Arielle reveals why she doesn’t use effects pedals: “If I want to push the boundaries of guitar, it’s not going to be by using a pedal”

(Image credit: Andrew McMeekin)

Though there’s something inherently satisfying about a fully stocked, well-assembled pedalboard – and while a wide assortment of pedals can contribute to a broader palette of accessible sounds – such a rig does not always equate to better tone.

In other words, sometimes less really is more, and it’s an adage that particularly applies to the guitar world: pair a reliable electric guitar with a half-decent tube amp, and your ears will usually thank you for it.

It’s a school of thought that Arielle firmly subscribes to, with the Brian May Guitars signature artist recently voicing her reluctance to rely on effects pedals and her preference for sticking with a simple six-string and tube amp setup.

Speaking to Guitar Player, the singer-songwriter took a deep-dive into her guitar gear ethos, revealing how her back-to-basics approach was inspired by both her six-string heroes and a desire to push the boundaries of what is capable on a fretboard.

“Back in the day, I used to have a massive pedalboard and I wasn’t thinking about where most of my guitar tone was coming from,” Arielle reflected. “In my opinion, the two main things are the guitar and the amp, and each one colors the tone individually. The more variables you add in, the more diluted the character of the guitar and amp becomes.”

When asked about what inspired her less-is-more approach to gear, the BMG signature artist clarified, “When I think of my favorite guitar players from back in the day, they didn’t have access to the kind of gear we do now. 

“Brian May is one of my favorite guitarists and he just used a treble booster through his amp,” she continued. “If you crank up an AC30  and turn on a treble booster, you have that Brian May tone. Jeff Beck wasn’t one to use many effects either. There he was, adding all sorts of incredible technique. It allowed his creativity to expand. Which is something I aspire to. 

In my opinion, the two main things are the guitar and the amp, and each one colors the tone individually

“If I want to push the boundaries of guitar, it’s not going to be by using a pedal. I can’t hide behind a pedal. I want it to be a melody or playing technique. I like the challenges of limitations.”

As for how this approach affected her guitar playing, Arielle admitted she almost had to “relearn how to play guitar”, but it’s made her a better player overall as it means she’s “not having to rely on gear”.

“The more I play without pedals, the more I prefer playing with fingers,” she reflected. “But, obviously, there are certain things a pick is really useful for. I use Dava picks, I have since I was 10, and they’re great for a lot of different stuff, but I also move it out of the way and play with my fingers a lot now. I’ll switch between using a pick and fingers, but I’ll be holding a pick the whole time.”

Arielle does, however, go on to admit that her position is also born out of necessity: “Because I don’t always have a guitar tech on the road, it is extremely convenient to be dealing just with three variables: guitar, amp and cable. 

“When something goes wrong with a pedalboard, it’s a different scenario,” she said. “It could be anything – a patch cable, power supply, battery, knob or switch. Like most guitar players, I’ve had horrible experiences. 

“There’s nothing worse than just getting shut off. Especially when your guitar goes and you’re a trio. Your show is kind of ruined and you’re looking down going, “I don’t know?!”

Arielle’s views echo those of blues lifer Walter Trout, who recently proclaimed, "You don't need pedals. If you get a kickass amp, why would you put it through a $100 pedal?"

In other Arielle news, the singer-songwriter’s BMG Arielle signature guitar was recently treated to two new finishes: a Red Special-flavored Antique Cherry and striking Windermere Blue.

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Matt Owen

Matt is a Staff Writer, writing for Guitar World, Guitarist and Total Guitar. He has a Masters in the guitar, a degree in history, and has spent the last 16 years playing everything from blues and jazz to indie and pop. When he’s not combining his passion for writing and music during his day job, Matt records for a number of UK-based bands and songwriters as a session musician.