I fought the rut and I won…
As a gigging guitarist for more than 10 years now, I’ve had my fair share of artistic speed humps, but recently I’ve been experiencing my worst yet.
It felt as though my creative flow was blocked by some evil Yin. Perhaps, my Yang would return if I purchased that pedal I’ve been drooling over. Maybe, if I changed my string gauge some inspiration would present itself. No avenue was left unexplored. I was beginning to lose hope.
A musician with no music within…
We had just finished sound check and everything sounded, well, the same as usual; I was getting ready for what was going to be, in my mind, another uninspiring performance.
As I sat with the rest of the band before showtime, I couldn’t help but think that I had reached my peak as a guitar player.
I know all the scales.
I have the gear.
I have my dream guitar.
What is going on here?
As I picked up Smokie (my Stratocaster) and had a quick look at the set list, I reached for the last bit of ‘gear’ I needed — my pick. I looked at the little, black piece of plastic. The piece of plastic that had never once left my hand during a performance.
“What if I…? No! Could I?”
I left it at the top of my amp and we started our first song…
Everything was different! It felt like I was playing my instrument for the first time. I fumbled, I struggled to play in time, I was lost.
Stick with it!
As we got into the swing of our second number however, something changed. My left and right hands synced. I was finally playing the notes I was aiming for, my rhythm came back and I had adjusted my strumming and picking technique to best utilise my pick-less right hand.
The first tonal change I noticed was when picking the notes of chords. Each chord seemed to ring and sparkle; there was a significant dampening of harsh high frequencies. I have to admit, I was quite impressed with how naturally the fingers on my right hand found their way around the six strings.
When launching into a solo, my noticeable loss of speed was replaced with something much more valuable, complete dynamic control.
With a bit of drive added to my signal, courtesy of my Dunlop Jimi Hendrix Fuzz Face Mini, I could mould each note as I saw fit. A light pick with the bottom of my thumb produced warm, bassy tones, while a hard pluck with my middle finger immediately reintroduced the high end that a plectrum would naturally create.
I was connected to my instrument in a way that I had never been before. Tactility.
After the dust had settled, and the blisters on my right hand had healed, I knew that I was moving in a direction conducive to artistic reinvigoration.
I’ve been pick free ever since — a month at the time of writing — and I can confidently say that I have never been a more musical player. My phrasing has become clearer and I’m finally hearing the sound that I want coming out of my amplifier. More importantly though, I’m enjoying playing my guitar again!
This event in my musical life was made all the more special when I learned that my guitar idol, Richie Kotzen, went through something eerily similar.
Feeling artistically uninspired, he ditched his pick minutes before going on stage, performed the entire show without it and has developed into a pick-less virtuoso.
A comfort zone is a place that artists cannot afford to dwell within. We should constantly be striving to expand our skill sets, whether it be with a pencil, a brush, a camera or a guitar.
It could be as simple as leaving a diamond-shaped piece of plastic on the top of your amp.