Don’t rage against the limitations
I want to talk about Tom Morello, the guitarist from Rage Against The Machine and Audioslave. It may seem like an odd topic, but stick with it – there’s something here for every creative out there.
Anyone that’s heard Morello will know he does things a bit differently. From using a pencil to make his guitar sound like a helicopter, to recreating DJ-esque vinyl scratches, he’s always pushed the boundaries.
I’ve always been intrigued about the effects pedals he uses. These pedals change the way a guitar sounds, from adding delay, reverb or distortion, through to giving you that wah sound made famous by Jimi Hendrix.
When I spotted a video that showed off Morello’s effects collection, I prepared myself for the huge list of tech-goodness that was heading my way. And boy-oh-boy was I surprised.
He barely uses any.
He has a Whammy pedal, which basically lets him play around with the pitch of his guitar.
He has two delay pedals, but only because he doesn’t want to faff about changing settings on stage.
He uses one pedal to make things a bit louder if he needs it. And he has a wah pedal and a phaser for some slightly odder sounds, but he admits to barely using them.
Trust me, that may still sound like a lot - but it's nothing. I've currently got about three times that many, and I couldn't tell you what half of them even do.
And why’s this important? It’s all about limitation.
Limitation seems like a bad thing, but when it comes to creativity, that’s not always the case.
You could have hundreds of pedals and effects, and spend days tinkering with them to find this one sound you’ve got in your head. Once you find it, you can finally crack on with writing and playing a song.
But, if you had fewer effects and a more straight-forward set-up, you'd be forced to spend your time actually being creative. And you’ll have a more consistent sound across everything you play.
This doesn’t just matter to guitarists, it matters to any creative. It’s why brands have brand guidelines; rules that limit what you can do to keep you focussed, consistent and distinctly you.
The reason Tom Morello sticks with the same minimal effects is because with every effect he adds to the equation, the further away from his unique sound he gets.
There’s an irony that a man famous for pushing the boundaries is such an advocate for having boundaries.
He shows that we shouldn’t rage against the limitations, we should embrace them. It’s these limitations that keep you at your most creative.