERE for the original article.
Now, the GP staff has always respected and appreciated Bonamassa, and he has been extremely open and sharing with GP's readers — whether detailing his gear, giving us peeks into how he acquires his vintage guitars, or teaching us some of his techniques, riffs, and musical concepts. In essence, his missive asked what Guitar Player has supported and taught for years — How do you become the best musical "you" that you can be? What tones, tools, techniques, chops, and so on will get you there? How do you avoid following cliches and compromising your search for the real you?
If being provocative kicks off a lively discourse from the community about playing guitar, then we are all for it. Bring it on!
And you did...
I can't compile ALL of the readers' excellent comments about the "pedal debacle" — I'd still be copying and pasting through Thanksgiving if I even attempted such a feat — but I did grab a few emails to share with the community at large.
Thanks to EVERYONE who joined in the discussion. We all benefit from creative and constructive debate.
Robert Saunders: Why are y’all trying to start sh*t? For god's sake, we get enough of this on social media. People arguing about stupid stuff all the time. If you like them, use them. If not, don’t. Simple as that. Stop being divisive. Knock it off!!!
Skeller 1: So Joe Bonamassa achieves great tone by spending tons of money on vintage Fender tweed amps and vintage guitars. While Joe is clearly super proficient, I would rather hear Clapton, whose lines come more from the heart, as far as I'm concerned. Years spent perfecting your technique is one path, and that's okay, but to diss guitarists who take a different route is pretty sad. Oh, one other thing, has Joe overheard of Andy Summers? Andy can clearly play some great solos, but chose to put together some of the best textural guitar work ever with a combination of talent and pedals.
Steven Padalino: Tom Morello. Hailed as an innovator due to his use of effects. I see it as a cop out. I was never a big RATM fan, so I can't comment on the work he did in that band, but I have all of the Audioslave CDs, and I can't find one decent example of a solo on them. Example: the masterful "solo" on "Show Me How to Live". The guy can write/play a riff like nobody's business, but when it comes to improvising a solo? Um, not so much.
Allan Watkins: Tell that to David Gilmour.
Alfred Hanssen (from Arctic Norway): No one, not even JB should justify his own gear choices by bashing the choices made by others. If everyone uses whatever fits their own needs, musical tastes, and preferences without being criticized by reactionary "besserwissers", then music has the possibility to evolve.
Vid Turica: Bonamassa is literally a "Wikipedia" of greatest blues players, which I respect very much, but stealing licks and songs instead of making originals is what defines lazy. All the chops has been heard before and not a single amp, guitar,or sound on any of his works is original. Wanna talk about being lazy? Let‘s carry on, he has tons of cash and vintage gear put together by his crew of professionals while we need to buy a modeler to be able to move and achieve good sound when setting it up ourselves. Who‘s lazy again? Time is passing and so is music, not knowing the basics of electronic music, sound tweaking and music technology is like doctors refusing to educate and keep operating the same way they did back in Robert Johnson times. Still wanna talk about being lazy? Acoustic guitar? Ha—playing blues chops with pick in a (too) long pentatonic solo, which is literally running scales up and down is not what I‘d call solo-acoustic playing. Check out some classical guitarist like David Russell, John Williams, and jazz guitar players like Joe Pass, Julian Lage, and specially Charlie Hunter. Now that is playing SOLO in the right meaning of the word—so who is lazy here? No disrespect. I‘m a fan of your work, but I can't stand trash talk from spoiled, overpriced "rockstars" losing sense of reality in the opium of their fame. You are hard worker, but also lucky. There are thousands of guys with chops as good as yours, who care less about promotion and more about blues. Remember what that is? Start appreciating it.
Magic Johnsson, Sweden: I've played guitar and bass for over 40 years now. I used to be the guitar-cable-amp-guy, and it works just fine most of the time, but I've lately come to see that pedals can provide certain textures and colors that can inspire and spice up your playing. And who can deny that The Edge is a true genius and a master of what he does? I'm sure he's an able acoustic player but builds sounds and songs from pushing the limits of what effects can do for him.
Anthony Hinton: They are saying the guitar is dead in modern music, and the soundscape people are not helping is all I think Joe was speaking about. I prefer straight into a tube amp, but I do have a wah, chorus, phase. But I do get it. All the tech is cool, too.
Adam Nixon: In response to Joe Bonamassa’s rant against those who use pedals and create textures with their guitars, it seems Joe’s world view is shrinking even faster than his fading hearing. I myself am a blues-based guitarist, but I respect those musicians who use their guitars to create different sounds than my own. Guys like David Gilmour, Bill Frisell, Andy Summers, Adrian Belew, and Robert Fripp are “lazy” for creating soundscapes with guitars? Pure and total hogwash!
