Necessity

Dec13

On the run-up to Christmas, it’s as if your regular life is on speed for a few months – bright lights, mad panics, normally respectable members of the community fighting in toy aisles over this year’s fad item… and that’s just the start of it. But although the local churches and goodwill associations tell us that Christmas is not about material objects, their message often falls on deaf ears. For a lot of people, Christmas is one of the only times they can splurge, and throw money around like it’s going out of fashion. After all, who here HASN’T treated themselves in the Christmas holiday at one point? But, as guitar players, it isn’t that simple for us.

Walk into your local music shop and you are instantly overwhelmed by the mass of items that are begging for your attention and cash. And they hit you all so hard that by the time you recover, you’re stuck with something you didn’t really want. So now you’ve got to save for ANOTHER week for that pedal. You go in the next week, BAM, and you’re stuck with a whimsical set of maracas and still no pedal. It happens. It shouldn’t happen.

This article is about one thing and one thing alone – saving money. Now, I’m going to be honest with you right here. If you’re the sort of person that uses bits of left-over electrical cable as a belt and refuses to spend £5 to replace the broken D, A and high E strings on your second-hand Hohner Strat copy, then this article is not for you. This is not one of those infomercial-esque money saving programs where if you do X here and Y there, you will soon have Gibsons to burn. It’s not like that. This article is about necessities. Sometimes, we have a hard time distinguishing necessary from not, especially when we have money in our pocket. In some places in this article, I’m actually going to recommend spending MORE than you were planning to. But before you close your wallet in disgust, I’m thinking long term, and if you’re serious about guitar playing, so should you.

The Little Things

You know the sort of thing. The little tiny things we can’t do without, such as straplocks, straps, tuners, slides, capos, picks… the list is endless. But is all of it necessary? That’s the question.

OK, there are some things that are DEFINITELY necessary, such as a pick, a strap, and some straplocks. Straps and straplocks, though, are subject to debate – what’s right for you? Is that £6 strap going to survive gigging? Do you WANT to gig? If you don’t, is that £25 strap REALLY necessary? Of course, the longer you’ve been playing, the easier these questions become – experience will prove to be your best and most trusted teacher. But at first, it can all be a little daunting. However, the fact of the matter is, if you plan to gig, you need a decent strap and some good straplocks.

When you think about straplocks, those little tiny pieces of metal (or plastic, which we’ll come to in a minute) can cause quite the discussion, can’t they? And I bet you’ve seen those small, cheap, black plastic straplocks that require no drilling or anything. And, if you are trying to save money, I bet you’ve considered them, and maybe even bought some. But is that really the best idea?

Consider this – you buy a set of £15 straplocks that protect your instrument for good. You’re out of pocket £15, but you’ve got peace of mind knowing that those straplocks will probably outlive you. Buy a £2.50 set that isn’t that reliable, and you could end up paying upwards of £50 in repairs. You might even have to start shopping for a new axe. So not only do you have to get a new guitar/pay for repairs, you also have to buy a decent set of straplocks. You’re out of pocket £67.50 in that case (£50 for the repairs, £15 for the new straplocks, and £2.50 for the straplocks that caused the whole ordeal). In the long term, I’d rather get the £15 set. If you can get them, have a look at the straps that come with straplocks already attached. No drilling, and a good quality set of straplocks to boot. I got mine for the same price as a set of Jim Dunlop straplocks by themselves, meaning I’ve also saved money on a strap. Well worth it, in my opinion. If your guitar is broken, then were you REALLY saving money? No, of course not.

As for picks, buy a few different gauges/brands, and then find a particular one you like and stick with it. As for things like slides (and, to a lesser extent, capos – I say lesser extent because no matter what your style is, you probably should consider one), this is yet another case of necessity. Yes, it WILL broaden your horizons slightly, but why pay for stuff you won’t use? Consider your style before you leap at a slide. Will it suit you? Will you use it? Is it necessary?

Comfort In Sound Part I – Of Amps And Ampleness

This only applies to those of us that require amplification (electric players and acoustic players that don’t like being drowned out), of course. If you play electric, you obviously need an amp. There’s no two ways about it. You can’t appreciate the full extent of your guitar’s capabilities (the sustain, the tone, that dial on your guitar that seemingly doesn’t do anything in particular) without some sort of amplification. But what do you REALLY need?

First of all, if you haven’t heard of a company/amp (I mean if you haven’t heard ANYTHING at all), leave it alone. I learnt this the hard way. Sure, my AcroBat practice amp is good for practicing, but I wouldn’t trust it at a club or gig. I’m getting myself a Marshall 30w, which is fine for what I’m realistically planning to do over the next 5-10 years (hey, if an agent spots us and demands we tour the globe’s biggest arenas for all the money we could dream of in the next three weeks, I’ll consider a 50w). And that’s fine for me – I’ve done some research into it, and yes, I did consider the 100w 4×12 cab. But what’s the point? The amp I need is primarily for A) playing in my room to develop new ideas and B) playing in very small places for no money where my fresh ideas are met with an overall sense of apathy. Besides, another thing to take into account is convenience. The bands you see on TV playing in front of a wall of Marshall cabs don’t have to lug them around themselves in a very small car. The bands you see on TV don’t have to toss a coin before a practice to see which poor soul has to load the gear into a car. Smaller amps cause no such trouble, and they’re nearly as loud as the ones that require a group of burly roadies with names like “Dustin” and “Twinge”. That’s something to think about.

