Shiny New Guitar Make It All Better??

July 4, 2011 12:59 PM

Interesting to explore a phenomenon noted by unSane a while back and wholeheartedly endorsed by me - the "new kit boost" as it might be termed. Every time I take charge of a new guitar I seem to come up with a new track that is noticeably better than my norm. This is, regrettably, an emphemeral effect - a bit like the "Awakenings" movie based on Oliver Sacks' experiments with dopamine on catatonic patients. Now, obviously there's some kind of psychological thing going down here and I'd really like to be able to tap into it (rather than getting into debt every time I fancy writing a decent song!). Anyone else experience the same thing as me and unSane, and how do we explain/utilise it?
posted by MajorDundee (14 comments total)

When I pick up a guitar I've never played before it feels different in my hands and balances differently, and when I play it different harmonics are accentuated in the mix. These things tend to make me respond to the instrument differently, and I create something on it that is different to what I would have created on a different guitar. Given that to some extent every musician feels like they are in a bit of a rut (however small the feeling is, and however much they like that rut) when they're on their 'home' instrument playing through their 'home' amplifier, that change makes what you're doing seem fresh to you, and therefore a little better.

Cheapest way to simulate the effect without spending money is with formal rules. I usually play in the minor blues scale; if I decide to write a new song with the bassline strictly Dorian, I get a little of that 'new instrument' freshness.

See also: playing much louder (amp), playing much louder (ff strumming), playing with a staggering amount of gain, playing with a delay or reverse etc etc.
posted by Cantdosleepy at 8:50 AM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

I think anything which gets you out of your comfort zone is likely to produce the same thing. For example

- playing thru an amp if you usually use a sim
- playing the acoustic if you usually use the electric, and vice versa
- capoing at the 5th fret or higher on a guitar
- playing in a 'difficult' key on the piano
- transferring an idea from one instrument to another
- trying a new tuning on a stringed instrument
- playing fingerstyle if you usually flatpick & vice versa
- putting on a honking amount of reverb or delay or other effect
- deliberately playing in a different mode (eg, write a song with the chords G, D and C but have the tonic be D - this automatically lands you in mixolydian territory which is always fun).
posted by unSane at 9:14 AM on July 5, 2011 [3 favorites]

I'll give you another odd way of getting yourself out of the comfort zone -- restrict yourself to the top 4 strings, middle 4 strings, or bottom 4 strings. This tends to put you heavily in voice leading territory and you come up with all sorts of chord inversions you wouldn't normally. I'm particularly fond of using the middle 4 strings -- it's so different from how I would normally play but it opens up lots of ideas as well.
posted by unSane at 5:29 PM on July 5, 2011 [1 favorite]

One may have a quiver, a bevy or a stable, all containing the tried and true, but an artist may sometimes still need a muse. A new thing.

Picasso did, and sometimes, I do.
posted by snsranch at 5:45 PM on July 5, 2011

Guess this doesn't apply to guitars so much, but completely tuning my piano always brings out a lot of new colors in the tonal palette, so to speak.

Also, I guess I'll find out soon if this is true for a new piano entirely. I just moved south to New Mexico, and had to leave my old piano behind. I should be getting a new one soon. Hopefully it'll change the way I play; at the very least, this extended break from playing will.
posted by koeselitz at 3:50 PM on July 6, 2011

Yep, Koeselitz, new strings and a really good tuning/setup definitely works for me on guitar.
posted by unSane at 8:29 PM on July 6, 2011

Donning my dandruff-flecked PhD robes, horn-rimmed specs and inserting an evil-smelling battered pipe, I am compelled, gentlemen, to point out through my horribly stained and snaggly English teeth that we're getting a lot of description here and not a great deal of analysis - tsk tsk tsk. A thoroughly shoddy performance and Gamma minus in my estimate.

