Have you ever said, "If I only have gear X, I would be able to play Y!"


#1

I’ve been playing for 25 years and have only had 2 guitars. I still have my 2nd one right now which is a cheap Charvette that I think I payed $200 for. Probably around 2013 or so, I went to a guitar center and just for the heck of it, started picking up guitars entertaining the idea of buying one. I came across the Jackson RR1 “reasonably” priced at $1700 used. I had never had an experience like that one when I touched that guitar.
I played so well on it, my wife turned her head and said, “hey you’re not ‘stuttering’ like you usually do”. :cry:

so naturally I chalked it up to the architecture of the guitar, but then I saw a video on the music is win youtube channel, something about 10 excuses poor guitarists say, or something like that. And sure enough, one of them was “I need a better guitar in order to play well”. I blew it off at first thinking, “Ha! well obviously you’ve never played a RR1 before!”, but I started to think about it for a while. If Gary Holt came over to my house and picked up my cheap guitar, I wonder if there is any Exodus material he couldn’t play on my guitar?? maybe not…probably not…

But then I thought back to my experience at GC. Why was I able to play that guitar so well? Maybe it was the guitar and Music is Win is wrong? or maybe I was just having a really good day (I do have those even on my cheap guitar sometimes). I still can’t stop thinking about and am currently saving for it. Telling myself that I will be able to play more fluently once I have it.

I wonder if I am setting myself up for a disappointment. Anyone else have a similar experience, or on the other side of things, actually have improved since the purchase of gear X?


#2

I had some thoughts that was like yours.
I bought my first normal electric guitar 3 monthes ago. Previously I played half-done selfmade frankenstein-guitar which I build from what I had around. Main difference is that new guitar is much heavier, it has a tremolo, and it’s string action quite high. Oh, and it’s painted ))
So… I can’t say that I started to play better or worse. Just another guitar thats all. More fun, since new guitar has tremolo and 3 pickups (my franken-guitar has 2)

I guess it’s about psychology. May be you won’t be playing better if you buy the guitar you want. In my case it didn’t work. But it really stimulated me to play more.


#3

Guitarists love endless discussions about what it is that makes someone a good player and I have participated, read and listened to hundreds of them over the years.

Arguments like: “Is it the pick?”, “is it the talent?”, “is it the amp?”, “is it all in the hands?” etc etc.

The “do you need better gear to be a better player” usually revolves around two opposite arguments.

The one guy will say:

“If I give you a $5000 guitar and I give Clapton a $200 guitar, he will still sound better than you. So gear DOESN’T matter, it’s all in the hands.”

The other guy will say:

“But I want that big, huge Marshall sound, that I just can’t get out of my Behringer practice amp. I need a Marshall. And that Gibson Les Paul just sounds and plays better than my $200 out-of-tune piece of crap guitar. I need it to be able to get that Guns and Roses sound and play solos like Slash. So gear DOES matter.”

So which one is right?

I have been playing guitar since 1992 (I was 16 then).

When I started spending money on gear, it was in the pre-internet and pre-youtube era.
There was no real way of knowing how something sounded, or to compare things, except for in a music store, and we all know how that goes. It’s very difficult to judge sound quality in a music store, and comparing different pieces of equipment is quite hard.

My main source of information were reviews (and pictures) in magazines like Guitar World and Guitar Player and what other guys around me were using (who usually were often as clueless as me).

I ended up spending money on a $2500 Custom 22 Royal Blue PRS. Main reasons? It had very good reviews, it looked amazing, and it was expensive, Linkin Park played on it, so it had to be good right? It sure had to be better than my $300 Ibanez I had at the time.

I later discovered that the wraparound bridge it had gave me intonation problems I couldn’t fix, that I hate the feel of lacquered necks and that I could just as well have bought a Les Paul or top of the line Epiphone that would give me more or less the same sound, or stick to my $300 Ibanez and buy a better amp.

If I knew then, what I know now, I would have spend that $2500 more wisely and end up with much more value for money with a better playing experience.

So one lesson learned is: better gear doesn’t mean that it has to be expensive, often the opposite is true. Now with Youtube I have bought guitars online that I hadn’t even played or heard in real life, and they sound EXACTLY like on the videos, they are cheap and I’m super happy with them. This was impossible before internet.

Now, for the million dollar question: do you need better gear to be a better player?