Steve Bodner: I will admire Joe Bonamassa's talent for playing guitar. I will not use his remarks as determining factors for the way I choose to play. He's just a man with an opinion. I can still recall my fascination with the variety of sounds that an electric guitar, amp, and effects pedals could create way back when I was first learning to play guitar. I'm 59 now, and I use less pedals than previously, but I'm still fascinated with the SOUNDS. And I may not be a world-class player, but I don't use pedals to cover my flaws as a player. I just like the sounds that some pedals help to produce. I prefer to interact with the guitars, pedals, amps, and the air to make a sound, or produce a sound that I like or one that makes an emotional impact. Might it be PREFERABLE to get the total impact using just a guitar and amp? Maybe for Joe Bonamassa. But not me and thousands of others. That means I'm wrong and lazy, Joe? You may as well call any other musician that doesn't play a guitar andamp (or acoustic guitar) lazy. Effects pedals are just another way to make music.
Rod Janzen: I think what Joe is really saying here is that if you depend on pedals to get your sound it's the easy way out. I agree in the fact that great tone starts with your hands, a great-sounding guitar, and then a great-sounding amp. To me, that's that's the Christmas tree. You can make it as ornate as you want with decorations (pedals and sounds ), but you must have the tree first!
Dr. Isaac Lausell, Assistant professor and head of the guitar program, Southern Illinois University: Certainly tone production starts with our minds. We aim for a vision of a sound, and in order to bring such a vision to fruition we need to work on the craft of playing the guitar. It goes from your mind to your fingers to your guitar. Every generation has a fad. When I was growing up, folks moved from the racks to amps with built-in effects to portable multi-effect units. I myself had to endure gear snobbery because I leaned more towards analog gear and working with almost no signal processing. In my case, this was because I saw more value in investing in books, recordings, and an education, than in more gear. I wanted to figure out the guitar as a machine and figure myself out as an artist. Eventually I started to explore pedals and multi-effects, and I still use them extensively. I do agree that there is a crowd out there whose concept of tone is mainly gear driven, and since the latest craze to come back is the pedals, here we are. That being said, I could say the exact same thing about Joe. He has been on stage his whole life, but who writes the horn charts for his shows? Isn’t he always “collecting” more guitars and amps, but doesn’t his rhythmic and harmonic vocabulary stay more or less the same? I ask this because I have students that within just a few years of studying with me are writing their own little arrangements, able to play in various musical settings from solo classical to chamber music, rock, and jazz. His comment might be well intended, and I do appreciate him for coming out straight with it. However, the truth is a two-edged sword. He is guilty of the same thing he is critiquing, just as I am too. Maybe that is the point.
Jared Magyar: I can completely understand Joe’s point of view. He is a fantastically talented guitarist who has worked really hard to hone his craft and has the right to voice his opinion. I am sure he feels insulted when he listens to a player trying to mask their talent deficiencies with stompboxes. However, pedals can be used intelligently to add color, creativity, depth, or weirdness. Not to mention effect pedals can be just plain fun to use at times. If someone wants to hang their hat on a guitar style which incorporates tons of effects then most guitarists will recognize that fact and see them for what they are. They are probably lacking talent and a strong work ethic. Pushing the “Easy Button” in the form of a pedal on the pedalboard can only cover up so many excuses for not being proficient with the guitar. Overall, most guitarists just want to have fun with the guitar. Joe is beyond that. He is doesn’t want to have fun. He wants to be a performer, and make a solid living at playing guitar to the best of his abilities. No one should fault him for that.
Charlie Pastorfield: Sorry, I respect Joe Bonamassa, but I really think his comments about pedals are way off base. Anybody who plays guitar is a welcome addition to the world of music—regardless of how the hell they do it.
Chris Bellman: My take is there is no good music, nor bad music - just what you like. Bonamassa has certainly spent time in the woodshed, and at least to this listener, makes music I enjoy. Yet, there are technically accomplished players who, to my ears sound like buzz-saws—much of '80s shred. With that in mind, I believe it's possible to be a musician and a talented songwriter and not be technically proficient on an instrument. It goes back to no good, no bad, just what moves you. Another thing to consider is opinions are not fact—just what a person believes to be true.
Chris Hogan: I practice anywhere from 5-8 hours a day, everyday, and I don't plug into anything! I don't have anything against effects—I've done all kinds of crazy electronic stuff, but NEVER when I am practicing or writing. At a certain point, effects just become a distraction when you should be working on MUSIC. So you have to have the self discipline to know when to not use them. Which, if you want to be a great musician, really should be most of the time.
Tom Feltner: I do agree with one of J.B.'s comments—the one about playing the acoustic guitar. How you get your sound is one thing, and actually being able to play is another. If you can actually play, but then choose to play two chords through a sh*tload of pedals/processing that is a choice. If two chords are all you can manage, that's not a choice—that's inability. Personally, I feel the exact same way about players that can play shred lead in of any style, but can't play effective rhythm. That's my two cents.
