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Equipment: Buy What You Need, Not What You Want

Bob Craypoe (also known as R. L. Crepeau) is a musician, writer, webmaster, 3D artist, and creator of the Punksters comic strip series.

How to pick the right music equipment

How to pick the right music equipment

Choosing the Right Musical Equipment

As musicians, we need to purchase certain pieces of equipment in order to achieve certain results or to accomplish some very specific things. But there are many times when we don’t actually buy the things we need. Often we buy things that we want.

Sometimes those things we want are the latest toys or gadgets that really don’t help us achieve what we want to achieve. They are just something new to play with. So how do you decide if it is something you really need or something you just want? I have a few suggestions on how to make that determination.

What Is a Necessity?

First of all, you have to know what you really need. For example, if you are playing out, you need a sound system. A sound system consists of a few items. Those are your speakers, the mixer, the power amp, and all of the various cables needed to hook them up. That’s pretty cut and dry there. It’s pretty obvious. But what is the scale of these things that you actually need?

You see, there are speakers that can push a lot of sound and there are ones designed for smaller venues. If you are not playing Madison Square Garden any time soon, then you will probably not need the speakers that handle the most wattage. The same is true regarding the power amp and the mixer. Are you really going to need a 24 channel mixer or will just a 12 channel mixer do? What do you need?

Other things that are necessities are your microphones, microphone stands and your microphone cables. But if you are only doing live performance, you only need a relatively cheap microphone. The more expensive microphones are usually reserved for recording purposes.

Generally a Shure SM58 will do for vocal purposes and a Shure SM57 are good enough to be used to mic a guitar amp. Yes, you need a microphone but you don’t need an expensive one generally for live purposes. So if all you are doing right now is just playing out, then you don’t need a very expensive recording mic.

Now, if you are a millionaire, it really doesn’t matter. You could get the top of the line for every equipment purchase. But if you have a limited spending budget like most people, you have to prioritize. You may have to get the cheaper stuff needed just to get started. Once you get out there and start bringing in money, then you can start getting the top-of-the-line sort of music gear.

What Is a Want?

In musical equipment terms, a want is something that is not a necessary item but you still want it anyway. Maybe it’s that cool new guitar pedal that gets all of these wild sounds. You really want to get it so that you could just play around with it. It’s a sort of novelty item. But in the overall scheme of things, it doesn’t really help you to achieve anything. Sure, if you have the extra money, get it. But if there are items that you really need, then forgo purchasing the neat little toy and spend your money on what you need.

I am guilty of purchasing the occasional musical toy. Perhaps a new guitar pedal that makes some wild sounds or one that has so many features that I probably won’t come anywhere near to using them all. Then later I discovered that there were a few things that I really needed and did not have the money to purchase those things because the money was already spent on something I didn’t need.

Determining if It Is a Want or a Need

So how do you determine if it is a want or a need? One test is to ask yourself what it will help you to achieve. As an example, I, as a solo performer, strive to get as full of a sound as I possibly can. I basically play guitar and sing simultaneously. Technically, that’s just two channels on the mixer. But there are ways of thickening up my sound and adding more depth to it.

So one of my purchases was the Electro-Harmonix Synth 9 guitar synthesizer effects pedal. It makes my guitar sound like a synth. The one patch I use the most is the Synth Strings patch. I plug my guitar into it and it has the dry un-effected sound and the effected sound. Each of those two sounds has its own volume control. So I generally have a clean guitar sound mixed with a synth string sound and it adds a lot of depth to my overall sound.

Now, I considered adding more depth to my sound a necessity. I felt that if I played out as a solo performer and my sound was very big, that I would be more likely to be given opportunities to play those places regularly, simply due to a better quality of sound as part of my performance. Theoretically, that should lead to better customer satisfaction. With the customers being the venue owner and the audience.

Another purchase of mine was a Deluxe Fender Stratocaster. I felt that the single-coil pickups in the Strat would really bring a lot of clarity to my fingerpicking. Well, I was right. Then running my Stratocaster into the Synth 9 pedal gave me the clarity of the single-coil sound mixed with the synth strings sound simultaneous, which gave me both clarity and depth. It gave me a pretty good sound in a live setting.

I recently purchased a Digitech JamMan loop pedal. I wanted to add drums to my live performance. I thought that using a looper for that purpose was the easiest setup option. I create the drum loops on my computer and transfer them over to the loop pedal, where there are 200 storage locations. If I want to store more, I have the option of using a Micro SD card for another 200 storage locations for loops.

So now I can add drums to the clean guitar sound, the synth sound, and my vocals. Now I am getting a very full sound. But you see what my goal was here. My objective was to get as big of a sound as I could as a solo performer. So my equipment purchases were based on that. The purchases were necessary to achieve the desired goal.

Get the Equipment That Matches Your Goals

I have probably wasted countless sums of money on purchases of music equipment that I really did not need. Many of the items I purchased, I then ended up selling. Then I took the money and spent it on something that I really needed in order to achieve my various goals. It really would have been nice to have avoided those mistakes but you live and you learn.

My later purchasing decisions were based upon my musical goals in the hopes that the new equipment that I purchased would help enable me to achieve them. What are your musical goals? What equipment is necessary to help you reach them? What do you need to purchase now in order to get started? Those are the questions you need to ask yourself. That will help determine what is a want and what is a need.

© 2017 Bob Craypoe