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The Evolution of the Gear

 I'll admit it, sometimes I'm going to come off as the 40-year-old man that I am as I talk about how things are now vs. how things were then. Well, one of those areas I have to bring up is gear. We live in an amazing age when just about anything you'd want as a musician has a version of it made in an extremely affordable, entry-level price point. 

I spent some time at the Nashville Guitar Center during the weeks leading up to Christmas buying up things for my son, the budding guitarist and drummer. As I looked around, I marveled at the equipment in that store, its relative quality for the price, and the variety of choices. It was nothing short of astounding. I started playing guitar 30 years ago. It doesn't seem that long ago to me, but its probably longer ago then some of you reading this have been alive. When I was a kid, or even a teenager, getting a cheap, quality guitar was a real challenge. The music stores carried a lot of junk back then, really awful copies of Les Pauls, Stratocasters, P-Basses, etc., or high-end expensive stuff I couldn't dream of owning back then. I'm talking guitars made of plywood, necks that were are straight as a roller coaster, with hideous-sounding pickups.

And to make it worse, if you lived in a small town with only one or two music stores, your choices were whatever they sold at them or what you could get your parents to get you from the Sears or JC Penny mail order catalog. Many a night at 10 years old did I stare longingly at the guitars in the Sears catalog. They even had this amazing-looking (to my young and unschooled eyes) Les Paul model with effects built right into it. It was $169.00 in 1983. Bolt-neck, plywood body, bad Les Paul copy, but in the photos, it looked pretty good to me when I first saw it a couple of years earlier. Check it out here: http://www.wishbookweb.com/1983_SearsWishbook/images/SearsWishbook-1983-P427.jpg

The guitars in that catalog page were junk, especially the lowest-end model, one I had the misfortune of owning. So I tell you what, when you look around Guitar Center or Sam Ash and see a pretty decent Squire Strat for $99, count yourself very lucky if you're a kid starting out playing. Nowadays you can show up with a nice Epiphone Les Paul that didn't break your parent's bank to get, and a decent amp as well, and not have to carry the shame of people knowing your gear came from Sears. 

I recall wanting a banjo really badly, and it was the very last time I ever asked my mom to buy something from one of those catalogs. I saw a five-string no-brand banjo in the catalog, it was cheap, and it looked good in the photo. Well, when it arrived, I had to screw the PLASTIC resonator into place myself with a screw that went through the middle into the pine dowel inside of the uh, "tone ring" if you could call it that. It wasn't even worth learning on, and I was not so happy to now own it, and sorry I'd asked my folks to spend their hard earned money on it. I wasn't about to carry it to the music store and ask for help, they'd laugh me out of the joint.

Now, juxtapose that experience to this past Christmas when my wife bought me a six-string banjo that I wanted to use for some tracks on an album I'm recording, and that $125.00 she spent on it, and the amazing quality instrument it is, especially for the money. I got this six-string banjo, which is identical to a b-brand national six-string banjo product, for half the money, with a flame-wood resonator that is bound, plus a bound neck, pearl inlays, the neck is string, it plays perfectly in tune. In 1982 dollars, this would have been $300 or so dollars but in 1982, the instrument would not have been nearly as nice.

For all of the complaints some might have about Asian import market products in America, the undeniable truth is that they've made our lives, especially our musical lives, much better. The quality of Chinese instruments today, vs the Japanese or other imports from 30 years ago is night and day. The value for the quality is simply mind-boggling to anyone my age who remembers how hard it was to get a good guitar without much money when they were a kid.

Take a look around at the variety of products you can get to make music with, how relatively inexpensive they are, and how well many if not most of them are made when they are governed by reputable companies like Epiphone, etc., and you'll understand what I think today's generation is extremely blessed.

Posted: 2/9/2009 6:22:13 PM with Comments | Add Comment | Email Link | Permalink
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