Damian West: Very interesting little piece relaying JB's comments about pedals and pedal users. Subjectivity - that is how I respond to the article. Personally, I agree with JB. I am a Brit. I am heavily influenced by British rock and roll and the British Blues Explosion—guitars plugged straight into valve amps, turned up to drive the speakers. I am also heavily influenced by American blues, Mississippi delta blues, and some American folk. Essentially visceral music, the essence of played music on an instrument: strings taut across tone woods that produce sounds when struck. This all requires skill, practice, talent, and work. However, I also understand the interest that players have in effects that change the sound of an electric guitar, but with a caveat: As long as they are players first (as above): Ernie Isley, David Gilmore, George Harrison, Parliament, Todd Rundgren, Prince. The list is, of course, long. Clearly great players who use effects, for...effect. But, I believe what Joe is referring to is, and has been one of my major gripes with the shredding and widdly diddly brigade for many years—where would they be if they simply picked up a 1950s Tele, or a Les Paul or 335 and plugging straight into a Bassman or equivalent and achieving tone, purely through their fingers? Having said all this, the shredders themselves have their place in the promotion of the electric guitar—no bad thing. For my part, I can’t stand effects units, racks, pedalboards and the rubbish that gets in the way. I tried it when I was conned by all of that over processed pants in the late '80s. It all changed for me though, when I saw a band called the Little Angels play at Wembley Area in London. The guitar player was using a single AC30 on stage, with his LP Custom plugged straight in. The sound blew me away, and the headliners (EVH) away, too. Although I already loved the rock and roll, hard rock, and acid rock of the '50s, '60s, amd '70s, ironically it was that night that really made me research and change everything in my playing and use of equipment. From then on, all I used was solid pieces of wood and point to point valve tone—even at 5 watts, it links simply and effectively into your soul. Just look into why all those records (and stories) from the '50s, '60s and '70s are still propping up the record industry. There is nothing wrong with experimentation—especially in the studio. But the mass of distortion, compression, and wetness that some of these ‘players’ use leaves me cold. I guess what JB is tired of is these folks ‘disguising’ an apparent lack of talent with the above. In a commercial world run by quick fix corporations that seems increasingly less interested in the ‘soul’ of sound, I guess anything that promotes the use of guitars can’t be bad. Like JB, I worked, built up experience over the last 32 years, and, I am still learning, listening, and striving to improve my knowledge—always listening out for the right note preferring one note and the sound of it, over 20 notes loaded with tons of gain. But I will concede that there is nothing wrong if these pedalboard bashers and rack users are dedicated to the same ‘work ethic’. If they are not, what do we do? Just moan? I’ll keep on keeping on plugging my guitar directly into my amp, but give myself the luxury of a Klon on the floor for a little bit extra "happy" in my little world. Peace to guitar players everywhere, whatever they play through.
Kevin Zent: I, for one, agree with Joe Bonamassa. Guitar players today are not of the same mind set of someone like Joe. Joe is a guitar genius and can play like few ever heard. Players today like the super techno pedals, they believe it makes them sound better, when, in fact, in many cases if not most, pedals mask those players' inability to play. Notice I said "most" players. There has been a shortage of really talented players for years now. In the seventies and most of the '80s, all bands had very talented lead guitar players, and, for the most part, all bands sounded different—great but different. Who is better Satriani or Bonamassa, Richie Blackmore or Richie Sambora? That cannot be answered easily, as they play different styles. Much has changed since then. Just like in life, generations that followed those greats are not filling the void much. Sure, there are exceptions, but, in large part, the younger generations don't put the same effort into their craft as someone like those other names did or have. Pedals seem to serve our younger generations of players well. Nothing replaces the hard work of study and practice and then gigging. Lets face it, there are no pedals that play the guitar for you. Pedals do not make anyone better, they just cover more mistakes. There is no pedal that makes you sound like Billy Gibbons or Eddie Van Halen. I believe that is why our aging guitar legends of that time are still so highly regarded. The hole left in music as a whole by most current guitar players is hard not to notice, and the super talented players of the past are a very valuable and diminishing commodity.
Personally, I have found reverb, delay, and a smattering of wah pedal is all that I need (want?), and the longer I play, the more I have realized this. I find chorus and other such pedals dilute the sound of a guitar, and definitely should be used sparingly. Pedals do not make you a musician. The player is the musician.
Kent Robbins: As to Joe Banana's latest thing, I think there is room for everybody to make music they way it suits them. Pedals are interesting things—even though the real sound is in the individuals fingers. It would be nice to make a living the way Joe does, and I am one of his fans! But insulting and swearing from a big pedestal (about pedals—pun intended) can only cause division between those fortunate enough to be tapped into the creative universe.
Len Probert: I think my goal that I conveyed to my first guitar teacher may shed some light on this matter. I told him I wanted to be a musician who played guitar—not a guitarist. I think that is what Bonamassa might be commenting on. Anyone with three chords and an overdrive can be a guitarist. Only someone with the knowledge and the hours of practice can be a musician who plays guitar. This could be compared to someone who writes pulp fiction and someone who writes literary novels. There naturally is room for both, but, in my opinion, the novelist deserves the greater respect, as it is the novelist who is the artist. The pulp fiction writer is merely entertaining.
Cordy Lavery: His statement hurt on a few levels. How many Les Pauls does he have so that he can get the right tone? Or Firebirds and Strats, and how many boutique amps does he have at his disposal? Pedals help expand the sonic palette, if you will. For those of us who don’t have the “budget” Mr. B has, pedals are useful tools. As someone who plays in a power pop trio, they help me fill out the sound and add some textures. I certainly hope he didn’t mean to offend everyone who uses pedals. I get what he’s saying, but it doesn’t apply to all situations.