10 Golden Rules For Buying Gear You’ll Love
As a musician, you are one of the lucky people who gets to celebrate a holiday of your own creation: New Gear Day.
New Gear Days are my favourite days of the year. The feeling of expanding your musical armory is SO exciting.
But the joys of New Gear Day can be overshadowed by the unexpected shock of disappointment–broken equipment, finish blemishes, or the dreaded “it just doesn’t have THAT sound”–can bring the celebration to a grinding halt.
I’ve made plenty of mistakes–and spent a lot of money–with my own gear purchases. And over the years I’ve seen countless mistakes made first-hand by everybody from beginners to experienced musicians.
So from one musician to another, I’d like to pass along my hard-earned wisdom to help you avoid these mistakes.
Without further ado, here are my 10 golden rules for buying gear you’ll love:
Rule #1: Play It Before You Buy It.
This rule is so important I put it first, although it is not actually the first step in the buying process (more on this below).
You should always – and I mean, ALWAYS – play the gear before buying.
Buying a guitar? Play it first. If it’s an electric, play it both unplugged and through an amp. If it’s an acoustic with a pickup, play it unplugged and through a speaker system.
Buying an amp? Be sure to play through all channels, and experiment with all the settings. Does the EQ respond in a way that you like? Do you like how the gain sounds? How does it work with your pedals?
Buying a new effects pedal? Be sure to put that puppy in your existing effects chain to make sure it plays well with your other pedals. Experiment with all the settings.
You want to put the equipment through its paces before you put down your hard-earned cash.
Rule #2: Identify What You Want, And Why.
This is actually the first step in the buying process – what do you want to buy, and why?
I suggest asking yourself questions like:
- “What does this piece of gear do that my current gear cannot do?”
- “How would this new guitar/amp/etc. enable me to be more creative, more musically expressive?”
- “What am I not happy about with the gear I already own?”
- (For gigging musicians): “How would this piece of gear enable me to avoid problems in a live scenario? Provide piece of mind? Enhance my live performance?”
Now, maybe you’re a Stratocaster aficionado and your entire guitar collection revolves around your strats. If that’s your jam, that’s cool.
Personally, my goal for gear is for every piece to provide something unique. And as a gigging musician, I own a few duplicate pieces (2 identical amps, for example) to ensure I’m always prepared in case something breaks.
Rule #3: You Must Love How It Looks.
This rule is more important than it seems at first glance.
Imagine you found the perfect guitar – it feels perfect in your hands, the weight is good, and it sounds just like the sound in your head you’ve been chasing.
But, it’s bright neon pink. And you hate pink.
No matter how nice that guitar feels and sounds, your odds of picking it up and playing it are significantly lower if you don’t like the look of it.
On the flip side, if you love how it looks, you’re more likely to play it – even at random times.
I’ve seen this happen with everybody from brand-new beginners to seasoned pros… I’ve even done this myself with my latest guitar purchase, even stopping on the way to the bathroom to play it. I just can’t help but pick it up!
So, make sure you love the look.
If you really want a black guitar – keep looking for a black guitar. If you find one that’s the wrong colour, inquire if you can get it ordered in black.
Rule #4: You Must Love How It Sounds.
This is the complimentary brother to Rule #3.
If you find a piece of gear, and it looks great – but it doesn’t have the sound you’re looking for – you’re less likely to use it.
Music is a hearing art. At the end of the day, it’s all about the sound. So make sure you love the sound you make with that gear, or else it’s going to end up collecting dust.
Rule #5: Don’t Compromise.
Don’t compromise on your choice for a quick purchase. Patience and self-discipline are your best friends here.
If you’ve decided you want a red strat-style guitar with humbuckers and a locking tremolo bridge, go out and find it.
It is tempting to give in to the temporary excitement of buying new gear… Maybe you found a red strat-style guitar with humbuckers, but it has a vintage-style tremolo bridge.
You could buy it, but eventually… You’re going to want that locking bridge.
Don’t sacrifice what you want for the short-term dopamine rush! Remember that you decided you wanted those specifications for a reason.
