How Playing Different Guitars Can Inspire Your Creativity in Your Guitar Playing!
To be a proper guitar player it takes a ton of practice, devotion, and love of music to really get where you want to go. But, once you get past getting your left and right hand relatively in synch with each other to play a few songs, you still have to play all the time to keep your fingers working. Think of it of as exercising to keep your fingers in top playing shape. Sometimes this can make you fall into something of a musical rut, one where nothing sounds creatively inspiring, sonically fresh, and things just seem boring because you’re doing the same thing over and over. I want to share a few of my techniques for breaking out of your own musical ruts! One of my personal favorite things to do is switch what guitar I’m playing regularly.
While guitars can be expensive toys, having a few different ones can actually help inspire your playing. I usually like reach to my favorite old 1963 inspired Stratocaster and jam out on the couch with Netflix on for an hour before I go to bed. I’ve done this nightly ritual since I was roughly thirteen years old, and I can tell every detail of my battered Stratocaster without looking down. The neck is lacquered and the back of the neck was French Polished many years ago. The neck is super soft and is tapered, getting much larger towards the twelfth fret. The body is heavily battered, with much of the lake placid blue finish rubbed off over the years, and extremely lightweight. The guitar seems to have a particular voice all to its own, even when it isn’t plugged in, which is probably why I play the guitar “unplugged” on the couch all the time. Over the years, I have learned every nuance of this instrument. My left hand has memorized the exact amount of pressure I need to fret a string, exactly how much strength I need to use to bend a string like Albert King, how far I need to slide on a slide, and can play countless finger positions without even looking down.
While there can be something like a security blanket feeling in how you don’t have to think about doing things on your instrument, this can lead your playing to be stuck in a box. You gravitate towards certain songs because the physics of that instrument leads themselves towards certain songs. You play certain musical phrases because it feels natural to that guitar, and so on and so on. While at first this can very incredibly exciting because suddenly the instrument starts working for you. But at some point, that feeling is going to crash. Many experienced guitarists have different ways of dealing with this. I recommend a couple different ideas: Change what record is playing on your turntable and pick a totally different guitar than what was recorded to play it.
What I usually do is completely break ship and switch what guitar I’m playing. It gives me a wonderful feeling that I control making when I practice guitar fun whenever I want. I treat it like a challenging game. Hey switch now from this 63’ Strat to an early 60’s 335 plugged in a 1967 Fender Pro Reverb. And suddenly it’s a brave new world! Playing on a large hollowbody, usually thought of when thinking BB King or jazz, feels completely different. First of all, the strings feel slinkier under my fingers. They’re somewhat looser and lower to the fingerboard. The guitar is much larger and fills up more of my body sitting on the couch. I can’t lay down on the couch and play it so that affects how I’m going to hold my body to the guitar. The tone of the instrument is far more booming, fat and warm. And more importantly I feel like I hang on notes differently and choose vibrato and bends in different locations of a musical phrase than I would normally. It can feel somewhat limiting under my fingers because I’m not playing my favorite woobie 63’ Stratocaster, the one where I feel completely in tune with the instrument and can do anything, I feel like I respond differently in a musical sense. Now it feels like instead anything musically can happen at any time.
There’s a wonderful uncomfortable factor at play here. You become forced to embrace the unknown and fear of everything suddenly isn’t so easy on the guitar. I think that is a wonderful place to embrace as a musician. Plus playing different guitars can get you closer to stepping in the shoes of another guitarist’s shoes and changes the geometry of where your left hand ends up on the fingerboard. I find myself naturally playing in different keys that just seem to suit the guitar I’ve changed to. Certain notes and their proximity others seem to change. I may not normally play in B flat on a Stratocaster, but I certainly do on an Es-335. A player has got to try to get his B.B. King playing architecture on! It feels like the entire roadmap of what you knew on the instrument completely does a 180-degree shift.
As I showed earlier, I even like to build different guitar rigs to suit different moods. If you’re touch with these moods it’s easy to play guitar everyday and never feel bored! As musicians, we usually have a wide-ranging set of musical tastes. We can go from Brit-Pop like Oasis, to punk bands like the Sex Pistols, to psychedelic Jimi Hendrix, to stinging blues like Albert Collins, or even jazz great Kenny Burrell. Switching guitars can help it feel more like you are playing the subtleties of music you’re currently into authentically. It can even be taken one step further into helping you learn new musical tricks to fit within that style. Are you usually a Fender guy? Switch it up for fun and play a Gibson with Marshall for a couple days. The amp will respond very differently than a Fender amp, and the feel of playing your instrument will totally change under your fingers! Do you normally play with lots of pedals? Try just using a guitar and an amplifier and see how much mileage you can get out of it. Do you normally play a lot of rock n’ roll? Try switching to a Telecaster and use the stereotypical “country” bridge pickup just to see what happens?
Switching things up can really improve your playing and keep it fun. But more importantly, it teaches you that different guitars are really different paintbrushes in your sonic arsenal. Knowing what guitar suits what you are trying to do is an invaluable resource!