Posts Tagged ‘gear thoughts’

In addition to being a guitar gear freak, I’m also obsessive about fine wines. The other night, I cracked open a bottle of 1985 Beaulieu Vineyard Georges De Latour Private Reserve Cabernet Sauvignon from my collection, and shared it with my best friend. I’ve been wanting to drink this particular wine ever since I won it at auction a few months back, and was just waiting for the right time to drink it. But I was also getting a bit worried about keeping it too long because unlike their French counterparts, California wines aren’t known for their longevity. But there are some exceptions out there, and this bottle was definitely one of the exceptions.

The cork was intact when I opened the bottle, which totally surprise my friend and I. This meant that the wine would have very little sedimentation. There was also perhaps on 4 mm of seepage into the cork, which meant that the cork used was absolutely top quality in this case. We knew we were in for a real treat.

We both took a small tasting pour, swirled the wine, then took our tasting sips. Both of us closed our eyes, then after swallowing that first taste, we both at the same time said, “OH. MY. GAWD!!!!” As wine connoisseurs for over thirty years, we’ve literally tasted thousands of wines, but this wine topped both of our lists as the best cabernet we’ve EVER had! In 1991, Robert Parker rated this wine a 91. Now in 2011, twenty years later, I don’t think this wine is even rateable. To us, it surpassed all of the best wines we’ve tasted.

Over the three hours that it took us to finish the bottle, the wine’s character changed, demonstrating to us just how marvelous, majestic, and magnificent this wine was. It was so complex and sophisticated, that we both, who have a fairly wide and experienced wine vocabulary, had a difficult time describing the wine. In the end, we both agreed that this single bottle of wine bestowed upon us a genuine religious experience.

Religious experiences don’t happen very often, and at least for me, are brought on by things or events that are truly awe-inspiring. For those unfamiliar with the term, a religious experience is one in which it is virtually impossible to articulate the feeling. It’s an experience so profound that words would only diminish it.

With gear, this has happened to lots over the years. Here are some that I’ll share here:

  • The very first time I tried out a BOSS CE-2 Chorus pedal. I have a few chorus pedals now, but when I need a particular chorus sound, this is the only pedal that’ll give it to me.
  • After years of looking for a good delay pedal, playing the Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay sent me off into the nether world. There was simply nothing like it.
  • Getting my very first high-end guitar, a Gibson Dot ES-333. Up until that point, I just had some very cheapo guitars, and getting that ES was like a rite of passage.
  • Unpacking and playing “Amber,” my first Gibson Les Paul. I had wanted one forever it seems, and when I finally had the cash to get one, I can’t even begin to describe the mix of emotions I experienced as I held her in my hands that first time.
  • Playing my Yamaha APX900 acoustic at the guitar shop where I bought it. No Martin or Taylor has ever sounded as good to me plugged in. Yamaha’s ART pickup system is unlike any other.

As I write this entry, I realize now why I and probably so many others are such gear junkies: We thrive on religious experiences. Besides being virtually impossible to describe, religious experiences are the ultimate feel-good. They’re also addictive… So it’s not a small wonder why I’ve got so much gear. πŸ™‚

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I’ve heard some great advice, and hopefully have even given good advice about guitar gear over the years. So after a lot of thought, I decided to compile a list of stuff I’ve either heard or shared in this blog or on the forums. They’re not in any particular order, so I’ll just put them in bullets:

