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Tech is great, but let's still use our smarts


This is a just a thought, an observation, and my own opinion.

I've seen a trend ever since midi controllers with displays on each switch showed up on the market. Now don't get me wrong, I love them as they give us more information than ever. They are a welcome tool for today's guitar gear.

But I feel that with their creation and availability to the average player, it's allowed our minds to get a bit lazy and also allow us to forget about the performance aspect of performing. It's kinda like the modern smartphone that majority of the population uses these days - it's a double-edged sword.

It's great that we don't need to memorize phone numbers anymore. But that means we don't know anyone's phone numbers anymore. That moment you are without your phone during an emergency or something... you're stuck and can't contact anyone.

I was doing some computer consulting for a 70 year old. He recently got an iPhone 6. He never had a smartphone before. Now this guy had one of the sharpest minds I knew. Piano player, could sight-read fly crap on a paper, his memorized repertoire was daunting, he always knew facts about this or that, even detailed stories from his childhood days in the 40s and 50s. I asked how he was liking a smart phone after just a few weeks of use and what his favorite part was. He said "I love it! It's amazing! I never have to memorize anything ever again because it'll be with me always!"

I finished the consult for that day, but his statement stuck with me. On my follow-up a month or so later, we were revisiting things, and I noticed that he was looking up things left and right on his Notes app on the phone. Simple things that he probably would have memorized no problem before, but now he consciously was not committing anything to memory, and relying on that phone. Now perhaps he was just going all-in for this new approach. But to have to look up his main computer password every 5 minutes when we needed it to install things - a password made of numbers and words very near and dear to him - was a bit scary. It's just a stark contrast. He still knew all the stuff he memorized before, but this new stuff he just wouldn't try to remember at all.

I've seen a similar thing happen with controllers like the RJM MMGT and now with the FCs going out to customers.

Again, it's great that the displays can show us text and color to help us during a performance. But I see a similar "lack of effort to remember anything" because of the displays. Now instead of remembering that we put Drive here, and Chorus there, we instead read the displays first, process that thought, then press the switch. And that moment of reading and processing can interrupt the performance. I see people full on stop playing to look at their smart controller, read all the switches, "aha! that's where it is" moment, then hit the switch, and then start the solo late. If he had just memorized where his lead switch is, he'd hit it and play much faster. (Yes I asked him about this moment and he admitted he forgot where the switch was and had to read it, and he did it several times through the night.)

Another feature I see people requesting due to the displays on switches is to have huge pedal boards with every single switch they possibly ever need all available. With older style controllers without digital displays, I doubt many people would have a 60 switch controller - even with nice labels or masking tape, it'd probably be difficult to see and use. But with the digital displays and color coordination, people almost naturally want a ton of switches in front of them to put every effect ever.

I just feel that this has a few issues that can affect performance. First is what I already mentioned. I can't imagine playing a show and a part comes up and I think "oh wow I want a rotary now" and then spend 4 - 10 seconds searching my pedal board for that switch. Then later I need a ring mod, and I do the same. For a jam or rehearsal, sure that makes sense. But even in an improvisational style performance, it leaves a bit to be desired from the audience, constantly searching, reading, not playing, then finding the switch and moving on.

It's similar to the way I feel about certain styles of Live Looping. It's very common for someone to start looping the drumbeat, then when the phrase is done, they overdub the bass line, then after that is done, the chords, then after that is done, some head or lead line. and many times, they listen to each recording one time through before recording the next part. 3 full minutes later, they're ready to start playing, but the audience has already sang all 3 verses of Hotel California, since the loop has gone by literally 8 or more times. And then the guy starts singing the song, and we now have a 10 minute song haha.

Another thing is just the physical size of such a setup. Many venues don't have that sort of space, something realized only when you get to that gig. Then you have to reduce your setup, but now you feel you can't perform without access to all those options. Reaching that switch probably looks awkward as well.

I know some people successfully have this "60 pedals" setup at their gigs and it works for them. That's great, honestly. We can all experience music and playing/creating music the way we want, and get what we want out of it. But I feel that's just not a common situation in actuality, but many people want to do that at their gigs.

But for the typical player in typical venues, I just see worries and problems popping up that weren't an issue at all before the gear and tech got smarter. I need more switches, I need a paragraph of text above each footswitch that changes per scene, I need a back button because I can't remember where I just was, I can't remember where I put that lead boost, I need the controller to change to my lead tone after 60 seconds of hitting this other switch... how did we possibly accomplish playing before we had words above each switch?

Whenever I have a gig and I'm taking new gear, or using new presets, or just getting worried about that sort of thing before the show, I always ask myself this: can i get through this gig with just my guitar and 1 or 2 basic sounds? For an acoustic gig, can I plug straight in and do the gig and sound good? For a rock gig, can I use a basic clean and basic distortion tone and sound good?

