This is a post regarding musical equipment, but it could easily apply to any artistic or creative domain.
Despite my already over-full guitar arsenal, I got another one recently (a gift for my 40th birthday, technically): the legendary Parker Fly. This one is a “pre-refined” version from 1997, and it’s really something special. It’s probably the best electric guitar I own now, and that’s saying something since my standards are very high and I own a lot of guitars. It brought back to my mind a topic that’s worth talking about, which I mention in my book Keys to Prolific Creativity: you should buy good gear.
The importance having a good instrument and other effects in the music industry is self-evident, but is a more complex issue than it appearss on the surface. We live in a world of limitations. Budget, space, and even artistic skill level affect what constitutes “good gear.” Professionals don’t buy expensive guitars simply because they have the money to do so; guitars are, like any tool, an investment directed toward the production of an artistic product. For a beginner, who can’t justify a big expense, it’s not a simple as “invest in good equipment.” Even if said beginner was independently wealthy, and money was no object, he wouldn’t even know what good gear is.
The rich amateur is where the music equipment industry focuses most of its product development and marketing. “Signature series” instruments and legacy brands do a lot of work convincing “aspiring” artists to part with their hard-earned money. I just checked, and a Gibson Les Paul Standard costs just shy of $3,000 US. That’s a lot of money for a guitar, especially considering the headstock is almost guaranteed to break off at some point (that’s more than a meme; I traded a Gibson to a friend years ago, and the headstock broke the next week. I felt awful) and the instrument doesn’t sound, play, or look better than other brands which cost a fraction of what Gibson charges. There will be no shortage of demand for Les Pauls, though, because Jimmy Page played one. Ace Frehley played one. Zakk Wylde played one (sort of).
Picking up equipment because a player you like endorses it isn’t a bad shortcut. In fact, if you have lots of money, it has definite benefits. You know that if you have the same instrument as a player you like, it will technically be possible to play the same things he did, but there is more to it than that. Often overlooked in the gear discussion is how an instrument makes you feel. If you feel inspired to pick up the instrument and play every day, if you look forward to holding it in your hands and bettering your craft, if it makes you feel like the professional you want to be, then the guitar (or whatever else it is) is a good artistic investment. To that end, how an instrument looks matters, too. Beautiful wood grain, exciting colors, and unique shapes are good features if they encourage you to get out and gig or just to pull your guitar down off the wall and practice.
All of this is quite apart from the quality of the instrument itself. A guitar that is easier to play or on which it is easier to generate good tone will make your job as a musician easier and improve your progress. You’ll feel more inspired to work when you know that you are going to hear what you imagine. This also applies to amplifiers for electric guitarists and bassists. I used to say that if you had 1,000 dollars to spend on an electric guitar setup (especially in the world of high gain), it would be best to spend $100 on the guitar and $900 on the amplifier and speakers. That ratio has changed in my mind due to advancements like amp sims (fun fact: my new album has no real amps on it), and while the amplification of an electric guitar is critically important, it’s not nearly as exciting as the guitar itself. Amps sit in the background. We don’t spend time looking at them and feeling them in our hands. When we plug in, it’s the guitar we feel connected to; we don’t play and think of how the amp sounds, we think we’re hearing the guitar.
So back to the new Parker. It reminds me of these lessons. It’s a guitar that looks cool, but also sounds great. Everything feels easier to play on it than even my best shredder guitars (a custom RG and and a Music Man JP). It has all the technical features of my John Petrucci, including a piezo pickup, but the fly ends up sounding just a bit better in every dimension. Most importantly, though, it makes me want to play. I should be focusing on writing books right now for my current product cycle, but it’s hard not to take out the guitar and practice at least a little in the mornings (and the evenings).
So yes, if you are a musician, give yourself permission to buy great gear, and you’ll find that you’re more productive with it, even if it doesn’t make you technically sound better than cheaper alternatives.
If you want to hear my music, check out my latest album, Return, on Bandcamp, or listen on your favorite streaming service. For more tips on creativity, check out the book I wrote on the creative process:
Also check out Afterglow: Generation Y, which you can get for free when you buy the new album from Bandcamp.