Tag Archives: amplifier

I wish I’d had a camera

 

What follows is a true story.

In 2002ish, I was in a band called Gwendolyn Speaks, with some friends who were superb musicians and singers. We were booked to play the Columbus Arts Festival that summer.

Festival performances are a mixed bag. Organizers want live music all day long, but most people are only interested in seeing live music starting approximately at sunset, when the stage lights are on, and the alcohol is starting to flow. As the bigger names get the later slots, this means that you have to be pretty well known to play an evening set. Otherwise, your crowd looks like this:

Woot!

Well, Gwendolyn Speaks was not a big name in Cincinnati, much less in Columbus, so our set time was something like 1pm on a Sunday. Predictably, the area in front of the stage was pretty empty. There was a steady stream of, say, moms with kids, who would stroll by, listen for a few minutes, and then move on. But there were two guys who “looked like musicians,” sitting and watching our set. One was in black jeans, a black sleeveless shirt and black skullcap. The other had a Hawaiian shirt and very tall hair. I figured maybe they were playing on the same stage later.

On that same date, there was a guitar show scheduled on the opposite side of Columbus (these happen twice a year). Now, knowing that not many people were going to be present at our show, I was mostly hoping to finish the set and leave quickly, so I could find a cool bargain at that show.

It was also at this time that I was using a pretty complicated rig, though I may have been actively simplifyng it. In any case, I was almost certainly using two UK-made Vox AC15 amplifiers, running in stereo.

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[Two things: (1.) I believe I may have been a front-runner in the Cincinnati area for using AC15's. They weren't being used by many people. Then I got mine, and suddenly everyone started getting them. (2.) Yes, I know these aren't AC15's. ]

At the conclusion of our set, I went straight to work, tearing-down my gear, and loading it out to my car, which was conveniently parked right near the stage. As I was heading back to the stage for another armload of gear, our bassist said something like “Billy Bob Thornton is over there, and he wants to meet you.” I laughed, because, come to think of it, the guy in black DID look a lot like BBT. It was a good joke from Pete the Bassist, who was usually clever and understated like that. So I walked up to the stage front to meet the guy.

It was actually Billy Bob Thornton. The actor. The real guy.

I shook his hand and said hello. He had a tattoo on his right bicep that said “Angelina.” As you may remember, he and Angelina Jolie were married there for a bit. This meeting was like a month before they split up.

Anyway, turns ut that BBT is a musician (a drummer – make your own jokes), and he and his band were actually performing later, though on a different stage.

If you were a man, it was easy to watch a Gwendolyn Speaks set, because our two lady singers, Tara and Carrie, were quite lovely. And Pete and Scott and I were all music geeks, so we tended to infuse the catchy pop songs with some nice flourishes.

So, not surprisingly, BBT loved the show, and he and his guitarist (Hawaiian shirt guy) said they loved my tone and playing, and wanted to ask some questions about what I used. So, long before there were YouTube videos and guitar sites devoted to this sort of thing, I gave a “Rig Rundown” to Billy Bob Thornton and his guitarist.
Image result for billy bob thornton band[Note the amplifiers behind these guys]

After a pleasant chat, we all went our separate ways. I headed off to the guitar show, where nothing memorable happened. For the remainder of the day, several of us just called each other and screamed into the phone; “Aaaagh! Billy Bob Thornton! Aaaagh!

“Aaaagh!”

This was back when cell phones did NOT come with cameras. So of course no one took pictures. Who takes pictures at a Sunday afternoon gig? Well, the next day, I stopped at a gas station and bought a disposable camera to keep in the car, just in case. For you youngsters, a disposable camera cost a few dollars. You would take a bunch of pictures with it, then take the whole camera in to a place (say, a pharmacy or grocery store) to get the pictures developed. They would discard or recycle the camera, and you would get your pictures. I am surprised to learn that they are still around.

Also at this time, my wife had a tendency to steal whatever camera I owned, take photos with it, use up all the film, and then lose/ruin/misplace the camera. So a disposable camera seemed like a great idea for me. I kept one in my car until she found it, stole it, took a bunch of photos, and left me with no camera. This happened several times.

Thus, despite my best efforts, here’s another “big fish” story:

A year or two later I would find myself on stage with The Pointer Sisters.

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Yes, really.
Of course I had no camera. Of course.

 

REVIEW – Avid Eleven Rack

 

Guitarists, I have good news, and I have bad news,,,

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In early March of 2018, I bought an Avid Eleven Rack for my studio. I had been using my POD Pro 2.0 for quite some time, with results that fell mostly into the “I suppose that is OK” category, and I spent a lot of time processing tracks (EQ, etc) to get them there.

