There are very few people in Kolkata who are as skilled in wielding the axe as Bodhisattwa Ghosh. Popularly known as Bodhi in the Kolkata music circuit, this expert guitarist is definitely the person to go to if anyone wishes to get a lowdown on guitar gear. We recently got in touch with Bodhi, and asked him to share his views on guitars, gear and music with us.
Speaking about his basic gear, Bodhi introduced us to his guitars and pedal preferences. I use the Fender 57 Reissue Stratocaster (Limited Edition) and the Fender Highway One Telecaster both made in the USA. For effects I use BOSS Single Units, the Fender Bassman Pedal (FBM-1), the Super Overdrive (SD-1), the Blues Driver (BD-2), the Mega Distortion (MD-2), the Chorus Ensemble (CE-5), the Digital Delay (DD-6) and my BOSS GT-10. Regarding synths, I use a Novation Ultranova as my main synth and a Korg X50 as my accessory keyboard. Other gadgets I use are the Boss RC50 Loop Station and as for programming software I use Reason 5, Fruity Loops Pro and Acid Pro.
But options are always more basic when anyone is a beginner. I started out with the shittiest equipment possible! Because my parents first thought that music was just a hobby for me, I got a Hobner acoustic guitar and my first electric was a Hobner Strato made out of plywood! The selector switches looked like light switches and never worked. I used a Zoom 505 (which in my opinion is the worst processor ever) and I didnt even have an amp to begin with. I destroyed my Philips Cassette player by plugging my guitar into the headphone jack.
During college, I upgraded to a 2nd hand Squier Strat and a Korg 1000G. My mom also bought me an Epiphone Les Paul, but soon I realized I am more of a Fender player. In 2007, I had to get a Fender Strat, because I could feel that the Squier Strat was physically getting in the way of things I wanted to play. So, my father gave me the greatest gift of my life a limited edition Fender US 57 reissue Strat priced at 1700 US dollars.
Upgrading, of course, is a continuous process and with so many new gadgets and models coming out in the market, it is easy to get seduced into buying and upgrading to the latest gadgetry. However Bodhis take on this is slightly different and he does not necessarily adhere to the aforementioned principle and neither does he seem to be a follower of the latest gear upgrade cycle. As far as pedals, synths, etc. go, I only upgrade when I have extracted all that I can from the particular gadget and I cannot get the sound Im looking for. I still have a lot of exploring to do with my Ultranova synth and I will not upgrade it until I find any limitations. I am very happy with my GT10 and all the single units and will not trade them ever. My computer however needs some serious upgrading because I am having the need of more and more synthetic sounds with each passing day. Frankly speaking, I dont know exactly what is the latest on the scene, but the Roland GR55 guitar synthesizer has really caught my attention. For experimenting guitar players who want to expand the sound of the electric guitar this is a must have. I am planning to get one real soon.”
I believe that my gear has helped me immensely to shape my sound, but I always believe that the thought comes before the machinery and not the other way around.
So how does one translate his thoughts and ideas into the music we love to hear? To be very honest the process is extremely difficult. Whether the idea is playing-oriented or design-oriented, it needs to be tested and reworked upon by continuous trial and error until the thought in my head and the sounds that I hear after the work is one and the same. So wouldnt his knowledge of guitars and their associated gear help him in the creation process? “Instruments are extremely important in this regard because one has to clearly understand the direction of sound-scaping which appropriately fits the idea. However, having said that, I must also mention once again that the musician comes first, not the gear. Even if one doesnt have top-of-the-line equipment, he/she can create great music just by putting apt ideas in the apt spaces.
But we were curious to know about the actual process that he generally follows – how, for instance, would he compose a small 30-second track, and what kind of gear would he be using for this? When it comes to any kind of composing, I always do it on my acoustic guitar and record it on my phone. I listen to the recording again the next day and start working on the appropriate treatment required for that composition.
