Let’s open with a story.
Years ago a friend and I worked in a department store. My friend was working one day and had to help cover the registers. It was shortly after Christmas, probably January or December of whatever year it was (1999-2001). My friend said he was ringing out a mother and her obnoxious 10/11/12-year-old son. The son was whining about her not buying him something he wanted, and my friend got the impression that this kid often whined his way to getting his way, but the mother was, albeit sheepishly, resisting this time. “No, I said! We just had Christmas,” she said to him. He returned, pouting, “Yeah, but I didn’t get nothing.” Mom seemed a little annoyed, “A Gibson Les Paul is not ‘nothing.'”
My friend checked with me later, “Hey, are Gibson Les Pauls expensive?”
Yes, friend. They are.
Wrapped up in that story is the essence of what I want to address here: I really can’t stand seeing people own very nice (and very expensive) guitars (or any musical instrument, really) but not really USE them. It is simultaneously irritating and stupid. And understand that this isn’t just Gibsons (though they’re the most commonly abused as I’ve seen), but any nice, high-end guitar or equipment.
Why? Because those guitars were designed and built by people whose PASSION is guitar. You can’t be wishy-washy about that instrument and make and sell one over which millions of guitarists melt over the sound. Sticking with Les Pauls for this example–first of all, that’s the guitar designed by Les Paul. The man was a walking legend by the time he was 30. He INVENTED the electric guitar. He played one professionally until he died at the age of NINETY-FOUR. The guitar he designed has become synonomous with other greats like Jimmy Page or Frank Zappa or Pete Townsend. You don’t get a job working in the American factory that builds $2000+ Les Paul guitars because you’re a layman needing work and you filled out an application. You have to be an artisan. It’s the same idea for any other high-end guitar, whether made by Gibson, Fender, Gretsch, Paul Reed Smith, or anyone. Well . . . anyone but Jay Turser, but one really shouldn’t bring up Daewoo when talking about muscle cars.
I’ve known people with really nice guitar equipment that barely learned how to play, and really didn’t care too much to advance. Look–if you don’t want to advance at guitar or any instrument, that’s your choice, but to have nice stuff and let it collect dust is shameful. It’s like someone buying a professional-grade mixer and just using it once a month to beat eggs. Imagine being a professional chef, or a even just a very enthusiastic cook and foodie, and visiting their home and seeing an amazing $700 piece of equipment sitting on their counter and learning that they really only know how to cook speghetti and scrambled eggs and don’t care to learn anything more; when you point it out they chuckle, “Oh, yeah–that. It’s nice, but I usually just order out, really.” It’s close to the same thing for me when I see that Gibson ES-335 sitting next to that 2×12 Orange Combo amp in a corner in the room you never go in. (note: I’ve never actually seen THAT, but you get the point.) There’s a certain amount of honesty with ourselves that we should all have to be able to understand that we don’t need $2000+ of stuff if we’re going to use it twice a year. That guitar and amp would be happier in the hands of someone who appreciates it, and you can go drop $200-400 from the sale on a Squier Telecaster and an 8-inch Peavy amp. Everybody wins!
Now, to clarify . . . if you have that $700 mixer and don’t know how to cook or bake very well, but you got the mixer with intentions of doing and learning more–go get ’em. So when a beginner picks up something like a $1200 Fender Strat, I still think it’s a bit of overkill for such early stages, but if they’re really going to work at it, I’ll happily keep my mouth shut. Like the guy that I recently learned about (through sources I will not reveal in my blog) that spent $3500 on a Les Paul and is a total beginner. Stupid? Probably. But if he sticks with it, what can I say against him?
Well that’s all on a personal level. I have to KNOW someone before I’ll notice wasted guitars in their home, and if thats the furthest this annoyance went it wouldn’t be worth its own blog post. But it keeps going . . .
Okay, so the Jonas Brothers are very over-bashed in my opinion. Not because they’re actually talented (from the little I’ve heard, I don’t believe it), but because before Justin Bieber came along, they were the popular flavor for the internet to hate. So please understand that I’m not jumping on, nor trying to revive, that band wagon. It’s that I’ve seen dozens of pictures of these kids around the interwebs, and in so many of them they’re “playing” guitars I’ve dreamed of owning for a decade. Like lil’ scrunchy-face up there. (And if you didn’t know what a Gibson ES-335 was when I mentioned it earlier–that’s it, in the hands of a child). They don’t really USE them . . . do you think he even touches that Bigsby arm, except maybe to move it out of the way? It’s all for show, and that’s a waste. But then again . . . the Jonas Brothers are owned by Disney, so they have the money to throw around. What about bands that AREN’T funded by milti-billion dollar corporations?
A few months ago a friend commented on a video of the Plain White T’s song “Boomerang” (a band whose style reminds me, in the worst way, of that song “I’ll Never Let You Go” by Third Eye Blind; gross). I had the video imbedded when I wrote this, but the account has since been removed. He said that it’s ridiculous that three guitarists are all playing the same chord in the same voicings. He’s right. I add that it is also ridiculous that bands like this bother to buy such expensive equipment (they were playing a Les Paul, a Gibson SG, and a custom acoustic of a brand I didn’t notice) when they’re going to just play power chords and not try to do much else.
I guess if you’ve earned the money, there’s not that much wrong with it (plus you can write it off your taxes if you make music for a living), and that leaves me with not much to say against it . . . except respect what you’re holding! After having your band recording and touring for years, wouldn’t you want to improve your skills to improve your sound? No? I guess that’s just me.
A while back I saw a show with four bands. The second of the four was who I went to see (named Moneen), and the opening band actually stole the show in my opinion (named Moving Mountains). There were two Fender Telecasters and two Gibson ES-335’s between those two groups. I should point out that the ES-335’s were VERY used. Whether those guys bought them new or not I don’t know, but calling their appearance “weathered” is putting it lightly. In both bands, the guitars were put to very good use; they were clearly loved and played often. None of those guys are necessarily hair-metal-virtuoso-level guitarists, but they’re really good players that do a lot with their instruments. You can click that link above if you want to look into Moving Mountains, here is Moneen showing skill and comfort with their instruments:
Then the first of the two headliners got on stage. Eisley. I have nothing inherently against Eisley. Actually, after hearing the song in this video I might look into them a little more. But take note of the guitarist NOT singing . . .
Since I’ve seen this band live, I can assure you that ALL of their equipment is top-of-the-line. I was actually a little weirded out by how un-weathered their stuff was, but maybe they’d just done a shopping spree before the tour. But did you watch the second guitarist? That’s what she did most of the show, too. I’m not saying she shouldn’t be in the band; I am saying you don’t need to spend thousands of dollars on guitar equipment if you’re going to play bare-bones basics. In principle, it is a waste and, in some degree, an insult.
Then there was the headlining band: Say Anything. I don’t have much good to say about them in general so there’s not much to say about their equipment.
I think the last and primary point that I want to drive home with all of this is that we should remember that a guitar is a musical instrument made to make music. It’s become such a symbol of so much else that even players like myself lose touch with that reality. But what would be the result if people would learn to enjoy spending time with something like actually playing that expensive instrument they bought instead of refreshing Facebook or turning on Black Ops? I can write some other time about the idea of not assuming that being good at an instrument means you have to join a touring rock band, but as I pull everything together that I’ve said in this post, that’s a large part of what I’m saying. I think, anyway. Or maybe I’m just jealous.