  • “I get the best gear that my money will buy so that if I suck, at least I’ll know it’s not the gear…”
    A friend jokingly once shared that with me. But there’s really a ring of truth to it; at least as far as quality is concerned. Remember, you don’t have to pay top-dollar for great quality. There’s lots of stuff on the market that will do the job and then some, and not cost you an arm and a leg. On the other hand, sometimes quality does cost.
  • Think for yourself. No one can tell you what YOU should think “good” tone is; they can only share their version of it.
    This is one my pet peeves of the online forums. There are lots of forum rats who live there who speak eloquently enough that the unwary will hang on every word they say. They could claim that what most players might think is a buzz-saw-sounding tone is great tone, andΒ  their “followers” would take that as an edict from heaven.
  • There is no “best” __________
    This is a corollary to the point above. To me, there’s nothing worse than listening to or reading someone’s bombast about what gear’s the best. There is no best. Take overdrive pedals, for instance. There are TONS on the market. But I can’t tell you how many threads I’ve read where so and so says that such and such is the best overdrive pedal on the planet. If there were a best overdrive, we’d only have one, and it would be the Timmy. πŸ™‚
  • No amount of gear will make you sound like _______________
    There’s the “brown sound” and Slash’s tone and SRV’s tone and Robben Ford’s tone. You could get all the gear they have, and guess what? You’ll sound like you. Deal with it. πŸ™‚
  • If you’re new to tube amps, start out with an inexpensive and “tweakable” amp.
    Some might disagree with me on this point, but it’s advice that I got from Neal at Tone Merchants in Orange, CA when I was considering buying a tube amp after having played a Line 6 FlexTone III and other solid state amps for years. He actually recommended a Fender Hot Rod, which I ended up getting, but there are some great inexpensive tube amps on the market to start out with. And frankly, if I had to do it all over again, I’d start out with a low-wattage tube amp like a Fender Champ 600 or VHT Special 6. These both cost less than $200, and will help teach you about tube overdrive and how a tube amp responds to various inputs. I still have the Hot Rod, and I still use it, but it’s loud – real loud. With a low-wattage amp, you can crank it and not blow your ears out; even if you hook it up to an extension speaker.
  • There isn’t necessarily a correlation between higher price and “better.”
    Just because something costs more doesn’t mean it’ll make you sound better or will work with your rig. It goes back to never taking anyone’s word on what’s good. There might be some gear that’s all the rage, but until you try it, you’ll never know how it’ll sound. You might do just as well with something that costs half the price. For me, that’s the Mad Professor Deep Blue Delay. I have the original, hand-wired version. But I tried the PCB version and it does the job good enough for my uses. It’s slightly different with respect to being just a tad brighter to my ears, but that’s not something that can’t be fixed with EQ.
  • Don’t buy gear based upon songs you hear on the radio or on your iPod.
    Keep in mind that professionally mixed and produced recordings have been tweaked to the hilt. Compression and reverb have been added, EQ has been adjusted, perhaps even stereo imaging has been applied. All these affect the original tone. Even if you go to a concert, you’re at the mercy of the sound engineer. For instance, last year I went to see the Experience Hendrix show with Joe Satriani. When Joe first came out, he sounded like crap! Way too loud, and super-compressed as to be muddy. The sound guys and Joe made adjustments, and it sounded fine after that. But it was a lesson for me to only trust an evaluation to being right in front of the gear to make the adjustments myself.
  • Take your time with your decisions, and try out several if you can. You never know what you might turn up.
    Last year, a couple of weeks after I got my Yamaha APX900 acoustic/electric, I realized that I needed a chorus pedal. So I went down to my favorite store and tried out four pedals from different manufacturers, and lined them all up in a row so I could make a comparison. Mind you, I didn’t look at the prices, I just lined them up to see how they worked with the guitar through an acoustic amp. I tried the MXR, BOSS CE-5, Homebrew THC, and Red Witch Empress.I immediately dismissed the MXR, kind of liked the CE-5, but could only get a couple of good tones, loved the THC for its simplicity, yet wide range of tones, and really dug the Red Witch. I ended up getting the THC because it was so smooth. The Empress was out of the ballpark with respect to price for me, and though the THC was pushing it price-wise, I went with it because I really bonded with its tone. The point to all this is that I had a few to try out. I originally was just going to get a CE-5, but after doing my comparison, it was clear that it wasn’t going to work for me. And to be honest, I had never heard of the THC before I tried it out. But I’m glad I did as I’ve never tired of it, and it has stayed on my acoustic board since.
  • If it ain’t broke, TRY not to fix it…
    People who suffer from GAS can never stop trying and buying gear, so I’m not even going to say “don’t fix it.” It’s futile. However, I will say this: Take some time to bond with your gear before you make any snap decisions. For me, buying gear is all about how I’ll use it on stage and in the studio. I control my urges by keeping those in context, and always asking myself, “Will this work for me when I’m performing or in the studio? And have I explored the possibilities of the gear that I have?” I suppose anything can be rationalized. But I’ve found that my rate of acquisition has really reduced since I started adding context to my gear evaluations.For instance, until I got the Timmy, I hadn’t purchased an overdrive for well over a year – probably almost two years. I evaluated them, yes, but didn’t purchase them. The primary reason is that I got a great attenuator, and mostly used tube overdrive from my amps. So I stopped using many of my OD pedals except for my Tone Freak Effects Abunai 2. I actually removed the other two from my board (the KASHA, and Doodad Check-a-bord), and just went with a single for a long time. Now the Timmy sits on my board with the Abunai, and the two will stay.
  • Finally, don’t ever be embarrassed by the gear that you have…
    Way back when I played nothing but acoustic guitar, and occasional electric, I used to worry about the “cheapness” of my gear. I actually felt embarrassed that my acoustic was a cheapo Yamaha, and the electric I was using was a hand-me-down, beat up Ibanez Strat. I one time expressed that to a close friend whom I worked for in several theatrical orchestras (he was a conductor). His reply to me was, “Dude, who cares? You sound awesome. You could probably spend on some great equipment, but you sound great and are obviously comfortable with your gear, so why be embarrassed?” This was backed up by the drummer who was playing in the show who told me to keep on using the Ibanez because it had such a great dirty, ratty tone. I wasn’t even half as good as I am now, but I learned a great lesson that it’s what you do with your gear that matters, not necessarily how “good” that gear is.

