This Experimental Guitar Pedal Is a Good Habit to Have

Experimental pedals are making guitars exciting again

  • Electric guitar players are embracing electronic music.
  • The Chase Bliss Habit is a generative music mangler packed into a guitar pedal.
  • You can think of it as a kind of musical sketchpad.
The Chase Bliss Habit.

Chase Bliss

The Habit is not just another guitar effects pedal. It’s a "musical sketchpad and echo collector," and it’s awesome. 

Guitarists have always been the ultimate sufferers of GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome). We buy new guitars, try different strings, buy countless distortion pedals, and more, all to avoid practicing our scales or, you know, actually playing music. But recently, guitarists have started moving into weird, experimental, electronic effects, taking the electric guitar into the electronic music age. 

"The individual effects are different and of very high quality," user-experience designer and huge Habit fan Philipp Carlucci told Lifewire via direct message. "For example, I never heard pitch-shifting as good as with Habit. Most of the other effects are something you don’t get anywhere else."

My Ge-Ge-Ge-Generation

The $399 Habit, from respected boutique pedal maker Chase Bliss, is partly just another delay (echo) effect, but partly something entirely new—a semi-automatic generative music ration tool. Generative music is when some kind of automatic device creates sounds based on a set of rules. 

These days, it’s more likely to be done digitally, in software, but it can be much lower-tech than that. Brian Eno’s seminal album, Ambient 1: Music for Airports, used several long tape loops, some so long he had to thread them around chairs in the room to keep the loops taut. The different length loops cause the sparse music phrases to drift together and apart. 

The Habit keeps a constant rolling buffer of whatever you played in the last three minutes. Using a knob (or attached foot pedal), the player can scan back to any point in that recording and loop that section. This can also be controlled randomly, fed back onto itself, and run through the various delay and pitch-mangling effects. The results are extremely musical and can be inspirational. 

"Generative pedals are somewhat of a partner you play with. It is creating something out of your music that you then play with. A digital player you jam with, so to speak. You interact with the pedal/your music,” says Carlucci. 

Rebel Rebel

The electric guitar was an exciting, rebellious instrument, noisy, brash, and able to annoy parents and squares with almost no effort. It was the instrument of rock and roll, punk, and death metal. But in recent years, with the rise of electronic music as a mainstream, popular form, the guitar has been as fashionable as bagpipes. A look a the guitar forums sees a mixture of retirees and young hopefuls chasing the tones of Jimi Hendrix, Pink Floyd’s Dave Gilmour, and ZZ Top’s Billy Gibbons. Awesome players all, but not really cutting-edge stuff. 

In recent years, guitarists have gotten more experimental, and effects pedal makers like Chase Bliss have been pushing the possibilities. At the same time, guitar players have also started using drum machines, samplers, and other non-guitar gear. Some even use desktop software like Ableton Live to create loops and build songs on-the-fly. I play guitar, and much of my music starts by sampling my guitar, chopping it up, and then pushing it into weird and interesting places. 

A close up on the Chase Bliss Habit.

Chase Bliss

In a way, this is fitting. Electric guitarists have always been an experimental bunch. They cranked their amp volume and even slashed speaker cones (Dave Davies, The Kinks) to get that trademark distortion and used effects to create entirely new music styles (The Edge, U2). Pedals like the Habit might not be as home-spun, but they are exactly the weird kind of inspiration machines that modern guitar players love. 

"Beneath the cheery yellow exterior are some dark and depraved depths," says electronic musician Resonant_Space on the Elektronauts forums. "If you like things on the experimental side, I think you’ll dig this pedal. It’s highly controllable but not always predictable. You can be in some chill ambient drone territory, turn a knob–and in an instant, you’ve jumped the median headed into oncoming traffic."

You don’t have to look at a screen or use a mouse. You just play and twiddle knobs, and if you hook up an expression pedal, you can control it hands-free. While we might have a proliferation of middle-aged guitarists (aka Blooz Lawyers) rocking their way through their mid-life crises, the guitar remains as experimental as ever, and the Habit is a perfect tool for that.

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