And even after spending time building presets, balancing levels, adjusting midi, controllers, pedals, practicing looping parts, etc. after all that time... I begrudgingly admit that yes... I can do this gig with the very basics, sound good, make people very happy, and do my job. (then i start thinking why i spent all that time earlier... but that's another topic!)

I think some of this comes from the fear or feeling of needing to have every possible sound ever available... JUST in case I need it. again, maybe your performance style is exactly that, but honestly most aren't. The original song may have had a Phaser on for this part, but you don't have one setup. Well generally speaking, if you play it without the Phaser, everything will be fine, people will enjoy the song, say you sound amazing, and you don't need to worry about it :D

So my whole point is yes, new tech is great, and helpful in many ways. I love having text above my footswitches. But let's remember how we performed before this convenience. We made 5 different tones for the gig, and switched between them. We knew what switch to hit so we can focus on performing and playing our guitar, rather than reading our footswitches. It's funny that even with the words above my switches, I'm still hitting them mostly without looking down because I'm busy singing. It's like I don't even need the words! It's definitely exciting and useful, helpful, and I think everyone should get an FC or something with displays on the switches. But remember to use the words as a tool, not a necessity.

YMMV, OMGWTFBBQ, and all other caveats are assumed. Do whatever you want. It's just a trend I'm seeing a lot lately.
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Fractal Fanatic
Agreed... With my MFC setup I always had other musicians asking me, "well how do you know what scene makes what sound?"

My answer was always "I remember" ;)

It's why I've stuck with a specific and consistent set of scenes for a long time.
Same here. I use 16-18 presets per gig. Each preset has 5-6 scenes all with the same scenes layout and 2-3 IA switches with basically the same layout for most of those as well. I’ve basically been using this layout on my midi controllers since the middle to late 90’s. It’s just ingrained in my memory.


Fractal Fanatic
Playing in a cover band the new tech allows me to reproduce the original sounds in a way that wasn't possible before. This also means that every song is potentially based on an entirely different preset. Of course, the average audience won't give a damn whether I play through my AX8 or pod-bean from the 90s. But it matters to me and so I rely on technology to enjoy its capabilities. If I feel like I'm good with using just one preset for the entire gig I can do it as well. What I agree to is that whatever you use and do on stage, don't let it get in the way of delivering a great show. That means to NOT focus on footswitches/fretboards but to keep eye contact with the audience and enjoy the party TOGETHER.


I, like many I suppose, seek consistency. Typically, scene 1 is basic rhythm, scene 2 is some variation on that, and scene 3 is lead. That gets me through most scenarios

Part of rehearsal for me is practicing those pedal switches. I want them to be part of my muscle memory as much as what I’m playing with my hands.


Cab Pack Wizard
But let's remember how we performed before this convenience. We made 5 different tones for the gig, and switched between them. We knew what switch to hit so we can focus on performing and playing our guitar, rather than reading our footswitches.
This is definitely the way I still do things. Once we got scenes and "gapless preset switching" with it I've forced myself to be limited to one preset that does it all so that's 8 scenes altogether and honestly the 3 on top are used maybe on one special occasion per gig.

I think there's innovation and forced innovation. Do we really need glowing texts on the pedal board? Really? Isn't the live pedal board supposed to be something that you take a short peek at and stomp it. Do you think the guys doing something like looping live read the "dub", "record", "stop" etc. labels on the pedal and if they didn't have them they would be lost? Just imagine how entertaining it would be for the crowd if a guitar player is constantly reading text from his pedal board. As a performer your first priority should be the crowd and not your own gear geeky hobby. At the end of the day people will judge you as a guitar player and not how well you dialed in your presets and how amazingly the EQ shifted for the guitars to fit every song in a different way.

This all being said, that's the live situation. I feel like these pedals with names are pretty cool in the studio environment where you don't have to use the computer screen with editor software to look for specific presets. That's where they come in handy.


Fractal Fanatic
What you say is true with many things today. I see people relying on what the internet crowd thinks/knows rather than figure it out for themselves.

Need an opinion: Let's see what the internet thinks! In which the most vocal are usually not the vast majority, but they seem big because they make so much noise. We're lazy so make the easy out choice, no need to confront anyone even if they're are biased or have a skewed view!

Need to learn a song? No ear training or experience needed - it's on the net.

Need to be a psychologist because you don't understand another person or relationship? See what the net thinks or can teach you? Maybe you don't need to work at a challenge or problem the net says to dump them.

Need to know how to cook meth?

Need to know how to build an atomic bomb?

The sad thing is people develop egos from this easy accessed information (and misinformation) like they are smart, which in a way they are. Kind of like being given a weapon with no training what-so-ever on how to use it or what kind of damage can be done.

It's strange how common sense disappears in a sea of information! o_O

Project Mayhem

Very difficult to control my rant response on this subject.