Obviously the kind of gear used by Bodhi would depend upon the type of music that was being composed, and being a member of bands that range from the eclectic to the down-right experimental. Take for instance Intersections, the debut album of his pet project The Bodhisattwa Trio, an experimental jazz rock outfit – what was his choice of gear during the composition of this album? For Intersections, I have used my Strat and my Tele, an OD pedal, a chorus pedal, a delay pedal, a wah wah pedal, plugged straight into a Fender Hot Rod Deluxe tube amp. I have cranked the amp up to get the fattest and beefiest tone. Since the entire album was recorded live all at once, the main objective was to stick to the absolute basics when it comes to the equipment and focus on the playing bit.
Again, in Atoms and Combinations the second album of indie quartet Zoo, Bodhis approach was quite different. For Atoms and Combinations, I have used every digital device I have, including my programming software. As far as the guitars are concerned I used my Tele, plugged into my GT10, overdubbing the tracks as broad stereo signals, since there were so many layers, FX, sounds and modulations. I prefer to go the digital way rather than handling 20 pedals at once.
He has even tried his hand at films scores but compared to the type of gears used for his bands, here his approach is a lot less complex. For film scores, since it is impractical to carry my amp to every studio, I simply use my GT10 and record my guitar as a stereo signal.
Bodhi is quick enough to provide us with a few useful tips which should be reassuring to guitar players of all categories. For beginners, I strongly recommend a good, comfortable but not too fancy acoustic guitar. I started out with a Hobner acoustic guitar which was not very good but these days, you get very decent Chinese, Korean and Indonesian made acoustic guitars at very reasonable prices. Starting out with an electric guitar is absolutely disastrous because it completely shuts out all the options on your style of playing. At the intermediate stage, one must decide upon the style of music he/she wants to pursue and accordingly take a call. If you want to purchase an electric guitar then I recommend spending some money to buy a fine instrument as it will be a one-time investment and the instrument will become an extension of yourself eventually. Same applies for acoustic guitars. For advanced guitar players, the world is an ocean of choices. He/she will know exactly what is needed and it is only a question of application.
As a parting word to all guitar enthusiasts in and around the city who not only avidly follow him but look up to him as a role model, Bodhi says The player comes first, not the instrument. I always put special emphasis on tone extraction with the pick and fingers rather than using heavy duty instruments. A good player will always get a good tone even if he uses the shittiest gear. But of course, a good instrument will always bring out the best in you. In a nutshell, the story lies inside your body and mind. Practice and hard work is everything.
The Behringer GDI21 is one of the first ever pedals I bought when I decided to shift from multi-effect processors to boutique, effect-dedicated guitar pedals. To start off, the GDI21, like a host of other Behringer pedals, is a clone. It’s a cheaper knock-off of the Sansamp GT-2, and like the GT-2, it’s a guitar amp modeller. But it does so much more. It also acts as a direct recording pre-amp and DI box.
Hardware and Features
The first thing you’d notice about the pedal is the relatively large number of knobs and switches. The pedal recreates three different guitar amps, with three gain modes and three mic placements, giving you a total of 27 possible configurations.
The three amps that are recreated are the Mesa Boogie(Calif), Marshall(Brit) and Fender (Tweed). Each of these amps can be set at three different modes: Clean, Hi-Gain and Hot. If you’re still not satisfied, you may even select how the “amp” should be “mic-ed”. There’s a simulation of where the mic is placed with respect to the cabinet cone. You can choose between ‘off-axis’, ‘center’ or ‘classic’. There’s also a ground-lift switch, which helps in reducing noise. You may also configure your tone via the four knobs present on the pedal: Drive, Bass, Treble and Level.
The pedal is extremely versatile. It gives you a good tone for almost any genre of music, from jazz to metal. The Mesa Boogie simulation has the beef to pump out some heavy gain, well-suited for thrash/speed metal. The Marshall simulation is perfect for some crunchy rock ‘n roll. I was successfully able to extract a close-to-authentic AC/DC tone (just for kicks). The Fender amp that’s simulated is the tweed. This is probably the best tone the pedal provides. The warm clean tone is reminiscent of an Ibanez Tube-Screamer.