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I was headed into ankle-reconstruction surgery, and wanted something to inspire me back into music creation while I recovered (experimenting with new gear always helps). Yes, I knew I wasn’t going to be able to walk for a long time, but I was unprepared for how much NOT sitting upright I would be able to do (had to keep my foot elevated). I’ve done far less recording than I had planned to do this year, but I HAVE done some, and solely with the Eleven Rack (henceforth “11R” for brevity).

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The good news is that this has been a fantastic experience.

The first evidence I’d like to share is three songs I recorded for my friend Todd Gilbert in the Flint, Michigan area, for an album of covers. This seemed like a perfect test for the 11R- sending the product off to a collaborator., and comparing them to known, published works.

The three songs I recorded were Huey Lewis’ “Bad Is Bad,” Billy Joel’s “Laura,” and Hall & Oates’ “Out Of Touch.”

BAD IS BAD

“Bad Is Bad” was the first one I recorded. The original recording is an 80′s nod to a 50′s vibe, and the production (while pleasantly nostalgic) does not stand up well. So I built the whole thing around a swaggering Telecaster riff. The 11R transmitted my sound with both girth and clarity- clarity I always found lacking in the POD Pro. Through the whole song I recorded a lot of solo ad-libs on an old Electra Invicta, allowing Todd to pick and choose which of these he wanted to keep. Then, I recorded my Jazzmaster throught a Leslie patch I either found or edited-together on the 11R. It sounded as good as (if not better than) most good Leslie simulations I have heard. Finally, I played a slide solo with the Telecaster. Usually I reach for my old Marshall JCM800 combo for this task, but the 11R did the job exceptionally well.

 

LAURA

“Laura” is a pretty close approximation of the original arrangement. I’m not sure what was really used on the recording of the original solo to give it that sound… but I just double-tracked it. All those electric guitar licks are my Telecaster. Since Billy Joel was clearly channeling The Beatles, I donned my George Harrison cap, and played the chord-changes with an electric 12-string (a mid-2000′s Fender Stratocaster XII). All of this was done with the 11R, straight in to my interface, with one exception- there is a swirly modulation phrase at the end of the solo, where I ran out of the 11R through my old Quadraverb.

 

OUT OF TOUCH

Finally, “Out Of Touch” came across my desk. Todd had envisioned a straight-ahead rocker, so I played an 8th-note chugging rhythm on the Invicta, and then added a double-tracked arrangement of the Telecaster playing some Alex Lifeson type arpeggios and minor 7 stabs. I dialed-in an obvious Van Halen inspired patch for the solo (complete with phaser) and recorded that on the Invicta, as well as a double-tracked slide part (without phaser). Then to give it all some more growl, I added a fuzz track from my Jazzmaster.

The bad news is that I might not need all these amplifiers anymore.

Summary:

The 11R is a great comprehensive tool for guitarists in a studio setting. you can choose from a variety of classic amplifiers and speaker cabinets, a decent array of effects pedals, and even a small but respectable batch of standard top-shelf studio microphones. Each piece of the signal chain distinctively interacts with the next, and then responds accordingly. Once you understand the editing navigation, it is easy to bounce through settings and dial in a tone. It’s not the sort of thing I would use live (ask me again in a few years), so I cannot speak to that application.

I found it a little noisy, to my surprise. This may have something to do with how it’s connected to my rack, but then my POD Pro is comparably dead silent. To be fair, the noise is no more than the line noise of an old amplifier, but this may affect certain quiet passages of recordings. I was able to filter it out well enough with some standard DAW plugins.

Now that the 11R price has dropped to $299, it’s a safe and sensible investment. ProTools users can use it as a virtual instrument, record guitar tracks direct, and process them through the 11R afterward. I use Reaper, and I suppose there’s a way to do this, but it isn’t really how I like to work.

It has quickly become an easy go-to choice for me. I’m pleased with the purchase, nearly six months later, as well as with the end results of the handful of recordings it’s been featured on. Would definitely recommend it. Calling this one a strong 8/10, with the only complaints being noise (admittedly could be due to ignorance), and an interface that required reading the manual to be able to operate.

