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By Brian McPartland
There is a discussion that is repeated with regularity within most online guitar forums regarding gear, and much of it goes like this: the more time you spend studying the minutiae and differences of gear (be it guitars, pickups, amplification, tonewood types, string gauges, etc.), the greater the likelihood that you will find your perfect sound. Those who rail against this activity call it a rabbit hole, stating that one’s time would be better spent just practicing more. I understand this point of view, but I am here to defend those who delight in taking trips down this rabbit hole.
There is merit to the idea that if you can’t play well to begin with, the gear you own won’t make you sound like John Mayer. However, in defense of those of us who enjoy our time spent in the rabbit hole, I feel compelled to point out that gear shopping, for lack of a better phrase, and regardless of whether anything is purchased, isn’t mutually exclusive of guitar practice. I know many guitar players who are so passionate about guitar playing that they find it hard to pull themselves away, even after their hands are all practiced-out. Online gear research becomes a way to indulge their passion when their hands need a break, as well as to expand their knowledge. Analyzing gear is born out of curiosity. Take guitar picks as an example. Different pick materials create different tones, as do different pick thicknesses. Thin picks are great for strumming, while the bolder tone of thicker picks tends to be preferred for solos and lead lines. I would never have learned this had I not spent time online geeking-out over such details. Do I still practice thoughtfully? Yes, and when I’m done with practice but still find myself curious about how gear affects tone, you can bet I’ll be back online shopping. When your hands have had enough practice, yet you find yourself wanting to learn more about gear––go for it.