I’m an avid golfer, and one of my all-time favorite golfers is Arnold Palmer. During his heyday back in the 1960’s, he was known as a hard-charger who seemed to take a lot of risks. But he was rewarded with several wins and an appreciative fan base who could dig what he was about.
So it was a real pleasure to come across an article he wrote in the latest issue of GolfDigest magazine. Each month, GolfDigest has a “10 Rules” column, and this month, the 10 Rules were entitled, “On Being a Savvy Risk-Taker.” After reading it, I got inspired by a couple of the rules and especially how they relate to guitar gear. Here’s the list of rules from the article:
- Measure risk against reward
- Think twice before reaching deep
- Bold putting isn’t risky
- Don’t compound mistakes
- A low ball means lower risk
- Don’t try things you haven’t practiced
- Be true to yourself
- Reduce risk from the rough
- Know the difference between risks and gambles
- Don’t let a partner tempt you
The two rules that got my attention in particular were rules #2, #4 and #7.
Rule #2, “Think twice before reaching deep” is related to something that I frequently say in this blog: You’re the one responsible for your own buying decisions. In the GolfDigest article, Arnie described how when Jack Niklaus arrived on the scene, he could crush the ball, and it was difficult to not try to keep up with him. The only problem was that “reaching deep” to get that extra distance usually resulted in a total loss of accuracy.
How that translates to buying gear is that while other people’s input can indeed be helpful, in the end, it’s your decision and only you can determine if some gear will work for you. And it’s also fine to want to get gear like your favorite artists, but no matter what gear you play, you’re going to sound like you. Overshadowing all this is that you shouldn’t feel pressured to “keep up” with other people’s rigs.
Rule #4, “Don’t compound mistakes” may on the surface seem to not have anything to do with gear, but from a certain, very real perspective it has a lot to do with gear, and it’s something I’ve had to learn the hard way. Most gearheads have LOTS of gear; I mean LOTS. I’m no exception. In my quest for the Unicorn we call tone, I’ve spent a lot of time going down various paths of gear acquisition, only to find that that path is not the “right” path, and as a result have left lots of unused gear in my wake. Sound familar? To me, that’s the result of compounding mistakes.
Picture this: I get in my mind that I want a certain effect or flavor in my tone. I do some research, and finally decide on a piece of gear. I take it into my studio and gig with it, only to find that it’s missing some quality. A reasonable person would just return the gear – maybe even take a bit of a loss and take a “learning tax.” But noooooo, the stubborn gear freak in me thinks that everything can be “tweaked,” so I buy let’s say a pedal to compensate. But that doesn’t get me there. Then I buy NOS tubes. Still that doesn’t get me there. Then I swap out speakers. Almost there. And so on and so forth.
That happened with my Fender Hot Rod. To be completely honest – and hindsight is 20/20 – the Hot Rod is all about clean headroom. In stock form, its clean tones with just a tad spring reverb are simply gorgeous. But its dirty tones leave much to be desired. So I swapped tubes and swapped speakers. And I did that quite a bit. It took me about three or four rounds of changes to finally get a good dirty tone, only to find that I really didn’t want to use the amp as a dirty amp. Talk about compounding mistakes! 🙂
Rule #7 “Be true to yourself” is pretty self-explanatory, but of all the rules that impressed me the most, it was this one. The reason for this is because if it’s one thing that I’ve learned in all my gear purchases, it is to look at acquiring gear from the perspective of what it will do for the music I play; that is, is it relevant? I’ve come across and played some REALLY cool gear, and in my less wary days, if it was cool, I’d buy it. But now, I’m realistic about my gear purchases. If it doesn’t help what I play or perhaps plan to play, then chance are, I won’t buy it.
Take, for instance, the Dumble amp. Having listened to one and briefly played one, I was thoroughly impressed! But that’s also way beyond my spending limit, and musically, I don’t think it’ll get me much more than what I can get with my current rig.
Finally, here’s a funny thought. A friend of mine told me of something he read: I get the best gear that I can get because if I suck, then I know it’s not the gear. 🙂 Love it! Rock on!