The author is a guitarist and bassist with over 35 years of experience as a musician.
Gear Acquisition Syndrome
Got GAS? Got it real bad? So bad that your spouse won't stop complaining about it, and your kids are embarrassed to have anyone over the house?
You're not alone. Guitar and bass players around the world suffer from GAS every day. Sooner or later, as musicians, we must learn how to manage it.
Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS, or Guitar Acquisition Syndrome) is an affliction where a musician can't seem to purchase, trade for, or otherwise acquire enough instruments, amplifiers, effects, and accessories. It's not that you don't appreciate the gear you have, but there is always a reason you need something new.
There are so many beautiful guitars out there, and so many incredible amps and effects. Life is short, and it only makes sense to want to collect as many as you can! If you are like most guitar players, this probably seems normal. But GAS can get out of control when it starts to impact other aspects of your life.
Is GAS necessarily a problem? Maybe, or maybe not. In this article, we'll take a closer look at Gear Acquisition Syndrome and how it impacts guitar players.
The Problem With Gear Acquisition Syndrome
Guitar players aren't the only ones who suffer from GAS. Photographers are another notable group who can never seem to collect enough stuff. Two other groups that come to mind are cyclists and golfers. I think the latter presents the best cautionary tale for guitar players.
If you've ever played golf with people who take it seriously, you might have noticed some of them have more of an interest in equipment than they do in their own skills. The newest club made out of some cutting-edge material will help them hit the ball 20 yards further. Better shoes will help their swing. A better putter will cut a few strokes off their short game.
But if they don't work on what matters—that is, their own skills—all that fancy new driver will do is help them hit the ball twenty yards further into the woods.
As guitar players, we need to be careful that our quest for gear doesn't overshadow what's really important. Great guitar players make decent gear sound great. Bad guitar players make decent gear sound bad. When the gear is more important than practice and skills, GAS has become a real problem.
Gear Acquisition Syndrome can negatively influence other aspects of your life as well, from relationships to jobs to finances. You can see why it is so important to keep things in perspective.
Signs of GAS
The first step is to determine if you are suffering from GAS. Below are a few examples of GAS gone awry. If any of this sounds like it could happen to you, you very well may have a problem:
- When you enter the local guitar shop you're greeted like Norm when he walks into Cheers.
- You bought a Gibson Les Paul for your daughter on her 3rd birthday, thinking you'd "keep it company" until she's old enough to play it.
- You've cut back on some non-essential expenses like food and heat so you have more money to put toward gear.
- Your regional Marshall sales rep has named his new yacht after you.
- You've been thrown out of more than one vintage guitar expo for hugging the instruments.
Of course it doesn't have to go that far. Most of us probably suffer from guitar acquisition syndrome at one time or another. The key is in how we manage it so it doesn't negatively impact the rest of our lives.
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My wife has recently brought to my attention that every room in our home presently has a guitar or amp in it, except for the bathroom.
Is There a Cure for GAS?
The simple act of acquiring gear doesn't mean GAS is a problem for you. I mean, it's completely ridiculous to expect a guitarist to own only one or two guitars, right? They are guitars, not pipe organs. You can fit a whole bunch of them into even a modest-sized apartment. And they are each unique in their own way, with different sounds and personalities.
So, what is the correct number? Is it reasonable to own five guitars? 10? 20? 50?
You'll have to come up with the answer to that on your own. But I would submit that, as long as your finances, personal relationships and professional life aren't suffering, and as long as you are putting practice and skill ahead of gear, you can own as many guitars and amps as you darn well please.
Certainly, there are far worse and more self-destructive things to spend money on than a guitar collection. If everything else is in order, why feel guilty about spending money on something you love?
The key to keeping GAS under control is perspective. New gear is great, but never lose sight of what's really important. As long as your family, job, and finances come before your gear, you've no need to fear.
How Many Guitars?
Gear Acquisition Syndrome and Your Family
Even if you are financially secure with good relationships and a solid professional life, it might be hard for some family members to understand why you spend so much on gear. When GAS has a negative influence over your personal life, it's time to reassess your priorities.
A friend of mine had a bad case of GAS. He was doing fine financially, but his wife didn't get why he needed to spend so much on gear. So he developed an interesting strategy.
When he found a guitar he liked, he'd also pick out a similar guitar costing a few thousand dollars more. For a while, he'd talk with his wife about the two guitars and how he was having trouble making a decision. Naturally, she'd try to steer him toward the less expensive guitar, which he would eventually end up purchasing.
He'd get the guitar he wanted all along, and she ended up feeling like she'd talked him out of spending a few thousand dollars.
I don't really recommend this approach, but it is one example of how to handle things. In fact, she eventually caught on, which was bad news for him.
I think it's far better to be honest with your spouse about your intentions, and consider their side of the story when it comes to buying gear. While they might not get why we need to do what we do, we need to remember that we are sometimes a bit blinded by GAS, and it might be wise to rethink our decisions.
GAS and Your Spouse
I hope you realize this article was intended with a light-hearted spin. But I also want to mention the darker side of gear acquisition, on a more serious note. For some people, the intense desire to spend money and purchase new things is a real psychological disorder that requires professional intervention.
It's humorous when well-grounded people spend a little too much on gear or have a room full of guitars that drives their spouse crazy.
It's not funny when people lose their homes, jobs, and marriages because they can't stop spending money.
If your life is in ruins because you spend too much on gear, that's not GAS, that's an addiction. You need to talk to a professional and get help. This isn't unlike any other addiction: A shopping addict seeks the rush of finding and buying something new, and when that's over they need it again.
Living With Gear Acquisition Syndrome
For most of us, GAS means drooling over guitars at the shop, buying too much stuff, and getting an earful from our spouses for cluttering up the house with guitars, amps and effects pedals. As long as we keep everything in perspective and put more emphasis on our family, careers, finances, and skills as a musician we shouldn't worry about Gear Acquisition Syndrome becoming a problem.
GAS is nothing to be embarrassed about. Having some cool gear is part of what makes being a musician so much fun. Do we really need it? Who is to say, but if it makes you happy and it is not hurting anyone that new guitar can't be a bad thing.
So, keep your GAS under control and enjoy life as a guitar player.