words Al Woods
The other night I witnessed a performance by an underground band which shook me… but not in a good way. The lead guitarist has of this band has the unique honour of probably producing the most terrible tone I had ever had the misfortune to bear witness to.
As far as gear goes, the guy was loaded up to his ears in the best equipment. His top of the line guitar boasted not one but two clip-on tuners, in addition to two tuners on the pedal board, plus another one built into the best solid-state amp I have ever seen in a garage band… yet the guy behind the guitar was completely out of tune! It was probably the worst tone I have ever heard. It is rather ironic because the band had a small fortune worth of investment in the gear they were using. The gear being used by the lead guitarist included a large pedal board, multiple multi-effect DSP based pedals, several on-board DSP effects and modelling on his amp… and even though he had all his equipment turned on the whole time, the tone that came out of his guitar and be compared to nails on a chalkboard.
His problem was simple. He had made a massive investment in his gear, but probably none or not near enough investment in learning how to play. It would have been a service to all mankind if he had spent even a small portion of that money in learning to play.
Can great gear improve your music?
My response to that is a loud and resounding YES. On my way home from the gig, my friends and I were still reeling from the awful experience and someone wondered if gear could make you a better player. Gear does help, however, you cannot skip the part where you actually learn how to play and hope that just by adding more and more gear you will magically sound great.
Gear can help you play better by inspiring you to play longer and enjoy the process more. This extra practice is what improves your skill.
When you are a beginner initially learning how to play, the only thing that really matters is that your guitar is a good quality one that plays easily, stays in tune, and intonates properly.
It is only after we have some playing experience under our belt that your gear or equipment starts having more of an impact. Once we have learnt the basics and can use our instrument well, that is when many an aspiring guitar player hits a block. We become bored of the same old. That is when the right gear or a new gadget can help rekindle the love for playing.
Who exactly is a Gear Head?
A humorous definition of a gear head is someone with more money than sense who buys gear at an alarming rate. Gearhead can also be termed as a disease infecting many musicians with no known cure.
Usually gearheads are people who are not part of the regular playing scene anymore, but still love to play their guitars, only their “shows” are held in the living room with a rapt audience of their wives, kids, pets, or no one at all.
If you can relate to any of these symptoms, you are most definitely a gear head.
- The words Gibson, Fender, or PRS made an appearance in your wedding speech –
- You believe that an 80’s B.C. Rich “graphics” guitar is a collector’s item –
- Your basement stores more than 16 guitars
- You have had to install more electrical circuitry to plug in your guitar pedals –
- You have opened up a guitar case and said, “I didn’t know I owned this . . .” –
- You have two or more effect pedals that you don’t remember what they do –
- You can identify every piece of gear on the stage, but can’t remember the name of the song after watching an MTV video
- You think a 60’s Gibson Les Paul makes an elegant living room decoration –
- You are using more than two amps as end tables in your family room –
The final point
While gear can’t replace practice or lessons, it CAN make you a better player by keeping you inspired and interested. If you are just starting off, focus on acquiring the skills and learn how to play. However, if you are a player with some experience, don’t feel bad about investing in gear as it can take your playing to the next level.