This Gear’s Model: Extremely General Tips on Finding the Right Gear for You

Welcome back, everyone, to another installment of 52 Weeks in the Life of a Rock Band. I’ve gotten some great feedback from all of you about this series and have received some fantastic questions as well. In response to the most-commonly asked question, yes, Alex Rigopulos really is that dreamy in real life. And what follows here is my attempt at answering the second most-commonly asked question: what kind of gear should I get?

Choose wisely - Fish McGill

The truth of the matter is that being asked about gear puts me in an awkward position. More awkward, even, than being asked what my favorite song to play in Rock Band is. (Hint: it’s by a band that I’m not traditionally a huge fan of whose name rhymes with Blinkin’ Shark.) First, because I am not at liberty to discuss any particular brands lest the other brands get jealous and cry and go out of business. Second, because although I am a HUGE guitar freak, I do not know, come si dice, "how they work." Amps tend to confuse me even more, and I spend a lot of my time asking questions of professionals such as "My amp is making this sound like ‘fart fart SQUEEDLY EEEEM’ – can you fix that?" Luckily or unluckily, I have a lot of friends who are big-time, incurable gear nerds who are on hand to help me out.

Gear Nerd [geer nurd]
Part of Speech: noun

  1. A person who is unnaturally obsessed with musical gear.
  2. The member of your band who most annoys your singer when he/she is "going through a dark time because the days are growing shorter and the word ‘corduroy’ is just so cumbersome."
  3. A person who can talk for more than seventeen minutes about the difference between germanium and silicon transistors.
  4. A person who gives you the "concerned look" when you neglect to change you strings more than once a decade.

Music and gear nerds go together like Chinese food takeout and long strands of human hair: you get kind of grossed out by their presence, but you just go ahead and ignore them and pretend they’re not there. Although gear nerds can be really useful, it’s generally best to ignore them most of the time – which can be difficult given that this is a type of person who is better able to weather your total lack of interest than that weird girl with the inappropriate latex corset who stands in the front row of all your shows mouthing "My roommate is out of town." The truth is, I don’t need to know WHY my amp is making fart noises (and NO, it’s not ME doing that), I just need it to stop.

No Stairway - Fish McGill

In order to ensure that you aren’t desperate enough to request the help of a Gear Nerd, here is a list of stuff you’ll need to start a band, in order of importance:

  • A minifridge
  • Duct tape
  • A trash can and trash bags
  • Earplugs
  • Instruments
  • Picks
  • Drumsticks
  • Cables
  • Amps
  • Microphones, stands, and mic cables
  • a PA and mixer
  • Intentionally ripped jeans that look like they ripped naturally while you were doing something awesome and sexy
  • Talent

If this is your first time purchasing an instrument, you may have a lot of questions. "Do I need a whammy bar?," "How much should I spend?," "Why did I throw out the rest of that half-eaten egg and cheese bagel sandwich from this morning, I’m hungry now, what is wrong with me?"and so forth. So without further ado, here are some simple recommendations from me, an admittedly electronically-incompetent lady with way too many guitars:

Buying Your First Instrument

  1. Brands don’t really matter. I know that a lot of you with super fancy schmancy instruments are already typing me fancy letters on schmancy note paper, telling me that X brand or X other brand is clearly superior. The fact is that when you’re buying your first instrument, you’re gonna sound kinda bad regardless. And the general rule of live performance is, the gear onstage should be of the same or similar caliber as the musical skills of the person playing it. It looks really, really dumb when an inexperienced kid is playing a $2000 guitar – I immediately think, "Hmmph. Spoiled brat. I bet his dad bought him that... I wonder if his dad is good looking and into truculent blond women." And let’s face it, you don’t want a girl like me chasing your dad. It’s gross.
  2. Additionally, while every instrument sounds different, an instrument being of "higher quality" doesn’t necessarily mean that it is a good match for you. One of my guitars is a little vintage number which is considered to be... well... I believe the technical music term for it is "total piece of doo-doo." But it gets this really cool garagey-clangy sound which tends to be envied by sound engineers. If I had listened to the nay-sayers, (or I should say "doo-doo sayers"), then I would have had a hell of a time chasing that sound down.

  3. Don’t put too much stake in what the people at the music store say. If you are an easily intimidated person (i.e. a keyboard player), then don’t even talk to them. Pretend you are foreign if you need to. You can get everything you need by pointing. I say this not because music store clerks aren’t knowledgeable, but because they are, more-often-than-not, TOO knowledgeable. They are often members of the species Gearitis Nerdius and will only serve to confuse you. If they come over to "help" you with anything, instantly start playing "Iron Man" awkwardly at top volume – despite what you may have been lead to believe, "Iron Man" is a more potent cryptonite against music store clerks than "Stairway to Heaven."
  4. Buy an instrument which is comfortable for you to play. This is just as true of drum kits as it is of guitars. Ideally a guitar should not be too neck-heavy, because it will keep you from pointing at sexy people and giving the sound guy the finger. I personally like to play guitars that are very light because I am really lazy, but some people like to feel the weight of a heavy guitar. It’s about personal preference. If you have small hands, look for a guitar with a narrow neck. If you’re just starting out, look for a guitar with low action or whose action can be easily lowered.
  5. In terms of amps, make sure that you can actually lift your amp without help. My tiny lead guitarist Smokey bought a 70 pound solid state combo because it was "cheap and shaped like a meatloaf." Now everywhere we go, we have to either carry it for her, or watch her struggling down the street like a pink-haired eight year-old hauling a cardboard box full of cement and back fat.

  6. Buy something that makes you want to do naked bedtimes. Follow that old familiar adage that your mom has probably shared with you a thousand times: do what your crotch tells you. If you are in a store and see a piece of equipment that makes you think about leaving your significant other and running off to Turks and Caicos with said instrument to open a banana daiquiri stand and have a thousand little instrument babies, it may be that THIS is the instrument that is fated to you. Sometimes I look at my favorite doublecut and I actually truly think about licking it. I don’t, because it’s covered in other people’s beer spit, but I do spend a lot of time smelling it. I think it smells like Smarties candy and new high heels. My bandmates think it smells like other people’s beer spit. Regardless, this is the kind of feeling you want to have about your instrument: a sensation near-enough to actual lust that you start to wonder whether there is a website tailored to people like you.
  7. Copy other people. If you have a favorite artist whose sound you want to emulate (rip off) then do some research into the types of gear they use. Even if their gear is too expensive for you to purchase (because it costs more than a small, generic box of crayons), you can still get a sense of the TYPE of gear you should be looking for. Tube amp or solid state, hollow body or solid body guitar, pedals or no pedals, drums or... more drums.

OMG DRUMS!! - Fish McGill

Your gear will quickly become like a part of you... a crappy part that breaks all the time, but which you are inexplicably obsessed with. This analogy isn’t really working. Hmm.

Your gear will quickly become like a significant other... a crappy significant other that asks you to go to Wawa in the middle of the night for a stuffed pretzel, but which you are inexplicably obsessed with. Better.

I look forward to hearing about all your adventures in the land of musical gear. Tell me what you’ve got, what you love, and what you’ve learned. Buy what you like, and don’t listen to anybody else – you don’t need great gear to make great music. You just need an awful lot of duct tape.