Today’s electronic keyboard players have a lot going for them that guitar players should envy: no tuning problems, no need for pedal effects to recreate a complex patch, instant patch recall and pretty much absolute consistency between every example of the same model. If you buy another one, the chances are that it will be the same as the last one you played, something that can’t be said of guitars. You can walk into a music store and try 10 different Strats or Les Pauls and they’ll all feel and sound slightly different.
I think it is fair to say that most of today’s keyboard players don’t go in for modifying their instruments, though I did have a conversation with one SOS reader who explained that a weakness with many budget keyboards is that the designers use the same springs on the black keys as on the white keys. As the black keys are shorter, that makes them feel stiffer than the white keys, so he went to the trouble of replacing the springs on all the black keys on his keyboard with slightly weaker ones to improve the action.
While this reader may be the exception, guitar players, especially electric guitar players, are always tinkering to get their instruments to feel right and to sound right. Even the least technical players experiment with string brands and gauges, while the slightly more ambitious will risk tweaking the action by adjusting the bridge saddles, the truss rod or — if very brave — filing the nut slots. Then there’s the joy of trying different pickups, changing the tuning machines or switching out bridges and tailpieces for light-alloy counterparts. To the keyboard player this might seem like a kind of madness, but it all helps forge that important personal relationship with the instrument.
As an example, I recently bought myself a Gibson ‘50s Tribute Les Paul with P90 pickups. It has built-in self-tuning, which I’ll probably swap out for a set of locking Sperzel tuners, and I’ve already changed the standard bridge for a Graphtech light-alloy upgrade, which has really livened up the tone. I also rounded off the fingerboard edges and fettled the nut slots, but at some point I may also change the pickups. I must assure keyboard players that this is perfectly normal behaviour and already I’m starting to develop a bond with this guitar.
And then there are amplifiers and pedals, which, as any electric guitar player will tell you, are just as important to the sound as the instrument itself — maybe more so. I know this can sound somewhat obsessive to non-guitar players, but when you look at the vast diversity of sounds and styles that players have managed to coax from what is essentially six pieces of wire and a plank of wood, isn’t it worth it? Now, what mic should I use on the guitar amp and where exactly should I place it? Maybe a different brand of speaker would work better? How about a low-capacitance cable? Would a thicker pick help?