My opinion is this:

You have to find the bottleneck in what is holding you back in your quest to becoming a better player and musician.

More often than players want to admit, it is actually their technical and musical ability that is holding them back. In that way, the “it’s all in the hands”-statement is true.

If you give the Steve Vai signature guitar and amp to Vai and also to an aspiring player that has been playing for 1.5 years and ask them to play, of course Vai will sound better in every way and the beginner will sound mediocre at best, even though he is playing through the same gear as Vai.

Having said that, it IS possible that gear actually is the bottleneck that is holding you back.

If you take that same beginner with the Vai guitar and amp and take another beginner with the exact same playing abilities, but he’s playing a cheap, thin-sounding entry level guitar through a practice amp, the beginner with the Vai gear will sound much better. In this case the difference in gear does matter.

Also, let’s not forget that playing comfort and appeal is also an issue. A guitar that does not stay in tune, that is not setup well or sounds bad no matter what you do will ruin your playing experience with the risk of quitting guitar altogether. It is extremely frustrating to play a guitar with unsanded fret edges or too high action and trying to play Petrucci solos. You wouldn’t ask a chef to prepare a meal with blunt knives and sticky pans. So in terms of comfort, the quality of gear DOES matter (but inmproving this doesn’t have to be expensive).

Also, many players want to sound exactly like their heroes. Some sounds are simply only available with the right kind of gear. If you want to sound exactly like Korn, it would be a bit odd to buy a hollow-body Telecaster and a Fender Deluxe amp and say “it’s all in the hands, gear doesn’t matter”, because to get “that sound” sometimes gear is very important. In that case it would be wise to start with a 7-string and an amp that gives you that low-end.

Conclusion?

  1. Start by picking out the gear in your mind that comes as close as possible to the actual sound you want. If you want to play metal, don’t buy a hollowbody jazz guitar (unless you know what you’re doing). As a reference point use your “heroes” or even better, youtubers that use that gear you dream about.

Decide what your “ideal gear” would be in terms of sound. For me for example it was the Les Paul through a Marshall sound, but the “modern” version, not the 70s version.

  1. Second, go on youtube, listen to reviews and comparisons and listen to what other players say about the gear you want to buy. Youtube saved me a lot of money this way.

You will find out that many of them make “cheap” gear sound amazing and others make super-expensive gear sound like crap. There is a Youtuber that plays on super expensive PRS models, and his sound and playing are, put mildly, uninspiring. There are others who sound amazing with very simple and affordable gear. And many Youtubers do comparisons between let’s say a $3000 Les Paul and a $700 Epiphone, and often the results are quite shocking. Many times the cheaper guitar sounds just as good, or even better.

For example, I really wanted a Les Paul ($3000), but when I started searching on YT I stumbled upon the Vintage Lemon Drop. All the reviewers were raving about it and it sounded amazing on every video ($350). I ordered it, it sounds exactly like on the videos and I have never been happier.

  1. If you are really unhappy about the current sound/playbility of your gear, and you are not sure if it’s you or the gear that is at fault, you have a couple of options.

A. have a player who you admire in terms of technique/sound play through your gear. If HE sounds amazing and you don’t, then you know it’s not the gear’s fault. Back to the woodshed.

B. Go online and watch people play through your gear. If they sound good and you don’t, same as above.

C. If it is confirmed that indeed your gear is crappy for whatever reason, upgrade to the best gear you can afford (not necessarily the most expensive) by looking at comparison videos on YT.

This is the way I decided to buy a Mexican strat, instead of an American. I found the differences way to small to justify the price difference, and I’m super happy with it.

So yes, gear does matter, but you have to make sure that it really is an improvement and that it is not your playing and musical abilities that are actually holding you back in sounding better.

Sorry for the long winded post, but I want to prevent people to make the same mistakes I did and waste their money on stuff they don’t need. I hope it helped.


#4

Within the world of the type of scale-runs-with-a-plectrum playing that dominates online “shred” conversations, the answer is that unless there is something specifically wrong with your guitar, your guitar probably isn’t the problem. All the usual commonly discussed inexpensive “starter” Strat and Les Paul style guitars from Squier, Epiphone, Peavey, Yamaha will serve as no impediment to “shred” playing as long as they’ve been set up by somebody who knows what they’re doing and wasn’t specifically asked to set them up with a high action. The most popular setup for shred guitar uses 9 gauge strings (string diameter ranging from .009 inch high E to .042 inch low E). Heavier strings will require more force to fret cleanly. Some people even prefer 8 guage strings, but 9 is the most common in the 80s-rock inspired school.

