Tonight I had a lot of fun at Long & McQuade Markham demonstrating the sounds I use and my approach to guitar effects to a really nice group full of thoughtful questions.
I gave them some info in a handout. Here it is:
From the time I started playing the guitar at age 13, I was intrigued with the sounds that guitarists like Jimi Hendrix, Jeff Beck, Adrian Belew, Andy Summers, Prince, Bill Frisell, Stevie Ray Vaughan, The Edge, and John Scofield (among many, many others) created, and I started using guitar pedals as soon as I could afford them, although I was lucky to have older brothers who leant me theirs. I’ve owned a lot of different pedals over the years, but at a certain point I realized that all of my guitar heroes generally sound like themselves even if they plug straight into an amp, and that’s what I aspire to. Such a realization means that ultimately we can only chase so many pedals, it’s better to put your effort into your hands first, and if something is working for you and allowing you to express yourself, there’s no rush to move on to the latest and greatest effects. And if you tour, you quickly run up against airline baggage allowances, how much weight you personally want to lug around besides your guitar, and what you find reliable in different situtations. Personally, I’m mainly using effects in three ways:
1. in the service of the foundation of a song (e.g. a wah wah pedal for the basic pattern to a funk song or an overdrive pedal for a rock rhythm guitar part). Check out my group The Triodes Chunked
2. to create some kind of soundscape or texture behind something else (e.g. a singer or instrumental solo)
3. to be expressive or create variety in my soloing (i.e. becoming the singer in that moment).
Michael Occhipinti & Shine On: The Unvierse of John Lennon or my album Muorica have a lot of the last two.
I’ve done musical theatre and played in bands where each song had to have the same presets every single show, but generally I’ve built my career and approach to effects around avoiding that approach. I love improvising with effects, so even in a situation where a singer expects me to create atmosphere behind them, I try to be creative and not just duplicate what I do on that song every time. In my solos, I love to surprise the band (and myself in a sense) by soloing with a sound completely different than the night before. I’ll still basically go back to the same arsenal of sounds that I think allow me to be expressive, but put them in new places or use them in slightly different ways. It keeps the music fresh, but it also tends to keep my improvising fresh. I’m a firm believer in the idea that imposing a condition or limitation (e.g. solo with a particular sound) stimulates creativity.
Some things I think everyone should hear if they are curious about guitar sounds:
Backwards Guitar: The Beatles: I’m Only Sleeping. John Lennon loved it when the Beatles stumbled across the sound of recording tape played backwards. For this song George Harrison worked out a solo over the song played backwards so that when it was flipped around, the song wouldbe normal but the guitar would be backwards. Jimi Hendrix also did a lot of backwards guitar soloing in the studio. Guitarist Bill Frisell made great use of his Electro Harmonix delay that could record and play a lick backwards, and his recordings made me want a backwards delay too. I regularly have a backwards delay quietly in the backround when I’m soloing for some ambiece that is less specific than a normal repeating delay.
Wah Wah: Eric Clapton (White Room) and Jimi Hendrix (Voodoo Child) were the first people I heard use a wah wah, but my favourite use of it is in funk and r&b. The classic examples are the theme from Shaft, played by Charles “Skip” Pitts on the recording by Isaac Hayes. Wah Wah Watson on Papa Was a Rolling Stone, as well as Marvin Gaye’s “Let’s Get It On” (and a hundred other hits).
I found a nice little video on the Wah Wah here: https://youtu.be/vtoac9zRibM
Fuzz: I don’t fuzz as much as overdruve, but Gibson’s Maestro (originally marted to let you sound like a horn or cello) changed everything with Keith Richards’ part on Satisfaction. I have an old Vox Tonebender but it’s a bit unruly so I have to pick my moments (as did the Beatles, Jeff Beck, and Brian May). I think my favourite fuzz is generally the Fuzz Face found in the Jimi Hendrix catalogue, There’s a nice 4 minute documentary here https://youtu.be/V8vYxxBh9WI
Overdrive: The first overdrive pedal I had was the Boss one, but I got rid of it when I bought an Ibanex tubescreamer. I have no idea why I got rid of it (since they are considered by many the gold standard of overdrive units) but I’ve subsequently used a variety including the Sparkle Drive that I used for while until I switched to the TC Electronics MOJO that I use now. It has my initials in it, and rhymes with my old big band NOJO - and it sounds good too. Every guitarist I know uses overdrive, but probably the ones that got my attention because of their overdrive tones are Stevie Ray Vaughan (he used the Ibanez tube screamer) and Jeff Beck (he’s used a Klon Centaur for a while. They are collector’s items, but there are lots of imitations out there).