In all honesty, this article took me about a month to finish. I originally thought it would be a slam dunk to write, but I realized after the first couple of points that I wanted it mean something, and hopefully it does. ROCK ON!!!

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kiyosakiBack in the late 90’s and into the turn of the century, I got swept up in the craze of Robert Kiyosaki’s “Rich Dad, Poor Dad.” I soaked up what he was saying like a sponge. It made so much sense to me! I was hooked, and proceeded to buy all his books, and two of his board games! I wanted to learn how to get out of the rat race and get on my way to real financial freedom. I even went so far as creating my own business that was actually a great idea. Then reality struck. My business failed because of my inexperience and ignorance of running a business. I couldn’t keep up with my expenses. I sometimes couldn’t make payroll. It was tough!

Even still, I kept on buying Kiyosaki’s books. But by about the fourth book, I realized he was saying the same damn thing that he had said in the previous books, only rephrasing the message so it sounded different. That was also when I came to the realization that he perhaps Kiyosaki was just a front man, and that his “advice” wasn’t all that sound. What he was really after in getting rich was to sell more fucking books and “Rich Dad, Poor Dad” paraphernalia!

It was like this personal development seminar company that I got involved with in the early 90’s. They had three courses: Basic, Advanced, and Leaderhip, plus a satellite seminar for couples. I took the Basic and Advanced and my wife and I did the couples course. Those three courses changed our lives forever! And for the good. But then we both realized that what the company was really after was getting people to take the courses, and go through all of them, then recruit more people! They weren’t really interested in creating leaders. They were interested in filling up the classes! Needless to say, I divorced myself from this organization once I realized what they were up to. I’m not the only one who became enlightened to this, as the company is no longer in existence.

I shared this with you because while I learned a great deal from reading through Kiyosaki’s books and attending these seminars, they ultimately led me to one ultimate truth: I am responsible for my success. Only I can make the choices to excel at something or remain in obscurity. I can pray as much as I want, and dream and scheme till the end of my days; but in the end, I’m responsible for where I take myself in life.

So what does all this have to do with the title of this article? I shared these two experiences because despite the fact that they ultimately turned out to be somewhat fraudulent, they did have a lot of great material. Common to them both was this concept of “You get what you pay for…” Within that context, both stressed that we should beware of “free advice.” Free costs nothing, and in many cases, it’s very appealing. But blindly heeding free advice is essentially putting your success into another person’s hands, and not taking the responsibility for it. Yeah, free is good, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t come without a cost down the line.

This concept of free advice applies to buying gear. Like most gear sluts, I hang out in a few online forums to see what people are playing, and to engage in conversations. It’s great fun. But one thing I’ve noticed a lot in the forums is the plethora of free advice saying that things like “X cable is better because it has the lowest capacitance. You should get this.”

One thing I’ve learned in writing this blog for the past couple of years is to avoid giving advice. I’ll make suggestions for sure, and if asked, will say what I do to approach a particular problem. Usually, I’ll just tell people to try out a bunch of gear to see what they like because everyone’s idea of good tone varies from person to person, and tone being subjective pretty much behooves the buyer to “try before you buy.”

What sparked the idea of this article was a comment a reader left on my review about the Roland CE-5 Chorus: “I find it amusing that every other guitar player says that a pedal is better solely because it is analog, regardless if they actually own an analog pedal or not. I’d like to blind-test these people and see if the can actually tell the difference between a digital and an analog pedal. Maybe you can blind-test yourself, you maybe pleasantly surprise at the result. Well, unless you are Eric Johnson anyways…

That got me to thinking about all the free advice that’s out there regarding gear. I’m not saying you should ignore it. But use the free advice you get as reference points rather than guides. Make decisions based upon your own research. Even with the reviews I give here, remember, they’re my personal opinions. Ultimately, you have to make the choice. But if you go in blindly, and you’re disappointed with what you get well, you read the title…

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