Current popular thinking among guitar circles would have you believe that, in order to record a half-decent album that sounds relatively professional, we need to be using fully functioning gear.
Now, this doesn’t mean we have to use the most expensive electric guitars to get a good sound – there are plenty of cheap electric guitars under $500 that will certainly be up to the task – though recording an album usually comes with one prerequisite: your gear has to be working.
Well, this notion has been refuted and disproved by songwriter Max Davies, who set himself a particularly niche recording brief during the lockdown of 2020-2021: to record an entire nine-track instrumental album using nothing but broken guitars.
And guess what? He absolutely knocked it out of the park. But don’t just take our word for it – Red Hot Chili Peppers hero John Frusciante has already dubbed Davies’ album a collection of “really good ideas”.
Arranged into “little sonic landscapes” called “inventions”, Inventions For Broken & Prepared Guitar was composed entirely from guitars that had a range of technical issues, such as warped and cracked bodies and necks, worn-out tuners that slipped out of tune, “impossibly high string action” and out-of-intonation saddles.
Nevertheless, while many players may be forced into using less-than-ideal gear out of sheer necessity, Davies’ decision to use wholly broken electric and acoustic guitars stemmed from something far more philosophical.
“How does one work with what is broken?” Davies queried. “With so many seemingly dysfunctional things in the world (government, environment, communication, bureaucracy, technology, medicine, arts, education, etc), how do we proceed? How do we make art when things in the world seem so insurmountably broken?
“The answer to this question is rooted in how we work with what is. How do we work with what is? For me, an answer came in the form of working intentionally with some of the broken guitars that I have. I took several that are technically broken and made music with them.”
The gravity of the project called for some ground rules. Synths, drums, keyboards and all other instruments were not allowed – everything you hear comes from the guitar. Likewise, Davies only allowed himself to use equalization, compression, reverb and delay during the mixing and mastering process.
A Pro Co Rat – used to add a touch of distortion – also made a brief cameo on a couple of tracks.
Inventions, unsurprisingly, required some out-of-the-box thinking. Paperclips, pencils, sticks, alligator clips, screwdrivers and more were wedged around the strings to conjure up unique noises, while violin bows, percussive mallets, and modal non-standard tunings were also used.
As we said, the results are quite something. The droning strums and eerie leads of Invention One have a Western-esque personality, while the harmonic chimes of Invention Eight are indicative of Davies’ unorthodox songwriting achievements.
So, do you have a persistent fret buzz that won’t go away? Or maybe your guitar’s truss rod has bowed to a near-unplayable state? Rather than reaching for your local luthier’s number, it may be worth seeing what sounds you can get from your defective instrument.
In Davies’ own words, “These songs were made to fly in the face of entropy and rust. They are antidotes to the antinomies of life, and hopefully, allow for you to appreciate that in the face of 'brokenness' there is still the potential for beauty and creation, and that there are still ample opportunities to rise.”
To find out more and listen to the whole album, head over to Max Davies’ Bandcamp.