Player Meets Collector...Why Music Gear Isn't a Bad Thing
Is Less Always More?
by Chris Loeffler
Recently, Prophets of Rage guitarist Tom Morello made the audacious claim that gear “does not matter at all, ever, in any circumstance.” Putting aside the contradiction of that statement coming from someone whose most iconic work is arguably reliant on very specific gear, it does expose a persistent undercurrent in the musician community that using less gear is a sign of a master. Where this elitist “anti-gear” sentiment comes from, be it jealousy, the competitive nature of some players, or confusing one’s personal opinion as the only way to do something, the fact is that statements of this ilk are always stated in a “Musician’s Musician” tone/context.
I believe one of the biggest issues at play is this; while gear is enabling, it can also be used as a an excuse not to continue to improve and grow as a player. Forums are filled with people chasing elusive tones by cycling through dozens of expensive pieces of gear, and they fall into the habits collectors of any other hobby...acquisition can feel like progress. GAS (Gear Acquisition Syndrome) is real, and it can be painful. As such, a small (but very vocal) group of players replace learning music theory or techniques with purchasing more and more gear. They plug into it, play with it for a few practice sessions with their friends, and move on to the next piece of gear.
There’s nothing wrong with collecting (it’s not like we’re preventing kids from getting Star Wars action figures because we’re buying them all and keeping them in their packaging), but I understand the perception that choosing to purchase something that inherently changes what you’re playing (like an effect pedal or new amp) rather than learning new scales seems like “cheating.” Yet they don’t have to be (and shouldn’t be) mutually exclusive.
There will always be someone who can’t mangle their way through a pentatonic but plays through a NASA-worthy effects space station that costs more than a new compact car, and there will always be someone who will knock your socks off with nothing between their instrument and their amp but a cable. The reality is one doesn’t necessarily hold more virtue than the other. Hundreds of hours of woodshedding to learn to play the right note at the right time take dedication, and it is in no way undermined by your bandmate who bought the flavor of the month delay pedal and reverb unit and is able to fill the room with refractions by playing a few single notes. I don’t want to hear the solo to "Bulls on Parade" played on a nylon sting acoustic, and I don’t want to hear Jimi’s solo of "All Along the Watchtower" through a Dumble amp.
David Gilmour once said he could play an Affinity Strat into a Gorilla amp and still sound like him, and I believe that. He doesn’t do that, however, because high-quality gear that suits his style and approach allows him to express himself exactly the way he wants. Great gear will not make a player better, but it can make playing easier (staying in tune), more enjoyable (responsive pickups), and more inspired. There’s no shame in loving gear, and there’s no superiority in eschewing it.
Chris Loeffler is a multi-instrumentalist and the Content Strategist of Harmony Central. In addition to his ten years experience as an online guitar merchandiser, marketing strategist, and community director he has worked as an international exporter, website consultant and brand manager. When he’s not working he can be found playing music, geeking out on guitar pedals and amps, and brewing tasty beer.