How I use it
I set the pedal to ‘Brit’, at ‘Hi-Gain’ with the mic at ‘classic’ and ground-lift on. Keeping the drive at 10 o’clock, treble at 1 o’clock, bass at 11 o’clock with my Epiphone Les Paul Standard. With the Yamaha Pacifica, I use the ‘Brit’ for overdrive, with drive at 10 o’clock, treble at 11 o’ clock and bass at 1 o’clock.The pedal goes either into the amp or to my Zoom G7.1ut processor, which provides rudimentary cabinet simulation going out to my headphones.
The pedal provides a “true bypass”, which makes for a pure clean tone, or however your native tone to the amp is set. The pedal, set to my needs, gives me a warm crunch that drives hard for the most part and cuts back to a driven clean when I cut the volume from my guitar, giving me a teasing tone that plays out like a clean tone that’s itching to unleash itself.
The pedal sounds more dynamic by setting the drive low and having the mod switched to hi-gain, as opposed to turning the drive up and having the mod switch at clean. They both achieve the same amount of gain, but the former has a beefier and more dynamic feel.
With all this tonal goodness, come two major drawbacks. Firstly, the body is not metal, but reinforced plastic. Now that can be a rather scary deal considering this is something you’re going to be stomping on when you’re playing live. Having said that, I’ve had this pedal for three years. Over the course of roughly 25 gigs, and playing daily at home, the pedal has not worn out in any form.
The second drawback is not a major one, but would definitely help in terms of tone. The EQ controls should’ve included a knob for mids. That one extra knob would make all the difference in tone and make it a truly great pedal. But you can make up for that with a dedicated EQ pedal or tweaking the EQ on the amp.
All in all, the Sansamp GT-2 is a heavenly pedal. Head-to-head, it outclasses the GDA21 in every aspect, be it the metal casing, or the subtle dynamics that propel your tone to a whole new level. There probably isn’t any reason you should pick the GDI21 over the GT-2, except the gigantic price difference. You can pick up a GT-2 for roughly USD450. The GDI21 is available for about 30 USD. That’s almost 15 times lesser the price of the GT-2. The sacrifice in tone dynamics hardly compares to the money you save, leaving you room to add more to your rig.
Photo Credits: Chethan Ram
“With what attentive courtesy he bent
Over his instrument;
Not as a lordly conqueror who could
Command both wire and wood,
But as a man with a loved woman might,
Inquiring with delight
What slight essential things she had to say
Before they started, he and she, to play.”
The Guitarist Tunes Up’ by Frances Conford (1886-1960)
I’ve always loved this poem. Today though, it reminds me of some of the changes that have happened over the years.
When I started playing the guitar in Calcutta in the 60s, I knew of just one seller of the instrument in the city, a shop called Reynolds (I don’t know if they’re related to the one in Bangalore). ‘Box’ guitars cost Rs.75 and were made of plywood, with necks probably made of the ends of discarded tea chests. You were guaranteed that the necks would warp. The only solution was to loosen the strings each time you were through with playing it. Tuning and detuning the guitar thus became an integral part of the act of playing itself. You would detune it in various ways, experimenting with different detuned combinations, until you’d had enough and were ready to put the instrument to sleep. Tuning up was also a ritual in itself – first thing in the morning, of course (at 16, if you love the guitar, you’re not just in love; you’re obsessed. You pick up your guitar before your toothbrush). You tune up one string at a time, play that string alone, listen to its timbre and nuances, experiment with it, often running up from the lowest notes to the highest ones imbedded in the non-cutaway body. Then on to the next string. Of course we used mechanical devices – I used to be the proud owner of a pitch pipe. But the process was entirely aural.