So let me just say I agree completely with what's been said. Your brain, like anything else, will atrophy if not used constantly. You need to create a constant active stress as much as possible. Unfortunately the opposite is happening on a grand scale. Most Tech is marketed as a way to make our lives easier and more efficient...after all, who has time to think in a monetized debt system? When faced with any decision we always choose the path of least resistance or that which may free our time for all the other useless things that we "Think" (marketing) make our lives better. The reality is the hard way is almost always the correct way. Turn into the skid.


Luckily for my memory I’m too lazy to write things down. I guess it’s a double edged sword. I remember everything I need to remember...until I can’t remember it.


Add another vote for consistency and memorization when it comes to pedalboard switches. That's how I've been doing it ever since I built my own solid state FX switching system in the late '70s and how I'll continue to do it when I get my FC-X.

A little OT, but when I started using labels for my MFC-101, I ordered a few extras like "Melt Faces", "Suck", "Old Guy", and "Magic" just for grins. I use them from time to time on things like my 3 dB boost filter, the tuner, or my seldom-used multi-tap delay. If I notice my guitar's out of tune between songs, I'll tell the band (over the PA) that I need to adjust my Suck knob. I sometimes get quizzical looks from other guitarists who study my pedalboard. I've seen a photo of my Melt Faces switch posted on Facebook by a complete stranger, lol. I expect to continue using funny/odd labels (for which only I know the meaning) when I get my FC.
Ever see the movie, Idiocracy ?
Not the greatest movie - but seems to becoming more and more of a reality unfortunately.
You make very valid points Chris.

Project Mayhem

Luckily for my memory I’m too lazy to write things down. I guess it’s a double edged sword. I remember everything I need to remember...until I can’t remember it.
Recall is a learnable and maintainable function. It's a choice. If we rely on tech as a repository for all the data we need, then the circuits we have developed over the years for inputting and storing data will atrophy from lack of use. Conversely, if you exercise your brain regularly (couple of minutes a day on your commute to work for example) your memory will not only become razor sharp, but it will create new neural connections and continue to grow.

I really need to get a grip on this rant reflex...sorry guys

Ben Randolph

Forum Addict
It's one of the reasons I still use tube amps and pedals even though I also have an AxeFX. I want to know the nuances of, say a vintage Memory Man versus a modern digital delay. I want to know how tube amps react when you push the power stage, how speaker breakup affects tone....how a vintage Plexi differs from a modern 5150 in tone and feel. I'd rather have this intimate knowledge than simply call up a preset I like, without knowing how it works.


All good points and I agree, but.........I try to make my toe tapping and pedal rocking during a gig as simple as possible. I'll use any function of the gear or suggestion from the forum to achieve that goal.
Why? At 58 years of age and hard living in my younger days, I need as much of my memory as possible free and available to remember all my lead riffs and nuances in the arrangements.


Forum Addict
I think its indeed a double edged sword. First, don't put everything into one basket. I usually keep a backup of all my telephone numbers in an excel spreadsheet just in case I lose my telephone. And its not like I memorized all telephone numbers anyway, that's why I wrote them down in agendas and notebooks in the past. I really HATED it when old telephones changed from the old classic turning dial to numbered keys, as with the old dial I had time to look the next number up as the old dial turned back, whereas with the numbered keys I no longer had that luxury. Also, what excellent excuse it is when you haven't called in and people complain to be able to blame that on your phone not working? Sorry, couldn't call, my phone's in for repairs so I didn't know your number. And at least we can look up stuff on the internet as we need it today, rather then having to visit a library, or god forbid those old, often terribly out of date, paper encyclopedias we used to have.

I also reckon that when on stage you should be spending less time on remembering which switch to hit and more on playing, as even with good recall you'll still tend to make mistakes. My presets can involve using all 8 scenes, and because I like to use a lot of different sounds they don't have the same scene layout on every preset. Which meant I had to memorize for every song and preset what the scene order was. Now I tried to maintain a similar setup,kike crunch, clean, lead, harmonizer lead, but often that wasn't possible, like what to do with a different sounding part between chorus 1 and verse 2 that uses a different harmonizer setting? I reckon it made for good memory training, but memory is never perfect, so mistakes will get made. At least a controller which shows the exact function per preset for every button minimizes those mistakes. I'd say gigs are not the place to practice your memory exercises.

As for getting old, that's a curse regardless. I met a former Dutch prime minister this week at my work and he's now in his late 80's, oldest surviving former Dutch PM, and at the time he was famous for his wit and on the spot improvisational verbal skills. No reporter or politician could ever catch him in a verbal trap. He's still witty, still has excellent language skill, but he would no longer win any debates any more. As even he himself admits, he sometimes can't remember anymore what he was trying to say. Old age is terrible. We are truly a product that is badly designed, in modeling terms not even Line 6 quality, but some cheap ass Chinese knockoff. We should really sue our creator and demand our money back for doing such shoddy work as we are clearly not designed to be around longer after our children have grown up and out of the way.
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