 

 

Ankles, Aikido, and Amplification

So I had this lingering sore foot/ankle/leg thing…
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On March 9, a doctor cut into my ankle to repair what had turned out to be a pretty major injury. I spent a month (March-April) with no weight on my left foot, then started hobbling a bit. I’m now walking normally, mostly.  With the help of my physical therapist (a friend since 7th grade), that ankle getting noticeably stronger and more flexible every day. All of this is good… actually it’s better than normal, and I’m grateful. I now have an awesomely gross scar to horrify the squeamish.
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As a result of my ankle injury, I had become progressively less active, and not able to spend much time out and about with my family. I gained weight from being sedentary. Honestly, I gave up on taking care of myself. That has all changed. My diet is better. I’m sleeping normal hours. Last week, I even walked the dogs with my sweet little wife, twice. Life feels like “normal” is within sight.
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Wait, there’s more…

One of my great loves, aside from music, is the traditional martial arts of Japan. I’ve been an eager student of Aikido since I was 21, and started Iaido back in 2004ish. After my injury (which had nothing to do with martial arts), the first thing I had to stop doing was all the lateral movement in Aikido. Iaido stopped a few months later.

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This past week, I not only did some Aikido training, but I did a small demonstration of Aikido within a broader presentation at the church where I work. So not only am I physically active again, I was able to bring a thing I love into the job I do. The last time I did anything like that was back when I was still directing music there. I had to let the music role go, when I moved in to my creative “Production Director” job, last year.
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Well, one of the things about musicians is that, in the summer, they want to play all these festivals. I suppose the money is good (back when I did it, the money wasn’t great, and I didn’t like the heat and hassle). Anyway, because of that, there’s a need for a substitute guitarist. So I will be subbing in on guitar in a week-and-a-half.
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That’s June 9. Also on June 9, there’s a big event at the Aikido dojo. Also-also, my acoustic duo has a gig that night. I may have over-committed.
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So… as it pertains to June 9, I might be going too fast. But after a year-and-a-half of slow motion, I gotta believe this is all understandable.

Have you ever been sidelined for an illness or injury, and had to wait it out? How did you cope during the interim? Have you ever been sidelined because of a role-change, and had to watch others do what you started? What was that like? Finally, have you ever overcompensated by over-committing? What safeguards did you put in place to prevent it from happening again?

Sprich, mein volk!

End-of-Summer Demo of Chrome Dome Audio’s Tone Philosopher VG-44

In the early Spring, I was propositioned by my friend Kyle to join a show band at Kings Island, a local theme park.
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I had to wait a couple of weeks before I heard I got the gig. Then I frantically learned thirty songs from scratch (OK, really it was twenty-nine songs, because I already knew “Free Ride.” But you get my point). Two weeks after our first rehearsal, we were performing. I played three nights per week. That doesn’t sound like a lot. Somehow it took up my whole summer, but it was a blast.

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While it was going on, I looked like this:

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Among the things that fell by the wayside as a result (including this very blog), were the album that I can’t quite gather the energy to complete, a steady stream of covers I want to record, and the intention to record some demos of an incredible amplifier I got.

Chrome Dome Audio’s “Tone Philosopher” VG-44

Chrome Dome Audio is owned and masterminded by my friend Adam White. A few years ago, he set out to modify an amp for me, which turned into him just giving me an early and unusual version of one of his Tone Philosophers, which he offered to modify for me. I took him up on it a couple of years later, and he turned it into a VG-44, his main production model amp. He also decided to go through all of my amps and tune them up, in exchange for me recording some demos of the VG-44.

Now, all of this is awesome and cool, but it happened right when I got super busy for the summer. So, having opened up my schedule a bit,  I have finally finished the first part of the first demo.

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Note: My VG-44 is slightly unusual. It’s a head and 2×12 half-open cabinet with Jensen Jet-Series ceramic speakers (the production models have different speakers in them), but it’s close enough to give you the basic idea of what it can do.

What you hear:

  • I recorded with the amp on my carpeted home-studio floor. Now, this is a professional production no-no, but is a lot closer to the reality of how most people will end up using it most of the time.
  • The microphone is a normal Shure SM-57 that I’ve owned since the mid 1990′s. It ran through a Grace 101 preamp (Grace preamps are legendary for transparency). The mic was never more than a few inches away from the grillecloth during my experimentation process.
  • The only post-production tone shaping was some bass-cut, and a little reverb added to the solo tracks. No pedal effects of any kind were used. The only thing between the guitars and the amp was a 20-year-old house-brand cable I purchased from Guitar Center.

Guitars I used:

  • A stock 2005 Made-In Mexico (“MIM”) Fender Stratocaster
  • A 1991 MIM Fender Telecaster (which may have had its bridge pickup replaced before I bought it)
  • A stock 1982 Silverburst Gibson Les Paul Custom.

The opening figure is the Stratocaster. The middle portion is the Telecaster, with a slide solo also played on the Tele, and a following solo played on the Les Paul. The closing figure is the Strat and Les Paul playing the riff together. Note how they all respond differently, and stack well in the mix.