Rule #6: Beware The Opinions Of Others
Musicians are an opinionated lot. Often (and unfortunately), so are the employees at music stores.
Even with the best intentions, there is never a shortage of opinions flying around a shop.
Some common ones I hear are:
“Locking trems are a hassle”
“Vintage trems go out of tune too easily”
“Single coils sound better than humbuckers”
“Single coils are too noisy, humbuckers are where it’s at”
“Shorter-scale guitars are more comfortable”
“Shorter-scale guitars have the frets too close together”
“Tube amps are finicky and heavy”
“Solid-state amps sound too sterile”
“Buffered-bypass pedals colour the tone”
“True-bypass pedals lose signal strength through the chain”
… Are you seeing a pattern here?
At the end of the day, people’s opinions about gear are just that: opinions.
You will likely be exposed to other people’s opinions regarding gear while on your search – and even though they’re just trying to help, those opinions can affect your goal if you let them.
Be sure to form your own opinions and keep them in mind. Remember why you want a certain piece of gear.
At the end of the day, it’s YOUR money, YOUR new gear, and YOU are the one who has to use it!
Rule #7: Test It With Your Rig.
When you buy new gear, you want to put it in the environment in which it will ultimately live.
- If you’re buying a new guitar, bring your amp to the store and try it through your amp.
- If you’re buying a new amp, bring your guitar to the store and then try the amp.
- Testing a pedal? You guessed it – bring your rig, your pedalboard (if you have one), and test it out there.
This is a lesson I learned the hard way… Multiple times! I’ve been guilty of buying new gear (mostly pedals) and trying them out with whatever I could find at the store.
And when I got it home, it sounded completely different in my rig… And not in a good way.
Don’t make the same mistake I did – bring as much of your rig as possible to the store, and test it with your setup.
And make sure you get as quiet a space as possible! Don’t sit 10 feet away from somebody tuning to drop D while you try to hear the intricacies of your potential new equipment.
Rule #8: Don’t Ignore Used Gear (Newer Isn’t Always Better)
It’s a fairly common occurrence in the gear scene for companies to hit peaks – good runs of equipment from a certain time frame that just have that “it” factor.
For example, I own 5 instruments from the same manufacturer – 3 basses, and 2 guitars. Both guitars are actually the same model, built about 3 years apart. 2 of the basses are the same model and manufacturing year, in 4- and 6-string versions.
And no, they’re not Fender, Gibson, or Ibanez.
These particular guitars sound GREAT, were made in the USA, and cost a fraction of what a USA-built guitar would cost from another manufacturer.
One of the guitars I found in a pawn shop for $150! A quick cleaning and setup and it was ready to go.
Check out your local online classifieds, Facebook Marketplace, local gear exchange groups, and even pawn shops.
Sometimes you can find a hidden gear gem in the most unlikely places.
Rule #9: Don’t Sell (Unless You’re REALLY Sure About It).
This is more of a personal opinion than a hard-and-fast rule, but it’s one I feel I need to pass along.
I’ve since adopted a policy of not selling my gear.
Why? 2 big reasons:
- Gear generally depreciates in value, unless it’s a well-maintained vintage piece. You very rarely will get what you paid for out of your equipment once it’s been used.
- You bought it for a reason. Maybe it’s a pedal you really liked the sound of, but recently you haven’t used it much. At some point, you wanted that sound in your arsenal, and there’s a good chance that you’ll want that sound again at some point.
Put these 2 rules together, and you have a good case for holding on to what you have.
I sold a guitar years ago, and I regret it to this day. Now, it’s not made any more and I haven’t been able to find the same model anywhere.
If you follow the rules I set out here, there’s a good chance you will end up with equipment you really like.
So, don’t part with it. Trust your instincts and hold on to what you have.
Rule #10: HAVE FUN!
Don’t forget to have fun and enjoy the process.
Be patient in your search, but remember that once you find that perfect new addition, it will be well worth the wait.
Jordon Brosseau is a professional Canadian musician and guitar teacher. He is an avid reader and a vinyl enthusiast. If you are looking for guitar lessons in London, Ontario, be sure to give him a call!