Comfort In Sound Part II – Pedalpushers

Every guitar player who hasn’t taken their guitar to live in a cave knows that the market is forever being bombarded with new items. And some of them are truly revolutionary, and change the face of guitar playing. Some don’t. An awful lot of us get stuck with those that don’t. It’s a matter of – you guessed it – necessity.

Look at your set-up (I know that’s no hardship, because if there’s one thing a guitarist loves to do besides recite his set-up to an astonished onlooker, it’s to gaze upon his own brilliance). You should have a guitar, a pick, and if you play electric, a lead and an amp. Got more? We all do. I wouldn’t call myself excessive with my gear – I’ve got a Crybaby wah pedal, a Zoom 505mkII multi-FX unit and I’ll probably get a few more (perhaps an independent sustainer,). But many people have effects and other items that sit in the closet. Why? Because they’re not necessary.

When it comes to effects, we all know the truth. It is TOUGH. You go into a music store, and you’re just mesmerized by them all. You go in – again, knowing EXACTLY what you’re there for – and you can very easily be lured into something you neither need nor want.

Another truth – your sound (that sound that makes you you) can cost hundreds upon hundreds, even thousands. And if you care that much, then it’s worth every penny. But another truth is that some people feel there’s a stigma attached to certain items and sounds. There’s a thrift-shop aura around certain multi FX units (including my beloved Zoom 505mkII) that is ridiculous. And it’s a real shame that people refuse to even try some units because of hearsay. TRY them and clear your mind.

Comfort In Sound Part III – Your Voice

So far, we’ve covered amps, effects, straps, straplocks, and pretty much everything in between. But we have yet to cover the most important thing of all – your guitar. And there is one brilliant way to save money on guitars. This is really more for the beginner-approaching-intermediate, but I think it’s a good general statement:

Don’t invest in “chunks”.

By this, I mean that if you start with a Squier at about £150, fair enough – we all need something to start with, and you can’t go far wrong with a Squier (regardless of what some nay sayers will tell you). Then let’s say you’ve decided to make the commitment and you want to get a beautiful cherry red Epiphone SG for £460. Don’t talk yourself into getting a “mid-range” guitar to make sure you still want to do it – if you really want to do it, and I mean REALLY, you’ll know it. It’s an intuitive thing. Because if you get, say, an Ibanez for about £250 to make sure you want to invest in the SG, I can guarantee you’ll get the SG anyway. And when you do, what was the point in buying the Ibanez? It was money that could have been put towards the SG. Sure, you could sell the Ibanez and the Squier, but you still wouldn’t have enough from the resale to get the SG, and the resale value of the Ibanez CERTAINLY wouldn’t justify getting it in the first place. Think. Thinking actually saves you a fair bit of money.

If you’re looking towards getting your 20th or 30th guitar, then we’re usually talking about more money and even more brain racking. And in that respect, it’s both easier and harder at this level than ever before – easier because at this level, you know EXACTLY what you want and need from a guitar. Harder because at this level, you usually spend a bit more on guitars, which means that choice can blind you.

And with choices come questions. Lots of questions. HARD questions.

What’s the point in this one? Do you like Kurt Cobain enough – and is it tonally different enough from your other axes – to warrant spending $600 on a JagStang? Do you like BB King’s style, or do you just like the way the Lucille looks on you? Is this a “trophy” guitar, or are you actually going to get your money’s worth? Another way to make sure you definitely want a guitar is to try it once a week for a reasonable stretch of time, and then go and look at other things you want that cost the same or less. You’ll get more cynical and realistic about your potential purchase, and you may save a bit of money.

Conclusion

Guitars are investments, regardless of how you look at it – if you’re a beginner you’re investing in good learning conditions. If you’re leaving the beginner phase, you’re investing in the sounds that are going to define your whole sound and guitar philosophy. And if you’ve mastered your craft, then it could be for any number of reasons – a monetary investment in the future vintage market, an investment in experience, who knows. And investments cost money. And unwise investments always seem to cost a lot more. I hope you’ve found this article helpful and enjoyable, and I hope your next investment brings you exactly what you want from it.

Merry Christmas, and happy spending.

About John Tucker

John Tucker is a guitarist from South Wales in the UK. Although he is young, he has a lot of experience - music has been an active part of his life for about a decade, and he has vast concert experience from the various bands he's been in throughout the years.

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