The question to be addressed here relates to the psychological processes at work - the need, apparently, to trick oneself into a different mindset in order to unlock creativity. Why? Not how. I shall return shortly and will be accompanied by my cane, Horace.....
posted by MajorDundee at 1:18 AM on July 7, 2011

I wonder if getting a few friends together and working out a rotating temporary guitar swap would be helpful.
posted by drezdn at 9:15 AM on July 7, 2011 [1 favorite]'re running the risk of a meeting with Horace drezdn....
posted by MajorDundee at 12:29 PM on July 7, 2011

Yes, why indeed. Scientifically I think humans are wired for this behavior. Since humans began using tools we've been hooked on that moment of discovery and the experimentation and variation that results in discovery. Simply put, any time you try something new you are increasing your ability to survive.

That may not sound like a fit to the question, especially with music in mind, but while our great ancestors were discovering iron and beer we are now discovering how to learn Hendrix through electro-muscular implants. So whether it's trying a new kind of plectrum, fx box or guitar, the search for new ways to do or express is hard-wired in our nature and never ending.

So, would you be a good man, MD, and put Horace back in the corner for the time being? Much obliged.
posted by snsranch at 4:09 PM on July 7, 2011

I don't know, I think it is likely that for most people most of the time being in a rut works pretty well. Real moments of discovery are pretty rare, and the people who pursue that constantly are probably pretty rare too. To tell my own little just-so caveman story, unless there was some change in the environment the water would be where it always is, the tasty berries would grow in the same place every year, and the tasty animals would probably be around there someplace too.

But when faced with that change in the environment, creative people will adapt. So much of what you do as a guitar player is based on muscle memory, and when you pick up a new one it has a different feel - the neck, the strings, the way it hangs off the strap. That turns on the part of your brain that's wired to adapt to change, and gives you that extra boost of creativity. That drops off as you get used to the new tool, so you need to change again to get the boost back.
posted by InfidelZombie at 11:32 AM on July 8, 2011 [3 favorites]

nicely put. i find that playing another instrument entirely tends to give a better perspective on things too. i'm not a piano player by any means, nor a guitarist, but i like to play them because it just shifts my viewpoint a little. and because i don't really care about being a competent pianist or guitarist, i don't get hung up on technique and in the case of the piano, i don't have any inbuilt muscle memory shite going on. also i have such a traumatic time getting hold of a new instrument that i'm actually going to play a lot that it never really seems like a positive experience to me...
posted by peterkins at 5:16 PM on July 8, 2011

Ah, muscle memory, the blessing and the curse of proficient musicians. You cannot play a musical instrument with any degree of skill without utilizing muscle memory, but muscle memory is what forces you into pattern playing and pattern playing is the enemy of all creativity.

One thing that has really forced me out of pattern playing has been learning covers and in particular learning to play them more or less as they were originally played as opposed to my bungling approximation. This has forced me to learn all sorts of new little tricks and chord shapes and stuff that has really opened up the way I play guitar.

Another thing that forced me out of pattern playing was learning to transpose on the fly. Say you learn a song in A and suddenly the singer says, no can do, let's play it in C#. My immediate reaction is to panic but I've gotten good enough at it now that I can pretty much do it without thinking. But again it forces you out of, say, your regular stock of open chord shapes, and if you take the high road of figuring out some nice inside shapes instead of just barring everything in A and E forms, you find yourself thinking your way through the changes instead of letting your hands do all the work.
posted by unSane at 8:29 PM on July 8, 2011

Well.. I just got a Yamaha SG 1000, which is very different from my other two guitars. I feel like I've learned a lot since I got it because I realised all the stuff I could play on it that would 1) sound great and 2) be easier. I think that I am learning faster now because of it.

I regularly borrow/lend guitars/pedals with a friend who has awesome stuff and I think that also helps a lot. If I'm suddenly given a pedal that has an effect that I didn't especially want, I'm still going to experiment with it because it's a shiny new thing. This often kicks off phases of playing only with x effect or learning songs that you need an x effect for or playing songs that especially flatter x effect. It can also lead to me deciding that I need to own my own expensive x effect, which is not always good. Well, it's really good, but not for my bank balance.

Another thing that was interesting to try was trying to play along to the other day. I was listening to music and I wanted to play guitar, so I got out my guitar whilst waiting for a song to finish. Then I ended up trying to play along with the songs people chose -- some easier than others, but good for messing around and getting some new ideas.
posted by Put the kettle on at 9:22 AM on July 14, 2011

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