Triggering

Day 316 Week 46 Q4  Saturday November 12, 2022

Triggering – causing a particular action, process, or situation to happen:

Musicians can have very deep relationships with the instruments they play. For some composers, the instrument they are playing at a given moment can cause a new piece of music to come into being. This complex dance is in part to do with the way an instrument sounds and in part with the way it feels to play it. These sonic and tactile contexts can have a tremendous impact on the emotional engagement of playing. Now some musicians may play a single instrument for their entire career, and others may have dozens or even hundreds of instruments. In part, this is impacted by cost, size, history and many other variables, and there is so much that can be said about this phenomenon, that it could fill volumes, which perhaps I will do some time, but here I want to describe a single instrument and how it seems to be unleashing a multitude of paths forward some previously considered or imagined and others unanticipated. 

The triggering instrument under observation happens to be a guitar. As their size and cost are in general, not prohibitive, many times guitarists end up owning more than one. Some famous and or wealthy guitarists may own hundreds, and a fair number of middle-aged and older guitarists end up owning more than a handful, causing them to often consider thinning the herd or changing its composition at various times for various reasons, some logistical like moving or economic status and some stylistic as they move between different genres of music. All of this is quite normal and a conversation that those who have played for decades easily fall into as it is a shared affliction sometimes called GAS (gear acquisition syndrome) which can become expensive, time-consuming and relationship damaging if left unchecked.

But none of this is what I want to elaborate upon today. Today I want to describe the impact of a single instrument, which I have owned it for a couple of years, desired from a distance for the decade prior, and been intending to press into service with increasing impetus. And yes, this is also a metaphor for triggering in general, as there are many projects and intentions we all imagine will be causal in one way or another, for whatever reasons our mind or circumstances erect obstacles to prevent manifesting. But sometimes the potential pot boils over, and you can find yourself engaged in something which has unintended consequences, and this was just such a time.

Back to the instrument, which is a guitar that uniquely combines many capabilities that not only most lay people are unaware exist or would even have any reason for existing, but even lifelong guitarists are also mostly unaware of as well. Have I piqued your interest yet? If you are not a musician, perhaps not, but stick around for the metaphor.

First of all, this is an electric, not an acoustic, guitar. However, it purports to be able to sound not only like an acoustic or an electric guitar but also a dozen different types of guitars that have different characteristics. It can sound like a twelve-string or a banjo or a baritone or a Fender or a Gibson or a Rickenbacker, and more. The instrument family is called the Variax, as guitarists sometimes call their guitars axes. It is quite variable to use integrated signal processing to alter the sound in many ways. And having a herd of various guitars myself, this is not the larger trigger I am referring to.

It was the act of acquiring something that I knew I would have to modify to archive my goals, even if I was reluctant to do so for it was going to be more difficult than simply picking it up and playing it. And only a nerd would take a brand new, extremely multidimensional instrument and deliberately alter it, but yes, I am that nerd.

Apart from what I did and why I did it, which could be an entire chapter of a book itself, even though it only took three hours (so far), the immediate impact rippled through my going to sleep and waking dreams where I surprisingly found myself unstuck from other projects, desired activities and new directions.

How can you spend three hours using roughly $100 worth of tools and parts to modify an instrument that, when first introduced, was $4000 but which I ultimately acquired two years ago for $1000 matters very much if you already have a pile of instruments and have been playing for decades? Well, this is why I am naming this instrument trigger, even though I know Willie Nelson has a completely zero overlap guitar, he named trigger long ago, and I am barely aware of him and his music which has no intersection with mine that I know of.

This is taking too long so let me skip to a few triggered paths. Most electric guitars come with skinny steel-based strings as they are intended for rock and other popular music forms. Skinny strings meaning sets beginning with .010” or less, do not exert much tension upon the neck of a guitar as the fatter strings used in jazz. I can assure you that putting fat strings on a guitar not designed for them can wreak havoc, having done this myself a long time ago, which was a painful but thorough lesson. Also, there are many types of materials and constructions of strings that impact the tone and feel. Suffice it to say ft string strings also sometimes require filing or altering the supporting structures of the instrument to accommodate them by permitting them to fit on the instrument, and there is a pile of adjustments that are used to “set up” an instrument. Yes, most of these are performed by professionals or courageous nerds who sometimes, but do not always, become competent at these tasks.

The simple act of changing strings is not always a simple act unless you replace the old ones with new ones that are either similar or identical to the old ones but these do not fall under the category of modification. The larger the difference, the more things ripple through. To leap ahead to the benefits of being willing to violate my comfort zone by finding the parts, and the tools, doing some de-risking analysis, and then performing the minor surgery yields me an on-ramp with the same instrument to multiple sounds, styles and tunings and a guitar laboratory which is part in hardware and part in software to design not only an infinite set of different instruments but to have them instantly available while playing by pressing a button or turning a knob. And then there are the imagined benefits of performing other surgeries on other guitars in the future.

As a composer, this single three-hour operation provides me with an infinite library of inspirational possibilities to write and play an awful lot of music. It also significantly frees me from avoiding many other alterations that may be time-consuming, expensive, or hard to make happen externally. This is why I am calling today’s thoughts triggering. The number of procrastinated bottlenecks that now have cracks in the obstacles is huge and together institute a new life trajectory literally just from wanting to make a solid body electric rock guitar sound and feel like a larger hollow-body jazz guitar plus another hundred types of guitars, which by the way I did accomplish.

Are there things in your life you can do today, right now, which have been holding you back for years? I bet there are. Trigger yourself into emancipation. It may be relatively easy, inexpensive, and quick, and it may unleash huge amounts of energy and possibility.