Delay: No discussion of delay should happen without acknowledging the inventive genius of Les Paul. Check out his 1951 recording How High The Moon to here his tape echo (where the record and playback heads are used to create a delay)and lots of other tape echo/delay history here: http://www.voodooguitar.net/2016/11/reelin-thru-years-history-of-tape-echo.html (trivia note: Bing Crosby gave Les Paul a tape machine brought back from Germany after World War 2 and funded the creation of the Ampex company).
I was really intrigued with tape echo machines when I saw Jimmy Page use one in the movie The Song Remains The Same, but it was hearing Andy Summers use his Echoplex on “Walking On The Moon” that really made me want to get my first delay pedal (my brother Peter leant me his Boss Analog Delay until I bought my first Boss digital delay. I never did own a tape echo, but the Line 6 Green box did a nice imitation). When I heard the early U2 records, I REALLY started to use a lot of delay (for the record, The Edge used a Electro Harmonix Memory Man Deluxe on the early U2 records). Other delay users I was influenced by include David Gilmour, Charlie Burchill (Simple Minds), David Torn, and Radiohead.
Chorus: I don’t really use a lot chorus, mostly because I used one starting in the 80s and to me it just triggers too many 80s cliches! But it’s been a big part of some great songs (Andy Summers remains my favourite user of the chorus pedal). And I’ve used more extreme chorus sounds to sound a little whacky now and then, as John Scofield sometimes does. Here’s a top ten list: http://www.sourceaudio.net/blog/post/the-top-10-greatest-chorus-effect-recordings-of-all-time
Other Pedals. One of the first pedals I had alongside overdrive was an MXR phaser. It’s not a sound I really use anymore, as is the case with Flangers, but I do love a couple of other pedals/sounds I love and use a lot:
Reverb: Probably the most important sounds I use right now are in the Eventide Space Reverb, which is a great sounding pedal. I use it almost continuously with an expression pedal, bringing in longer reverb or reverb volume as part of my playing. And along with delay, reverb is how I create the mysterious atmospherics behind singers or soloists where the audience doesn’t exactly know what the sound is until they realize there’s only a guitarist on stage and no synths.
Ring Modulator. I didn’t think it was a pedal I’d use much until I heard Jeff Beck kick it in just for brief moments in a solo in a really intriguing way. I will do some of that too, stating a phrase and then repeating it with ring mod, but I also have used it more and more to imitate a talking drum. I love playing the drums (I’m not great, but I love it) and I love the idea of soloing like a drummer, so I more often use the ring modulator that way.
Leslie Rotary Speaker: A lot of people come up and ask me about my organ sound sometimes. That’s the Leslie effect, and the Beatles were the first to use it for something other than organ (specifically John Lennon’s voice on Tomorrow Never Knows), and I loved hearing it on later George Harrison guitar parts or on Stevie Ray Vaughan’s Cold Shot.
Pitch Shifter/Octaver: Jimi Hendrix was the first person I heard use the octaver pedal (the Octavio which Jim Dunlop made a copy pedal of), and Jimi Page used the MXR Blue Fuzz/Octave on “Fool In The Rain”
but became intrigued with more sophisticated digital harmonizers in the 90s. Tom Morello really made the Whammy Pedal popular, and I will use a pitch shifter for octaves or to sweep like the whammy pedal does.
Tremolo Pedal: I had an old Fender Deluxe where the tremolo (or vibrato) was taken out, so I had to use a pedal. But I love the sound of tremolo and people like Bruce Cockburn or Marc Ribot use it in a way that I love.
MY GEAR: I tend to be pretty faithful to one or two guitars at a time, and these days they are both Ernie Ball Music Man guitars, and funnily enough both are discontinued! I spend most of my time playing the Reflex model (it has evolved into the Game Changer with an entirely different pickup structure), but I also frequently use an Albert Lee model with 3 MM90 (P90 style) pickups (the guitar is now only made with either Strat style single coil pickups or two humbuckers). Both of them are set up with Ernie Ball strings (11’s or the purple set). My main acoustic guitar is a wonderful Taylor 422 steel string.
My amp is made in Toronto by my friend Peter Medvick's Funk Farm. All of his amps are one of a kind in some way, tailored to the musicians who request them (which is why mine is called the MO Twin 25). Mine is an all-tube stereo head with 2 25-watt channels, and I run it with two 12" cabinets that Peter built.
Prior to that, and on the road, I request two matching Fender tube amps (typically Vintage style Deluxes).
For effects I'm most reliant on my Eventide Space reverb, TC Electronics MOJO overdrive, and Line 6's HD 500 (which I bought to replace the green, blue, and purple Line 6 boxes I used to lug around (I also got rid of my Evantide Delay as I didn’t find it “live” friendly, though the sounds are great), along with a few other pedals). I don't really like the Line 6 distortions or reverbs, and I don't use the amp modelling part of the unit at all. I sometimes use a volume pedal, but generally I find I'm more expressive using the volume knob on the guitar (thanks to Jeff Beck).
I've shared some excerpts from different albums that are examples of different sounds I use on the gear page