I recently had an on radio interview where the host asked what kind of gear I use when I play live. Just so we’re clear, I usually play solo and play an acoustic guitar. What I said in the interview was basically too much gear playing solo acoustically complicates how you play and can put a barrier between you and the audience. But let me first differentiate a few things.
First there is a difference between playing live and playing in the studio. To me, when you record, since it’s going to be a permanent sound recording that won’t change over time, you should use whatever gear necessary to get the sound you want for the listener. Playing live to me is different. If you’re solo like me, but recorded an album as if you have a full band–the best thing to do to get the live sound sounding like the recording is to get a band. But playing live in front of an actual audience requires engagement, even while playing.
Too often though I have seen solo artists trying to recreate a band on the stage with loop pedals, distortion pedals, sustainers, and so forth. While it ends up sounding pretty cool (if done well), most of the time the artist has their head down trying to tap the right pedal at the right time, or they’re banging on their guitar to get a beat going, and it comes off as their more into their gear and guitar playing than the audience.
For the non-musician in the audience, this can be overwhelming. It also does not acknowledge the audience during the song. The audience isn’t getting a chance to be a part of the song when the solo artist is always changing the sound of the guitar, adding guitar layers, and adding drums via guitar.
The reason I keep my solo performances simple (and yes, I have a few pedals, but don’t constantly use them) is I want to display the song in the way I originally wrote it. Playing it without all the effects the recording has makes it more honest to me. And I think that’s the beauty of an acoustic guitar anyway–it’s a natural instrument that should rarely be manipulated by guitar effects.
I don’t mean to put down solo acoustic artists that use all the effect pedals, but this is just my opinion on playing live. Keep rockin’ however it is you do it.