There are lots of resources online with suggestions about string height and how to check it. There are also “official” recommendations from companies like Fender and Graph-Tech. Ultimately, string height is a matter of personal preference, and while some people obsess about getting it as low as possible, having a little bit of string height (but not an excessive amount) can make it easier to perform bends effectively. You can print out a simple string height gauge on card stock to perform string height measurements yourself without expensive gauges. Some folks just use things like business cards or credit cards as “feeler gauges”, though that approach doesn’t map in a straightforward way to numeric string height specifications.

The main potential source of trouble is that if your string height tests reveal that the strings are too high at the nut, you will need to either lower the nut, or modify the nut slots. If you aren’t 100% confident you know what you are doing, lowering the nut or modifying the nut slots is best left to a professional. But if you bought your guitar at a reputable brick and mortar music store, that’s an adjustment they should make free of charge when you first buy the guitar.

If the finish on the back of the neck feels a little bit “stickier” than you’d like, scuffing it up with a Scotch-Brite pad will give it a more matte finish that will let you glide more smoothly. If the fingerboard is made from an “unfinished” porous wood like rosewood and feels dry and “grabby”, rubbing a very small amount of mineral oil into the fingerboard (and immediately buffing it out with a dry cloth) will help make it feel slicker (do not do this to a maple fingerboard that’s been sealed with lacquer or similar hard finish).

Also, if you haven’t already done so, check out youtube tutorials on how to do your own guitar setups. If you are a little bit handy and are willing to spend the time, you can save a lot of money in the long run by not paying other people to make adjustments and minor alterations for you.

Another “trick” for making a guitar feel faster to play is to tune every string a semitone flat. The slight reduction in tension makes it easier for the fretting hand to do its job. Lots of 80s stuff was recorded with guitars tuned to Eb. Be aware that on a 24.75" scale guitar like a Les Paul, tuning down like that might make 9 gauge strings feel a little too “sloppy”.

Here’s a video on the type of printable string height gauge I was talking about. He includes a link to templates he made, but there are lots of similar free PDF files floating around if you have trouble with his:


#5

If you are happy with the sound of the gear, setup is indeed the next thing you should look at.

An inexpensive guitar that is setup right, will always sound and play better than an expensive guitar with a bad setup.

It is also often the big difference between expensive and cheap guitars; the expensive ones will usually have a much better setup.

Check YT or go to a luthier that can check it for you if you are unhappy with how the guitar plays.


#7

does anyone know when Gary Holt can come to my house? :grin:

seriously though, I appreciate the long response. I have much of those same thoughts rolling around in my head; I just couldn’t put it in a well-verse post like you did!


#8

@frylock you make a good point about set-up that I never really thought about before. My saddle for my 6th string is in a way different position compared to the rest of my saddles and I seem to have the most problems on that string…hmm…coincidence…I wonder.


#9

that guitar is beautiful. I can just imagine how it plays. Best of luck in finding it one day


#10

Here’s the ultimate point, and I think this might have been said but I apologize if it was…

The RR1 you played probably had the right neck, right nut width, right set up on it. It ALL makes a difference on your playing. It’s not how much you spend, it’s what you spend it on. If you find a neck that has the right shape to it but is too wide ie nut width too big, then find a neck with the same type of shape with a smaller nut width. Once that is done, narrow down what kind of tone you like which is in the pickups, the woods, bolt on vs neck through, bone nut vs brass nut, etc, etc, etc. A Fender Strat with a rosewood finger board is going to sound different than a strat with an all maple neck.
Really, the point is, you don’t have to pay $2500 dollars on a guitar. You can spend $1000 on a guitar that has everything you need. I try out guitars all the time just to see what they like… so just to give an example of what I mean…

I have a 79 Les Paul… it has a 60’s slim tapered neck on it, but the shape is a hair too much for my hand. Nut width is perfect. Not unplayable, but enough to irritate me. My 2017 Les Paul has the perfect shape and is just .005" wider than my 79 LP. Almost perfection… I tried out a 2018 LP HP and I liked it… neck is asymmetrical which lets me really dig in… another example: I have a 2014 American Stratocaster… and a 2013 Yngwie Malmsteen Strat… the Malmsteen strat is ALMOST perfect… the neck is C shape like my American standard but the nut width is smaller which is perfect for me… and the scallop frets are also amazing… the American standard, though, has a bigger fretboard radius…which I like…
So try guitars out and see what you like, see what makes your hand feel good.


