I spend a lot of time reading and searching through forums, reviews, YouTube clips, features and just about everything related to guitar. Like you, I’m sure, I’m probably above average interested in guitars, pedals and amps. The internet is a powerful tool when you’re searching for new stuff, tips and help but it can also be quite the opposite of what you need and ruin all the fun.
I’ll be very honest. Most of what I read is biased crap. Yep, there are so many fools and idiots out there just waiting to fill your head with all their expertise and know-how. It’s the forum bully, the “I never got to be a rock star” journalist and the sales man behind the counter pushing his latest campaign. None of them will help you in getting better at playing guitar, improve your tone or boost your confidence and inspiration.
I’m being very harsh, I know, but I was discussing this topic with a friend and I realized that although the internet gives you unlimited resources it’s also a place to get totally lost and lured into a labyrinth that’s hard to get out of.
I started to play guitar in the early 90s. Before the internet was born. I’ve seen the internet grow from something obscure to a world where you can find anything you want. Through Gilmourish.Com I’ve come to know people from all over the world and I’ve learned so much. The guitarist I am today is much thanks to the internet, the tips and tricks I’ve picked up and everything I’ve learned from the people I’ve “met”.
It took me many years to know how to use this powerful search engine. You got to know what to search for, who to trust and what to dismiss as crap. The music industry has changed because of the internet. In the early 90s, there was no such thing as boutique pedals or clones. Well, there was but it was a market for the demanding artist. There wasn’t even much of a vintage market either. Then Ebay was born and everything changed.
What happened was that the local classifieds became available for the whole world. You didn’t call your newspaper to place an ad or trade your old guitar for a pedal at your local guitar store anymore. You sold it at EBay and soon, a market for so called vintage gear grew into the sky and beyond.
The higher the price you could get the better the pedal or guitar sounded. It had to, right? Expensive is good! No, it’s not. One can always argue that guitars, amps and pedals were better in the 50s, 60s and 70s but in most cases, it’s about the affection value and not the quality.
It’s all psychological really. You can get as many clones as you want but it’s still not the same as owning the real thing. No matter how lousy it sound. I know. I’ve been there and I’m still tempted. Every day.
What EBay also did was create a market for the small companies. Well, before EBay, there was these guys working in their garage or in a guitar shop modding and repairing gear but with EBay and the whole explosion of the internet, they understood that there was a bigger audience out there just waiting for new stuff to emerge.
What these guys also understood was that you now had the chance to communicate with your customers and even be ahead of the market by designing pedals, guitars and amps that people on the forums wished for and dreamed about.
The reason me and my friend started this discussion was that we’d been watching Justin Sandercoe’s YouTube clip “Always ask why” (subscribe to his channel, lots of great tips!). I couldn’t agree more with what he says.
Always ask why when someone tells you that you have to buy this or that or do things in a certain way. Are they sincere? Do they know what they’re talking about? Do they have an agenda? It’s really important because all your questions relates to two things: how can you become a better musician and how can you improve your tone. That’s what it’s all about and if you get the wrong answers then you’re on the wrong path.
Forums are great places to learn and pick up new stuff but forums are these small societies that’s populated by both friends and foe. Some will be very helpful, unbiased and friendly. They’ll point out that what they’re sharing and telling you is strictly their opinion and you should seek other advice as well to compare.
Some, however, will give you one single answer and at the same time make sure that no one else on that forum dare to oppose it. These people are jerks and not there to help. They have no clue of what they’re talking about, they have done little or no research themselves. They also have a hard time understanding that they were once a novice struggling to learn.
So what’s the big deal? Well, when you’re trying to find some help or information, perhaps for your next purchase, you are open for anything and subconsciously seeking information that might support and confirm what you think is the right guitar or whatever for you. Even if it’s the wrong choice. The forum bully will tell you that his opinion is the only way. That’s just his sorry nature.
The guy in your local guitar store and the guitar mag journalist will tell you that the latest hype is the best option. They have to because they need to sell and get ads in order for their business to survive.
So what do you do? Like Justin said, “ask why”. Why is this guitar the best choice for the music you want to play? Why is this pedal better than the other? Do some research. Use the forums and seek out different opinions. Watch YouTube clips and listen to the tone. How does this match up with the reviews and user comments?
More importantly, visit your local store and spend a day trying a bunch of guitars, amps and pedals. Tell the clerk to leave you alone or, if he’s the rare breed that actually knows what he’s talking about and has the ability to give you unbiased help, then be sure to pick his brain for all valuable information.
Personally I rarely use forums but when I do, I’m looking for threads that have a healthy debate with different opinions and arguments. Places like The Gear Page and Harmony Central has grown very big, perhaps too big, but you can pick up some useful information there and meet some very knowledgeable people.
I’m also using YouTube a lot and enjoy watching amateur recordings especially. They’re honest and the people making them are refreshingly enthusiastic about their tone and what they’re trying to display. Review clips like the ones from PGS, Prymaxe Vintage, Guitarist, Guitar World etc are great to get an understanding of how things sound and work but keep in mind that all of these are made to sell products.
What I like about PGS and Prymaxe in particular though is that they always use the same amp and mic, which allows you to get an honest impression of the pedal or whatever’s being reviewed. Others, like Pete Thorn, Gearmandude and Shnobel offer a more personal touch and opinion in their presentations and reviews.
So, what about Ebay? Well, Ebay is a place where you can get great offers on new items or spend all your hard earned money on a vintage Big Muff just like any other gambler junkie. This is where me and my buddy disagree. I have spent my share of money on vintage stuff. Some of it blew my mind but most of it was a complete waste.
Why? Well, lets face it. Being vintage, old or whatever, doesn’t mean that it’s good. It’s hard to acknowledge when you‘ve spent a fortune on an old fuzz or ’76 Electric Mistress but pedals from the early days of pedal making was, by and large, of a far less quality than what you get today. Add 30 or 40 years of abuse and storage and you have a piece of noisy electronics. Even the guys who made these pedals back in the days acknowledges this.
My friend insisted that he could never use a new fuzz. Never. I find that claim very strange and I did, at one point, call him an ignorant idiot. I can totally understand the sensation and thrill of owning an original Fuzztone or Tonebender but what’s wrong with getting a clone made with better parts and less noise? Perhaps fuzz isn’t a good example, since it’s all about noise but this was our topic anyway.
Perhaps I’m the misinformed fool but I think that the whole vintage craze is about two things: the need and thrill of collecting and owning a vintage item. It’s the quest and thrill and not necessarily the tone, that tempts us. Second, we are thought to think that the more expensive, exclusive and hyped an item is, the more we want it. It’s how the market and our minds work. Not all of us are anywhere near having the budget but every night we dream about owning that guitar or pedal.
How can someone claim that one pedal is better than the other? Who am I to tell you that you need this very pedal to nail that specific tone? Have I tried it myself? Have I tried the pedal with your amp and guitar? It’s always funny to see comments like “nothing beats a 56 Les Paul into a 59 Bassman with only a 71 triangle Muff in between”.
In most cases those who claim things like this have no clue what their talking about. Beats what? I’m not looking for a Les Paul nor a Bassman. “Every UniVibe out there is crap. Nothing sounds like the Shin-ei”. I would sure like to know if you’ve ever tried one and if you have, you’d probably never make that claim again.
I know, I’m being very harsh. Forgive me, but my point is: don’t let anyone tell you or decide what you’re going to buy or which guitar, amp or pedal is right for you. Not even me! Do your research and always (if possible) try before buying.
Use the information and sources available but always be your own judge. It takes some practice and experience but in the end, before you slide that credit card, trust your ears and instinct.