A non-metal rig for metal
It was the late 80s, I was into glam metal, and decided that I wanted to learn to play guitar. I had a few friends in school who had started playing around the same time and they showed me how to read tablature which is a simplified way to read music. There are six lines that each represent a guitar string. On each line is a number which represents a fret. Just press on the designated fret on the designated string and repeat. It seemed simple enough so I figured that I was good to go. Plus, I already had a guitar rig at home.
That's right, unlike my friends who had to beg their parents to buy them a guitar, I already had a guitar and amp. Actually, my dad did. Back in the day, he had been a pretty successful musician who was offered a record deal. Instead of doing the super cool thing, he got a bunch of degrees, became a successful doctor, and had a family. He left the rock life behind but the guitar and amp were still in the house so I asked him if I could use them. He said yes.
Awesome! I had a guitar, amp, and basic knowledge about how to play. I'd be rocking like my metal heroes in no time!
That is, until I actually looked at the rig. Remember that this was the era of glam metal - bands like Def Leppard, Poison, and Guns n' Roses. Their instruments were flashy and their amps were loud and crunchy. My rig was none of those things.
The guitar was not a sleek hot rod with a whammy bar for dive-bombs or humbucking pickups to make harmonic squeals. Instead, it was a big and boxy hollow-body electric with a single pickup and a fixed bridge. It looked more like an antique than something that Slash would play. My dad insisted that this was a great guitar but I had my doubts. Still, he almost got a record contract so he must have known something. When I played the guitar, the songs sounded right to me so maybe I just needed to amp it up. I turned on the amp, plugged in the guitar and hit a power chord. Instead of the expected satisfaction of a sustaining crunch, I heard a clean strum at a loud volume. I must have been doing something wrong.
"Dad, how do you turn on the distortion?"
"What do you mean?"
"You know, how can I get the sound to be less clean and more dirty?"
"What are you talking about? When I played, we wanted to make sure that everything sounded nice and clean."
Then silence. My dad could see that I was disappointed. Luckily, he knew the type of music that I listened to and said that he had an idea. He went out the next day and came back with a small box. He turned on the amp, plugged in the box, and plugged the guitar cable into the box.
"I got you a pedal."
"Dad, I don't need a bike."
"No, it's called a pedal because you step on it and it changes the sound."
"Just step on it."
I did and when I strummed the guitar, it sounded dirty! Now this was something I could work with. My dad had saved the day. And with that, my rig suddenly became cool.
Yes, it was not very metal but it was enough to start a 30-year affair with the instrument that has taken me to some great places (read more about it in the upcoming book)!
Oh, and I still have that rig. In fact, it is something that any vintage collector would love. A 1959 Gretch Clipper played through a 1960s Ampeg Super Echo Twin. I don't play them as often as my modern rig but every time I do, I can hear exactly why Dad thought it sounded great - without any distortion.