Over the years, I’ve probably spent in the tens of thousands of dollars on gear; from guitars to amps and effects, to cords and power strips, to microphones and recording/PA equipment, to chairs and stands. Looking back, that stuff adds up! On top of that, when I started going on a gear-buying binge back in the early 2000’s then started writing about the gear I’d buy or potentially buy, I started to gain a keen insight on evaluating gear, so I thought I’d share how I evaluate gear for purchase.
This isn’t intended to include stuff like music/gear stands or cords or other common things like that (I know, some may argue about some cords not being common, but I’m not going to go there). It also doesn’t include things like recording hardware and software or microphones and what-not. What I want to focus on is gear that actually directly produces or affects your tone in some way, shape, or form; specifically, guitars, amps, and effects. So here goes…
The Seven Steps to Gear Nirvana
- Check its visual appeal
- Does it look good? If so, move on…
- Plug it in and play as is
- Tweak it to dial in volume and EQ (if necessary)
- Play it again.
- Play chord progressions and little solos.
- NOTE: Be honest, and play it how you’d normally play it. For instance, don’t try to see it does metal if you’re a blues player. That’s a distraction.
- Repeat 3 and 4 until you get a feel for it in all its playable range from both a sound and touch perspective. At this point, you might say it’s crap. But if you like it after playing it, move on.
- Check it for construction quality:
- Are there any loose knobs?
- Are there any obvious flaws?
- Are there open seams that you don’t expect to be there?
- Is it sturdy enough to withstand your intended use for it.
- For instance, if it’s plastic, but you’re just going to use it in your bedroom, chances are it’ll be okay.
- This is a late addition and a great suggestion by a reader: Check the weight.
- Think about what you’re lugging on stage. I gig – a lot – and it’s an issue.
- Finally, check your wallet.
- Everyone has a different budget, so what you’re willing to pay is entirely up to you.
Some might question item 1. But more often than not, I hear people say, “This thing LOOKS SO COOL!” So, visual appeal is a factor to consider. For me, I can’t stand the look of pre-worn guitars, no matter how good they might sound or play (though I did make an exception with my pre-worn ’59 Les Paul Replica). If my guitar shows scratches, dings, or wear marks, I want to be the one who does all that. But that’s me. Frankly, I prefer a nice, shiny guitar. Or take, for instance, my Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay. For goodness sake, it’s a pedal! But that blue power coat finish and the bright blue LED just look killer on my board! 🙂
At first blush, this process seems almost too simplistic. But I developed this process from reviewing gear for this blog. After all, I’d only review gear that I would consider buying. But also, since I have a regular day job and review time was at a premium, I had to find a simple, repeatable way to evaluate gear, and it had to be simple enough so that I could easily remember what I did. Turns out, I could use this process not matter where I was, and on any kind of gear.
In any case, try it out when you evaluate your next set of gear!