First let me just clarify – Effects Pedals are wonderful things, and I can barely visit a Guitar store without coming away with a new one, or thinking about how I’d buy every pedal in the store if I could afford to. On the other hand though, there are loads of really cool effects you can achieve using only the parts of your Guitar itself. So you can create some really interesting sounds either instead of, or in conjunction with, your FX setup. From the old favorites (The Whammy Bar) to the weird (The Detune-Retune) here are some ideas on creating effects using only your Guitar.
The Volume Swell
Simply put, you have your volume knob right down, you play a note or chord, then you turn the volume knob up. And hey presto, there’s a volume swell. Some Guitarists use a volume pedal to achieve this, others use the volume knobs on the Guitar. How fast / how smoothly / how many times you do it changes the kind of effect you create. Several times in succession sounds like a Guitar solo that’s been reversed – Like this Beatles one. Slowly done, with entire chords held down in the left hand, it creates an approximation of an organ sound, like in this Audioslave intro. A long, slow, drawling volume swell while releasing a string bend makes for some pretty cool whale sounds, or without the string bending you get some melodic, evocative, sustained lead parts. Here’s a good example from Mark Knopfler’s Dire Straits, recurring throughout the lead parts in Brothers In Arms.
The Whammy Bar
Again there’s a range of effects you can use your whammy bar to create. There’s the tremolo-chord-shimmering-texture-making rhythm parts like this REM one. Then there’s the incredibly beautiful and often under-appreciate lead playing of Guitar legend Jeff Beck, featuring creative whammy bar usage throughout, at times making it sound like authentic Blues slide Guitar. Next up, Matt Bellamy of MUSE using the Whammy bar to give his melody line a warbling, shaking, chorus sound. And finally way out in the left field is the pure sound effect creation of celebrated shredder Joe Satriani.
The Pickup Switch Toggle
During a sustained note or bend, flick your pickup selector switch quickly back and forth between its two extremes to create a shuddering, altering sound, that’s almost an autowah kind of effect. This has been employed by Red Hot Chili Peppers guitarist John Frusciante (all be it along with many other FX from an extensive pedalboard).
The most creative way to play an E note, then a D# note, then an E note again is to play your E open string, detune it to the pitch of D#, then retune it to E again. But Acoustic virtuoso Jon Gomm made this kind of idea central to the main theme in “Passionflower”. Have fun (and be a bit careful on your strings) trying this one out!
Good luck getting to grips with all of these ways to create effects using only your Guitar. Have fun!
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