Ladies and Gentlemen, The Tone Philosopher VG-44, by Chrome Dome Audio:

What do you think? Like it? Sound off!!

Dangerous Defaults, and The Great Christian Pedalboard Escalations of the 21st Century.

In the early 2000′s, I was gigging regularly in three bands as a sideman, fronting my OWN band, and playing every weekend in a megachurch to around 5000 people.

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In an attempt to get the most sounds possible (remember- I had around 5 steady gigs), I had ended up with a gigantic pedalboard holding 13 stompboxes, controller switches and pedals, and a MIDI controller. These then went into six rack-mounted effects processors, and ran stereo into a pair of UK-made Vox AC-15 amplifers.

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I was constantly unhappy.

Something always needed adjustment, and it was never right. My cable costs alone were astronomical. It took a full hour to break it down and load it into my car, and another hour to set it up.

I had an epiphany about it and simplified my whole rig down to a pedalboard with about 9 pedals; no rack gear and only one amp. At the time, my final pedalboard (NINE PEDALS!?) still seemed pretty big. By today’s standards, it’s quaint.

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Fifteen years later, I’ve earned a modest reputation as a guitarist, etc. I was lucky to be associated with great artists who got (deserved) attention, and I happened to have played in several of the largest houses of worship in the area, right as each of their respective music ministries was really hitting its stride (I like to think I was partially responsible for that).

Today, what has really come to surprise me is how much MONEY is being spent by church guitarists on gear. Sweet Christmas, the pedalboards make mine look cheap, old, tragic and small!
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One of the conditions I have come to recognize about myself is that, after a certain point, there is a law of diminishing returns with music equipment. In fact I think it actually becomes subtractive. Even as a pro guitarist, there is a limit to the number of guitars I can own before they become burdensome (seems to be around 15 for me). After that, I literally use them less; grabbing the nearest one because it’s convenient. It becomes a default. A DEFAULT.

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The same goes for effects. The more I have, the less I explore and experiment. I settled on a “meat & potatoes” approach to my gear at some point, where I wanted the basic tools to allow me to express my PLAYING. What I’m observing now is an approach by which church guitarists are using expensive guitar rigs so that their playing expresses their effects. They have all kinds of novel noises, but no strong guitar presence.

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24 strings plus glorious mustache = strong presence.

Not too long ago, a famous worship band went on tour. They appeared on some daytime talk-shows here in the USA, and then performed in Israel by the Sea of Galilee, all looking very sincere (so much gravitas). The daytime TV performances were of particular interest to me, as I could see the musicians doing their jobs. I saw two gigantic pedalboards with complex lights. What I heard was, chords, chords, two-note thing, chords. Ugh. It takes TWO of you to accomplish so little?

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Recently, I joined Instagram. Mostly I’ve been photographing my guitars, and gathering guitar-related followers. A few of these are church guys. One proudly displayed his latest pedalboard layout in a photo. It has to have $2500 worth of equipment on it. Maybe he’s gigging all over the place, but that’s not the impression I got.
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My amazingly creative Instagram handle is “david_eberhardt” if you’re interested in finding/following me.

The point of all this is not the excess of equipment. It’s the related dearth of sonic imagination.
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There’s some sort of trade-off. I don’t know where it happens, but this idea has been driving me for some time. I’m convinced that the more options we have, the less creative we become. Hollywood’s preference for CGI spectacle over plot or character development is a good indicator of this.

When I had comparably very little equipment in my freshly-started home studio, I produced some of my best work. It won awards. It got me on the radio. People started following me. Back then I was doing everything I possibly could to discover sounds and fit musical phrases in to songs.

A few years later, I had too much gear, and I felt like I was chasing after the music instead of having it roll out of me naturally. I was basically throwing gadgets at the problem, instead of looking inside myself for the solution. Somewhere in the process, I also discovered DEFAULT.

Maybe that’s why modern worship music seems so artistically bankrupt. There are fewer deep introspective musical approaches, but plenty of products marketed as solutions. There is plenty of technology, but not much technique. There is not enough artistic desperation, but plenty of default.

Years ago, I heard the story of how Peter Gabriel famously took all the cymbals from the drum kit to force Genesis to start playing differently. It inspired me to force periodic challenges upon myself. I tend to prefer playing a Fender guitar (I have perhaps too many of these), so every January, I force myself to play my Gibson Les Paul as much as possible until the weather looks like Spring. This month, I forced myself back to my classical guitar to learn a piece I’ve been meaning to learn since I was in high school. I’m planning to start practicing acoustic guitar chord-melody pieces again shortly.
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A lot of it boils down to starting over, from scratch, to get away from the defaults.

