I recently sold an amplifier and stirred up a fun conversation with the buyer when we met in person. He was still lamenting about his amplifier choice, as he spent considerable research time – as many of us do these days – and sought out guidance online.
The problem, he discovered as he waded through countless forums, websites and video reviews, was that the opinions he found varied greatly. How could an amp be described as unreliable, shrill in tone, or lifeless and sterile in feel, while at the same time also being defined as being bullet-proof, a “holy grail” amp, and smooth with perfect overdrive bite?
Who ARE these people and what’s wrong with everyone’s ears?
Welcome to the world of the internet. That really is the downside after all. There is so much information available, but where do you go and who do you believe? Does
one try to gather a general sense of it all and simply “tally the votes” one way vs. the other, or does one base their decision on the loudest, biggest, or most popular voices out there?
The unfortunate truth is that there is no simple answer, but I have learned some things along the way. Here are some tips to consider:
• Forum communities are passionate and members love to split hairs. I’m guilty of this too! I love to “sweat the small stuff” – Have you read our various articles on Tube Screamer variants and modifications? Yes, changing components will make differences, but are they THAT big of a deal at the end of the day when you’re cranking up your gear and jamming with your friends? Not really… So don’t get too wrapped up in it all. I’ve spent years and money chasing tone and some things make a bigger difference then others, but most comparisons between items that are similar are simply that. They are SIMILAR!
• Marketing that you read in an ad or product description can have a powerful effect on the mind, but it is just often filled with over-exaggerated buzz words. And note that these can be often carefully crafted by marketing wordsmiths who may not even play guitar in the first place!
• Companies will split hairs about feature updates to position their products as the best solution out there – and it’s often to help justify increased prices. When Gibson talked about using hide glue on some of its more recent Custom Shop guitars to bond the tops and fingerboards, you’d think it was some magic formula that was FINALLY unlocked to take the guitars to some new dimension in tonal capture. New instruments that have now been recreated with even more accuracy than any previous reissue model in its history. Yes, the updates may be more accurate to the original, but I also don’t read any stories about bodies and necks coming apart from previous models or losing their resonant qualities because of the glue type being used. But we as players LOVE to banter and debate these subjects.
• Understand that reviews from online stores that sell gear, or from publications that otherwise accept advertising money for products, will have SOME bias. Between advertising and editorial, there is supposed to be a separation of church and state. But with that said, if you’re a writer and you don’t like some piece of gear, are you really going to bite the hand that feeds you and potentially harm the relationship between the editor and advertiser by trashing the product? This same rationale works in any industry, not just with guitar equipment.
• When choosing gear, understand whether you prominently are an at-home bedroom or home-recording player or someone who plays out live or in a full band context. The application of equipment varies greatly and some of it works better in one environment vs. the other. Don’t use a 100 watt Super Lead in a recording session in your apartment. It won’t sound good and you’ll probably be served an eviction notice.
• Pro players can make anything just about anything sound good in a demo video. I do believe that player technique and mastery of the instrument equals better tone. Always. FACT: ANY video demo from Joe Bonamassa will sound and look better than ANY video from David Szabados. So while chasing equipment is fun, truth be told, spending more time in the woodshed actually playing guitar will take you a lot further than just hunting down the next piece of gear. Have fun with it, but at least try to keep things in moderation and remember the point is to PLAY your instrument.