It took me a long time to get to write this, and it’s not apathy I’m talking about. It’s taken me years and a lot of money. The secret knowledge that is contained in this article will cause me to be excommunicated from the Guild Of Guitarists and charged with the crime of musical heresy.

When I was a lad (cue the maudlin music) I used to press my nose against the window of guitar shops and lust after the expensive guitars contained within, all way out of my price range of course. I had bought into the myth that the music business propagates about their product. The sad truth is that if you can’t do it with the guitar you have now then you just can’t do it. As long as it plays in tune and sounds passable then it is good enough. A guitarist could pick it up and make music with it, if you can’t then you’re not a guitarist yet. Don’t waste any time thinking ‘If I only had the Les Paul Studio whatever.. I would be so much better’ Spending £1500 on a guitar won’t make you sound any better. These guitars do sound better, but after you have plugged it into an amp with very limited bandwidth then pumped the sound out into a room with questionable acoustics that is now full of drunk punters, most of whom can’t tell a major chord from a minor, and whose ears are fried from years of iPod abuse, how much ‘improvement’ do you think the nice new shiny guitar will give you? I’m guessing 1% at best. Seems like a lot of money for 1%…..If you had £1500 to blow, would it be best to spend it on a new guitar or take £1500 worth of time off work and spend it practicing 8 hours a day, some of it with a band? Maybe you could spend some of it on lessons, books and tuition dvd discs. Which of the two scenarios would your listeners say gave the greatest perceived improvement? Now, deep inside, you know this is the truth, you have known it all along but you still want that guitar right?

 

The obvious question here is then why do we buy these guitars? In my opinion we buy them because it validates us as ‘serious musicians’ whatever that is. We have a good guitar therefore we must be better that the urchins with their cheapo Squires. As you would expect I have spent more time than any sane man should in guitar shops and some of it in vintage guitar shops. These vintage shops are where you hear the ‘Golden tone myth’ propagated, usually by people selling the vintage guitars or by people who have spent a lot on one (You can figure that one out I’m sure..).. Some of these guitars do sound and play very nicely, some don’t. Would you go into a car dealer and say ‘I don’t really want that new car, I’ll take that old one that’s done 100,000 miles and costs 10 times as much please.’? Do you think the average listener will notice the difference? Make no mistake, only very few people will notice the difference between a low end Martin acoustic and a beaten up old Gibson that costs £5000. You might not be one of them. Often it’s a case of the emperor’s new clothes. It’s very tempting to think ‘Oh Hendrix had such and such guitar, I must make sure the nut radius of this guitar is the same blah blah blah…) What you forget is that these old guys just played what they could find, or what they could afford. They didn’t pick a particular guitar from a wall rack of thousands just because it had some perceived sonic excellence.

 

Think about music, what is it? If we take out our self validation and all the peripheral rubbish it’s just the air vibrating. At its purest you should be able to think of something and then the air vibrates. That’s it. At this stage I have absolutely no interest in guitars as objects, testimony to this is the guitar I used for years, the beaten up black Mexican Strat that you may have used at my place. It’s got a huge chunk missing from it I don’t even remember how that happened. If it got stolen tomorrow I would just buy another and, ignoring the financial penalty, I wouldn’t bat an eyelid. (I should confess that I have just upgraded to a very nice Levinson Blade RH4, I just couldn’t resist!) What I am interested in is how to play it better, and how to understand music more deeply, but that isn’t ‘guitars’ though. If I woke up tomorrow and somehow my guitar abilities had been replaced with abilities of the same standard on sax or piano it wouldn’t phase me in the slightest (tuba might cause me some sweaty, sleepless nights though….) It’s about the music not the tool you use, imagine painters sitting around and saying ‘Man I gotta get me some brushes like that Van Gogh used, I can’t do ANY painting till I get some!’ The brush has nothing to do with the painting. Think of any great photographs you may have seen, do you even care what kind of camera was used to take it? A good photographer will get great pictures from the worst camera, all a good camera does is get out of the way slightly more quickly, same with guitars.

The quicker you come to the same conclusions the quicker you will be on your way to becoming a musician, not just a guitarist.