#11

ok ,this is weird replying to my own post, but I thought about something based off of Nitro1976’s reply. Maybe, just maybe, both is the answer. meaning, if I get the RR1, AND I am able to play the things I couldn’t play on my charvette, then yes, it is the gear. HOWEVER, the fact that if Gary Holt played my charvette and could play the things that I couldn’t would prove that it is the player, but the gear serves as a way of leveling the playing field.

so for me, the RR1 is kind of like a “cheating tool” to get me to the level of where I want to be. Maybe it’s like a partial substitute for talent???


#12

If the gear inspires you to practice and play and enjoy what you’re doing, then that’s enough for me. I like what Nitro laid out in his post above. Sometimes you gotta treat yourself to something nice.

@Hanky_Pooh Dayumn, that Charvel is tight. I hope it finds its way home someday. There’s a dude up here selling a 650XL for like $1000 CAN. It’s got some insane metallic orange/gold colour shift and I might have to pick it up… :heart_eyes:


#13

I wouldn’t call it cheating. The responses to your question have covered things extremely well so I don’t have much to add, but of course you should set up the guitar to play as well as it possibly can.

I’ve heard guys say stuff like “Oh yeah, he sounds great on that shredder Ibanez with low action but let’s give him an ES-335 with the strings 2 inches off the board and see how he does!”

That shit is ridiculous. Way back when I was studying with Al Pitrelli, he had this amazing black Schecter strat, and I used to love to play it because the action was literally on the fretboard. It played smooth as butter! There is no reason to fight your gear, that’s some sort of displaced masochism. Having a great guitar that’s set up to play beautifully, and an awesome tone through a great amp will obviously make anybody sound better.

And as others have said, it does not have to be the most expensive gear in the world. A quality guitar and a quality amp both set up and dialed-in correctly will sound amazing. There’s no reason to make things more difficult for yourself. Have the tools you need, to accomplish what you want to achieve.


#15

so I’m getting the subtle message that I should get my guitar set up…:wink:

that is great advice, and I think I will do that. But, I have no allen wrench that can fit my saddles. Any suggestions?

Wooa, that is my least favorite period of Megadeth, but still…what was that like??

wait a minute, does that mean lower action = less sustain? please tell me it isn’t so.


#16

Practice solves most tone issues - John Suhr

I remember this every time I log on to ebay after getting GAS.


#17

yeah those Charvels are nice. 500-600 would be a better price for it. They are getting so rare that people are asking 1000-1800 now I guess.

Indeed, $1000 canadian tends to be the ceiling for Jackson/Charvel MIJ production stuff on the used market here. The maple bucks aren’t doing so hot right now so that price clocks in around $800 USD. Assuming I don’t come to my senses in a couple weeks, I’ll probably try to get him to $900 or less hahaha!


#18

I completely share this philosophy. In 99% of situations where you need to play a guitar you didn’t bring, you’ll be handed a Strat, a Tele, or a Les Paul (most often a Strat) with 10s and an “average” setup. Might as well build you’re comfort level with that sort of guitar, 'cause they’re everywhere.

But for those just starting out, I think it’s better to develop a nice light touch with 9s at first, and wait to get up to speed on 10s later on. I’ve heard some people say “learn on 10s, and then 9s will feel easy”, but I think that will train you to press harder than necessary when you play 9s, which is inefficient when you want to play fast.


#20

I only play around the house for fun, and I use 9s tuned to Eb most of the time. I remember the story of B.B. King teasing someone for using heavy strings: “Why you working so hard?”


#22

wow, I didnt’ even know those exist??? I was thought 9’s were as thin as they went.


#23

it’s funny you mention that. Way back when, I was always told for metal “you want thicker strings for a heavier sound”. But “heavy” is a subjective term. yeah, it would sound bassier, but I noticed playing with 9s gave me more of that Bay Area crunch and tightness in the low as opposed to heavier strings. AND it was easier to play!


#25

ya know i didn’t realize it first read this, but after I played that guitar on that day, I couldn’t stop thinking about it. I told my wife EXACTLY what you said. “it’s like butter”. She couldn’t understand the analogy, but you got it. :wink: