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When the cymbals come in
Back when I was in a band and really into guitars I was a regular on an online guitar forum. Since you can’t jam on a vBulletin forum, people did the next best thing and posted photos. Photos of their very expensive Les Pauls, old amplifiers, new foot pedals. That’s the time I learned that GAS stands for Gear Acquisition Syndrome. Not long after that I became convinced that surely – hey! surely – I will play better if I had just the right setup.
Everybody on there believed in the power of gear and it wasn’t just your standard guitars and amps or new effect pedals that were interesting. NOS tubes, hand-wound pickups, special coats of paint (ideally: cracked), original greenback speakers – all of them objects of obsession.
This was in 2007, 2008 maybe. YouTube already existed but comparison videos weren’t what they are today. Little bit less polish, less videos in general. You’d let out an audible Yes if you found a video that compared exactly the amp and tubes you were after.
One day someone posted a video of himself showing off new boutique pickups in his Les Paul, playing through an old Marshall.
I already had a Les Paul and a Marshall and gotten nothing but compliments on my tone from my bandmates. And yet: GAS. My tone could be better, I thought, it’s not there yet. Maybe a new set of these expensive, boutique pickups could fill this audible-only-to-me hole? They are expensive though.
So after watching the video of the guy and his new pickups way too many times, I reached out to him and asked him: do you really think there’s a difference between these and the stock pickups in my Les Paul?
He replied: yes, they sound fantastic, different to the stock ones. Tremendous pickups, fantastic craftsmanship.
At the end of his reply, in a separate paragraph, he added a but: once the drummer hits those cymbals, you won’t be able to tell the difference.
I didn’t buy the pickups. But not only that. In the years since reading this last paragraph, I turned it over in my mind so many times that it morphed from a comment about guitar gear into something I turn to on a regular basis.
Whenever I’m in a discussion about technology that revolves around what The Best Way to do a particular thing is I think of it. When people discuss tools, or programming languages, and what theoretically the best solution is, when someone turns up their nose and wants to rip the word “pragmatism” out of the dictionary, that’s when I think: but will it matter once the cymbals come in?
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