No, Don’t Buy a New Pedal: Learn a New Melody Instead, Paul Gilbert Argues

According to Paul Gilbert, if you think about buying a new pedal, you should probably consider learning a new melody instead.

Of course, a new guitar pedal doesn’t do the same thing as knowing how to play something new. But Gilbert simply wanted to point out that the core of your overall sonic output comes from you. Although useful in their own ways, your pedals can’t help you sound better if you aren’t trying to be a better guitar player. And, on top of that, guitarists might sometimes get a little too obsessed with gear, forgetting that these are all tools and not the goal in itself.

While appearing in a recent chat with Jordi Pinyol, Gilbert touched upon this while discussing his Ronnie James Dio album and learning how to use his guitar for melodies initially recorded by vocalists.

Interview with PAUL GILBERT (MR. BIG)

“It’s easy to think of just the notes,” the virtuoso explained (transcript via Ultimate Guitar). “You go like, ‘Okay, here’s the five notes, and just play them.’ And it’s harder for us to think about all the things that are in between.”

And these “in-between” things are where the secret is. In order to do it, you’ll have to know how to apply a variety of standard guitar techniques and their different combinations to really give your guitar a serious vocal vibe. Gilbert continued:

“When you go from one note to the next, how do you get there? Is there just a stopping, and there’s a space? Or does it slide? Or does it hammer on? Or does it come from above? There’s so many different… And when and when it attacks, does it attack soft or hard or with a pinch to give it a little ‘E’ sound? There’s so many little details like that.”

Paul Gilbert - Blues For Rabbit (Behold Electric Guitar)

And this is easier said than done, right? There’s so much stuff to pay attention to. But as Paul adds, it’s far from an impossible task and it gets natural with time. As he pointed out:

“And, at first, it can seem like too much. Like, ‘Oh, it’s too many details, I can’t handle it.’ But, as you do it, it becomes an instinct, and you start to realize that singers… Just like a guitar player has their licks, singers have licks too. And if you start to learn that language, it starts to go smoother. It’s just a matter of spending time with it.”

While discussing melodies, Gilbert also explained how incredibly important it is to focus more on this aspect of your musicianship rather than getting a new shiny piece of gear. Recalling some of his clinics, he said:

“It was funny — I did a guitar clinic recently, and I had a lot of students, and I said, ‘The next time that you want to buy a pedal, like an effect pedal — don’t buy the pedal, learn another melody.’ Because that will change the way you sound more than pressing on a pedal.”

This may ruffle some feathers online, but Paul does make a good point. This doesn’t mean that you should forget about gear altogether. It’s just that you should know the extent of what these pedals will do and that they’re nothing but tools to further enhance your knowledge and skills. He added:

“Like, a pedal — you sort of hope like, ‘Well, I’ll play the same way I always play, and somehow, the pedal will make it something else.’ But if you really want to expand how you sound as a musician, learn a melody. And learn another one, learn another one…”

“And after you learn 300 melodies, it’s gonna change you. You’re gonna play the guitar in a very different way than you did at the beginning.”

Paul Gilbert — “Holy Diver” | Live at Sweetwater

Gilbert is easily one of the most down-to-earth guitar players of all time. In fact, in another recent interview, he talked about his incredibly wholesome approach to teaching his students, offering:

“Well, I get to sit in the teacher’s chair, which is generous of the student. But really, it’s just people talking about music together. Hopefully, I’ve had enough experience where I can come up with a solution to a problem or just an idea that keeps them excited about playing.”

“One of the things I have to keep in mind is if I want them to be happy — but also want myself to be happy. So, often I’ll show them two things. And I’ll say, ‘Well, this what you asked for, so I’ll do my best to show you how to untangle it. But I would love it if you played this, just because I think it’s gonna help, and I’d love to hear it.'”

The Paul Gilbert Interview: Racer X to Mr. Big

“So, I’ll make them an instructional video for a bass part. Now, this is a video for a professional, a person who does not need help, technically, right? I’m just teaching them the song.”

“That allows me to keep a level of respect — treat them like they’re a pro, and just teach them the song.” 

Photos: Lars Horstmann (GS2019 – Paul Gilbert), Oldangelmidnight (Oldangelmidnight’s Guitar pedals, 2011-10-29 16.35.07)

  • David Slavkovic

    David always planned for music to be nothing more than a hobby. However, after a short career as an agricultural engineer he ended up news editor at KillerGuitarRigs, senior editor at, as well as a freelance contributor to online magazines such as GuitaristNextdoor and brands like Sam Ash.