A natural fall-out of this was that bands tuned their instruments on stage. Without today’s electronic tuners, there was no way you could tune a solidbody electric until it was plugged into an amp (off-stage amps don’t exist in India even today, O Tempora! O Mores!). Most of us walked onstage with loosened strings and started from scratch in front of the audience. Anyone who’s seen the movie Woodstock will remember Richie Havens tuning his guitar on stage. He’d just changed strings and hadn’t had time to tune up off-stage. But it wasn’t considered odd; to us, in fact, it was part of his performance.
I remember going to a concert by the Bangalore band Human Bondage in the early 70s. More than the vastly superior musicianship, what struck me was that before the curtain went up there was just this one, single note from an already-tuned guitar. Then the stage opened and the first song started right away. All of us were amazed. Of course, the fact that they were playing, “f**kin FENDERS, man! A Mustang into a Silverface!” made a difference; but I swore I would never tune my guitar onstage again.
So much changed with the advent of the plug-in tuner in the 80s. Today, I know guitarists who’ve been playing for over 40 years, who can’t tune up anymore without it (all of us who’ve been playing that long have probably lost it, anyway). But tuning is now a silent activity. Nobody hears it, not even the player. What used to be most important part of preparing your instrument before playing is now done visually.
Have we lost an important part of the process of communication between instrument and player? I think so. Most musicians today see communication as happening only between player and audience. There is no communing with one’s instrument. In its stead, there is ‘practice’.
I think the 80s was also when the concept of a ‘practice regimen’ among rock guitarists came into existence fully. While some musicians may have dabbled in it earlier, nothing is known for instance about the guitar practising schedules of Jimi Hendrix, Mike Bloomfield or any of the luminaries of the 60s. I don’t think they had any. No interviewer asked them about it. It wasn’t considered important. (The only noteworthy story about practice from that era is the unconfirmed one where the vicar of the parish of Ewhurst in Surrey, UK, on a visit to one of his parishioners’ homes, sees a guitar on the wall and asks the owner to play for the church. When the owner agrees, the vicar suggests that he practice for a few months first. It is only years later that he realises that the man who came to his tiny church to play hymns such as ‘Amazing Grace’ with amazing grace, was named Eric.)
Although I don’t place myself in that hallowed group, in my teens and much of my 20s I obsessed over the guitar, playing for 6-8 hours a day (wrecked my studies and dropped out of college, too). But you ‘played’. You never ‘practised’. There were no distant goals; you merely immersed yourself in the delight of playing the instrument, in the now-ness of the experience and that is what Conford describes so beautifully.
Years ago, I made my only attempt at learning from a teacher. I quit after 2 lessons because he wanted me to practice the exercises he gave me, while I was only willing to play them if they were part of a song or at least a musical-sounding snippet. I met him later and he asked me if I was practicing. I said I wasn’t, but I was playing a lot at home. So he says, “That’s what I meant by practice.” I don’t think he got the idea.
Playing, individually or as a band, outside of performances is essential of course; but intensive, repetitive practice produces chronic competence. It’s a bit like adding a Compressor to your talent – you will never do badly; but you’ll rarely rise above yourself either. A certain amount of the serendipity that can and ought to occur while playing – onstage or off it – can be lost, because much too much is rehearsed and preplanned. Magical moments become fewer.
You may not agree with me; but do go back to Conford’s description of the relationship between the player and the instrument. Do you see digital dexterity as an objective of the foreplay? Producing forth a cleanly arpeggiated Ab Augmented or D# Demented was not the point – that would be a natural by-product of the intense relationship.
Another change that has happened is, I believe, a product of the 80s’ shred guitar trend. Shred guitar was not only about playing at extremely high speeds; its corollary was maniacally mechanical precision. Any note that is off the key or even marginally off the beat is considered wrong today. Friends who cut their teeth on 80s music often fail to understand why older musicians leave in notes that were clearly off the scale or the beat in newer work. “Why didn’t they go back and change it? After all, it was a studio recording!” Ah well. There used to be a higher god than correctness – stream of consciousness, for instance.
You can find fine examples of variable time and chord changes in almost any of John Lee Hooker’s work. The legendary Bluesman Robert Johnson’s recordings of the 1930s demonstrate a totally different definition of tonality from ours today. Check out his ‘Crossroads Blues’ on YouTube.
As one learns more and more about music, the definitions of right and wrong notes tend to get increasingly blurred. Who then, is the final arbiter of the bum note? Just as each of us has her/his own, unique style comprising choice of notes and manner of playing them, we also have completely individual ways in which we make ‘mistakes’. Aren’t we the sum total of all that? The point isn’t that one should or shouldn’t make mistakes or leave them in, in recordings. The point is that there is a choice, provided you accept that mistakes are natural. Unlike the factory-processed leather we usually come across, hand-tooled leather will always have a few marks left by the implements used. As Eric Blackstead said of the flaws in the Woodstock recordings he produced: “Consider them like scars in fine leather; proof of authenticity…”
In the day and age of death metal, we often find ourselves staring at tattooed guitarists wielding Super-strats loaded with a combination of Emg pickups and the Floyd Rose Bridge, but what in heaven’s name has happened to the good old Strat? If you walk into a guitar store you will notice people toying with a plethora of guitars: The Ibanez’s, The Schechter’s, The Esps seem to be favored by guitarists these days. If you talk about a good old Strat, people frown. Have we forgotten the value of a Stratocaster? From Guitar-God Hendrix to Clapton to Gilmour, everyone has used the Strat. In Clapton’s case he switched from a Les Paul to a Strat!
The Fender Stratocaster has been the single most copied guitar in history. All the Japanese manufacturers came to the spotlight in the 70s because of their ability to make high quality knock-offs while the CBS owned Fender itself was struggling with quality issues. Why do we call a guitar with a double cut away and a dual humbucker combination a ‘Superstrat’? The answer is: its design was stolen from the Strat. These guitars combined the comfort of the Stratocaster with the power of the dual humbucker combination. At that time, people were looking for more power but the single coils were either too weak or too noisy so they pumped it up with humbuckers.
Some of the notable inventions of Leo Fenders magnum opus were the tremolo system, which according to me is still way better than the Floyd Rose locking trems. In my honest opinion, the Floyd Rose is only good at sucking the sweet tone from your guitar!Â All our modern guitar heroes like Slash, Tom Morello, Kirk Hammett come from a generation of guitar heroes wielding a Strat. The reason people don’t buy Strats these days is probably because they feel it is “not cool”. They don’t have a logical, sonic justification for not using one. Heck, the guys from Iron Maiden use Strats! With modern pickup technology, one can have the power in a single coil package along with the pureness of a clear single coil tone. Doubters must check out the Eric Clapton signature model. With the in build mid- boost circuitry it pumps out a level of gain which eclipses the EMGs of this world by a mile! People think if they own a Jackson RR3 its cool.
For me, the Fender Stratocaster isn’t the single most important instrument in rock history, it is also the coolest one. From the violin-like tone of Eric Johnson’s Strat to the Dreamy echo of Gilmour’s Strat to the Fuzz laden mayhem of Hendrix’s Strat , no other guitar has influenced the destiny of Rock music. From insanely vintage Strats of the 50s to the modern Shred machines such as Yniwe Malmseem’s, the Stratocaster rules the field; not even the great Les Paul manages to match the legend of the Stratocaster.
One often overlooks the curvaceous craftsmanship of a 50s Strat which is still continued in the modern American models. There is no cooler guitar than a completely worn out Strat; remember the little guy from Ireland whom Jimi Hendrix rated as the greatest guitar player on the planet? I’m talking about Rory Gallagher. Coming to modern players, the sight of John Mayer playing his worn out Strat is just iconic and people say wielding a Flying V is cool.