Some years ago, I decided to explore a new sound with my bandmates. We were a mostly heavy rock band that was venturing into art-pop. I came upon this idea that if I tried a finger-picked acoustic guitar passage against my drummer’s African hand percussion, we might discover something interesting. We did. Adding a little electric guitar ambience gave it a great mood, and we discovered something that became very successful in the work we did together and separately in several bands/projects in our area for quite some time.  That song was “Our Yesterdays,” which you can hear, HERE: https://youtu.be/L1Yd69PRQSY

How do you avoid defaults? What challenges do you put in front of yourself to keep you growing as a musician and an artist? Are there any disciplines you employ? What about equipment? Do you have stuff you could get rid of? On what merits do you keep or unload gear? What do you do to find inspiration?

I’d love to hear your thoughts. Shout ‘em out!

Don’t Buy Gear For A Gig You Don’t Have

There you are, dear guitarist. You’re sitting at home with your guitar. It’s not the best guitar, but it’s pretty good. Could it be “better?” Maybe, but then what’s the definition of “better?” That’s another topic.
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I joined my first working band when I was about eighteen. My guitars were an Electra Phoenix, a Westone Spectrum FX, and an Ovation Custom Balladeer. My Electra looked just like this… until I added EMG pickups, and a Kahler tremolo.

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The Westone was snazzier, and the Ovation was the envy of my peers.

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Chick magnets!

My only amplifier was a Crate 20w solid-state combo that I had gotten when I was about fourteen. It didn’t sound very good, so my bassist (who was really a guitarist) let me use his Gallien Krueger 250ML amp. We ran it directly into the PA system via the microphone cable output on the back. Combined with the handful of cranky old effects pedals I had picked up, it sounded enormous. The Crate amp got used for my acoustic.

Image result for Crate CR-112   Image result for gallien krueger 250ml

It would be several more years before I would discover what a real tube amp could do.

Before the gig, I spent about $30 on three guitar stands, reasoning that a real gigging guitarist needed stands for his guitars. That way they would be within reach on stage, without lying on the floor (bad idea), leaning against something (risky), or sitting in their cases (inconvenient). I’ll never forget how cool my side of the stage looked with my three guitars on stands, plus two (dorky little solid-state) amps stacked one atop the other. Thus began my process of buying gear for gigs. THAT purchase was sensible. Subsequent purchases might not have been so practical.

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Somewhere along the way, the allure of expensive solutions appeared. A few years passed. Now I had a great Stratocaster… but it wasn’t American. Now I had a great amp… but it wasn’t vintage. I got great sounds from my modern effects processor, but… it lacked vibe. So I got a vintage amp and some vibey pedals. By dumb luck (really- the singer was my friend’s little sister. Some other friends started producing an album with her, and I recorded some guitar tracks as a favor), I ended up in a band that got a lot of attention. As a result, “tapers” came to our shows and recorded our performances. Today, I have a small collection of those recordings, and, in listening back, I honestly cannot tell you what gear I was using.

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At the time, I reached the conclusion that I needed “pro gear” to be considered a pro; and if I was considered a pro, THEN surely I would get more pro gigs. This led me to a lot of bad purchase decisions, basically in an attempt to buy my fame and fortune, one gadget at a time. I observe this trend running rampant today.

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Two things: (1.) This guy should get some stands. (2.) I may or may not have a room that looks like this.

I haven’t played a “real” gig in a while. I work for a church with an approximately 3000-person congregation, and find myself on stage there pretty consistently. Between that and my own studio work, I am pretty content. Nonetheless, I think about booking a live gig here or there, but to do that, I imagine all sorts of needs: I surely NEED a high end vocal mic. Definitely, I will NEED expensive pickup solutions and preamps for my acoustic guitars. I have a small PA, but I will NEED monitors for it. Even though my 1941 Epiphone archtop has traveled in a gig bag since I bought it in 1997, I’m going to NEED a hard case for it.

I haven’t booked a single gig yet, and already I’m buying a microphone, pickups and preamps, monitors, and a case. See how that works?

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A few weeks ago, I was gear-porning on Sweetwater.com, looking at studio mics, upgrades for my pedalboard, some VST plugins, and even a couple of instruments. I got up to get a drink, and when I came back to my computer, the lust-spell had been broken. I closed each shiny browser tab, saying “Nope,” “Nope,” “Nope.” “I don’t need this yet.” That’s when the wisdom landed in my lap.

“Don’t buy gear for a gig you don’t have.”

Have you ever imagined a need for a piece of music gear? Was it an instrument, amplifier or another gadget? Did you buy it? If so, did it really solve your problems? How about real solutions? Have you ever bought something that was a perfect solution? What was it?

Share your thoughts!