Your musical instrument has served you well (and continues to). You’ve achieved a lot of firsts with it, from your first covers to your first gig.
There’s nothing wrong with it, save for a few dings here and there, which is only natural. However, you’ve been spending a lot of time online, browsing forums and reading reviews. You now want a new instrument (and a pricey one at that).
Like an itch that you have to scratch, you feel that you won’t find satisfaction until you buy the musical instrument (or gear) that you have been salivating over for weeks.
What you are experiencing might be a case of gear acquisition syndrome or GAS.
The Science of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS)
GAS can affect practically any hobbyist, from photographers to musicians. But what exactly is GAS?
GAS is defined as a desire to buy new gear — in this case, musical instruments and/or related equipment.
Perhaps you’re searching for a particular tone, and you are thinking that buying an artist’s signature instrument is the remedy to your woes. Or maybe you’ve heard a musician do wonders with a particular pedal and you want to replicate his sound.
And when you finally get your hands on the gear you’ve been dying to buy, the longing subsides, only to resurface later on when you acquire a new target.
To Splurge or Not
Whether you have serious aspirations to become a professional musician or you are a true hobbyist, the temptation to buy and amass instruments is part and parcel of being a musician. Browse forums devoted to musicians and musical instruments and you’ll quickly find threads discussing GAS.
Before you succumb to the temptation of buying another musical instrument or any other gear, especially if it has a hefty price tag, here are a few considerations to factor in.
● It’s what you bring to the table that matters
Would Jimi Hendrix still sound phenomenal using a Japanese lawsuit guitar? Could James Jamerson come up with that distinctive Motown sound with a generic bass guitar marketed for beginners?
While there are many variables that may come into play, essentially, it is the musician who is responsible for the sound — not the instrument, not the gear.
You can still create great music with your current instrument if you put in the time and effort to master it.
Indeed, upgrading has its benefits, including better tones and action.
● Make lemonade out of lemons
Some legendary musicians have made exceptional music using lousy gear. Again, it is the musician and what he brings to the table that matters. Even if you buy a Marcus Miller Sire V7, there is no guarantee that you can enter the pantheon of Bass Gods.
However, if you practice diligently and put in the time and effort to learn music theory, the instrument will be just the icing on the proverbial cake.
That, however, does not mean that you should buy the cheapest instrument or gear. On the contrary, you should buy the best equipment that you can currently afford.
If you are just starting out, there is no point in buying a pricey instrument. You do not know yet whether that particular instrument is the right one for you. But on the converse side of the coin, cheap musical instruments can set you back a significant sum and cause you to develop poor habits.
Whether you are in the market for your first musical instrument or you are planning to upgrade your current equipment, look beyond your budget — factor in your current skill level and the value of your intended purchase.
● Seek out that premium sound
How do premium gear sound? At a certain price point, there isn’t much difference from non-premium instruments. You will notice a big difference not only in your sound but also in the way you play. But well past that point, you’ll get diminishing returns.
And unless you are playing in a crowd full of musicians, the difference may hardly be noticeable.
Beyond investing in musical gear and instruments, you should pay more attention to practicing and studying.
Consider an Upgrade
If your GAS is driven primarily by your search for a better tone, you might want to consider upgrading your current instrument first. With the help of a local music shop or a technician, you can open up your playing to new sonic possibilities.
For example, you can buy new pick-ups, tuners, sustain blocks, knobs, preamps, and other items to improve the sound and playability of a guitar. These small upgrades can bring massive value for a fraction of the cost of a premium guitar, and in most cases, renew your enjoyment of your current gear.
Broaden Your Search
If you already have your heart set on getting a new premium instrument, you might want to widen your search a bit more.
Guitars and basses, for example, come in varying price ranges with a host of features. Big-name music equipment brands like Fender, Gibson, ESP LTD, and Paul Reed Smith all have offerings that cater to different budgets.
If you have an open mind, you might find a more affordable model than the one you’ve initially set your sights on.
Making the Choice
Should you buy the pricey instrument that you have been desiring for quite some time?
There’s no definitive answer to that question. You can play great tunes even with budget gear and instruments if you are committed to honing your craft. It could also be true that you might see a marked improvement in your playing by getting a better instrument or musical gear.
At the end of the day, there are only two things that matter: how much you can afford to shell out and your enjoyment of that instrument or gear. The brand or model that you play does not directly affect your musicianship.
That’s one of the first things that you need to learn by heart. Even if you are a gigging musician, there’s no shame in playing a mid-level instrument. To put it succinctly, the impressive model or high price of an instrument won’t be able to hide the fact that an instrumentalist still needs to practice more.