We've never had it soooo good. Guitarists searching for the ultimate tone are absolutely spoilt for choice like never before. From cutting edge technology to vintage tonality the modern guitarist has an endless choice of toys and noise makers. Thanks to the Internet we also know more than ever before. I was at a guitar show recently when I was asked by a 13 year old guitarist if my tele used alnico magnets and nitro-cellulose lacquer.
So where has all this choice and knowledge got us? Are we enlightened as musicians? Or are we just more confused? I believe the answer lies in there somewhere. I've heard young players who trawl for hours on YouTube listening to mind blowing amounts of great music who are amazing players. Truly the future is theirs, but I also know of players who seem overloaded. So much choice that they forget why the started playing guitar in the first place... which is as we all know - to woo the ladies!
So how do we cut through the myriad of distraction and actually choose the instruments that are to become our voice? The gear that is to express us.
There are 3 very important steps when it comes to choosing gear.
I believe that if you make these central to every purchase it's difficult to go wrong. The first is A/B'ing.
If you're going to a shop to try a pedal, take a pedal with you that you know so you have something to compare it to. Same with a guitar, even amps. If you're going to spend that much on an amp, haul an amp in with you that you know and sit there and listen. Your ears are absolutely amazing at comparing tones, but they have no memory. Without comparison you left groping in the dark. Find a spot and sit there and play and listen, unplug, re-plug, play and listen, and again, and again.
This brings me to the next step, train yourself to listen.
As musicians we are passionate, we get emotional, we sometimes feel the need to apply make-up and cross dress. (scratch the last one, maybe). This is why it so bloody easy to sell us stuff. With every faculty we have we get so caught up in the process.
When it comes to your tone though, you need to find a place that is free from this stuff. Free from hype and emotion. Free from preconception and expectation.
Dispassionately you need to ask yourself, do I really like this? Sometimes the answer will surprise you. Be completely honest with yourself. I have a really large collection of vintage pedals and amps and you know who cares? No one but me. But the stuff I have I love. I get some sounds that really inspire me to play. I don't care who makes them, what year they're made or what they cost which brings me neatly to my last point
You need to be honest with yourself. Can I afford it?
I got in debt pretty much the day I turned 18 and didn't get out of debt again till I was 24 all because of gear I had to have. I am a recovering gear'a'holic and I know first hand how much damage the 'must have it now' attitude can do. The answer is a simple numbers numbers game, you either can afford it or you can't at the moment. If you can't then save for it. I swear you play better when you're not in debt. Now I love the gear I have but I don't love having gear if you get what I mean. It's an important difference.
Here endeth the lesson