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Just how important is high end gear?

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Postby TRGuitar » May 6th, 2012, 1:25 pm

It is often stated here that a good player will sound like himself no matter what rig they play through. It is also said that a good player will make any gear sound good. You don't often get a chance to see an example of this and when I came across one on YouTube I thought I would share. Opinions? Comments?

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=I2a4rwg5VpU&feature=related
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Postby Liontable » May 6th, 2012, 3:14 pm

My guitar teacher plays a classical guitar, some high end model of several thousands of dollars. He generally plays whatever I'm playing on electric on his own classical guitar. Sometimes he gets an electric guitar from the store above to play electric together, and he always picks the cheapest guitar they have. I can confirm that having a guitar 10 times the price seems to be doing extremely little when comparing to him. He's doing it on purpose, he has to be. :(
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Postby NoteBoat » May 6th, 2012, 4:00 pm

in general, high end gear means better materials and workmanship. You can usually make improvements to the workmanship, though. And while high end materials and attention to detail usually make for a good result, some guitars just have 'magic'.

My personal guitar purchases have ranged from $25 to several thousand. But I basically bought each one with my eyes closed - it's the sound that matters to me.

On the other hand, it's also true that gear alone won't make your sound. A few years ago I was auditioning a singer who showed up at my house with her guitar and amp. After we'd played a while, she said she wished she could have gear like mine, because hers sounded so poor in comparison. So we switched - her Squier for my Strat, my Fender tubes for her low-end solid state amp. But she noticed that I still got a better sound.

My conclusions: good gear* makes any guitarist sound better, and a good guitarist makes any gear sound better.

*good gear = good gear, not necessarily high end gear
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Postby TRGuitar » May 6th, 2012, 5:37 pm

My conclusions: good gear* makes any guitarist sound better, and a good guitarist makes any gear sound better.

I agree whole heartedly. I just thought it was neat in the video that when he got tuned and started playing that LTD and Line 6 Spider combo sounded alot like his high end Steinberger through the pair of Marshalls he plays live. It really demonstrates how much of a persons sound comes from their fingers.
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Postby Crow » May 6th, 2012, 5:58 pm

"Low-end" gear is so good these days! I'd say if your ears can tell a difference (& your checkbook can stand the hit), go high-end. But base the decision on YOUR EARS, not on the brand name or the price tag.
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Postby Niklas » May 6th, 2012, 11:42 pm

I don't think there is a huge change in sound with high-end gear, but other just as important factors matter. There will be a difference in playability and quality. Cheap guitars go out of tune way more often. My high end electric hardly ever goes out of tune compared to my epiphone. And there is a HUGE difference in sound when comparing acoustic guitars.
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Postby s1120 » May 7th, 2012, 1:58 am

Well, there is low end, and high end... and then there is junk! Nephue picked up this "strat like" guitar packedge from ebay a few years ago, and eaven with my liminted skills back then, this was trash!!Played like junk, sounded worse plugged in, and I wont eaven get into the amp!!!!! The good of it? this was my victum for learning to work on guitars. I was up one end to the other on this thing, and got it... well... at least kinda playable... The amp toasted its speaker and some wiring in a few hours of playing. I rewired it and attached it to a small subwoffer, and he played his bass though it for some time.

So the point of this post is.... Clapton would have picked this rig up... would have sounded better then me for sure, but would have tossed it in the dust bin is about 2 min. On the other side.... If he picked up my $500 Epiphonne LP, and played it through my under $300 Vox amp, no doupt he would sound great, and not sound at all like me!! So I think anyone... eaven the best of the best, needs a base level of playability... luckly these days you can get that at a pretty low cost if you pick and choose a little. My LP sounds good, has rock solid tuning, and is real playable. You can pay a lot more... but eaven some top end gibsons ive played... wile dont get me wrong, were SWEET!!!... didnt feel THAT much better... much closer to mine, then mine was to that ebay strat.
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Postby notes_norton » May 7th, 2012, 6:54 am

IMHO high end gear is definitely better than good mid-range gear, but not necessarily all that important.

Low end gear is usually quite inferior.

However..........

One of the greatest sax players of the 20th century, Charlie Parker had an unfortunate heroin problem. That meant his saxophones were often in pawn shops, so he borrowed horns to play gigs and make records. Whether he was playing a top of the line horn, a student horn, or even a plastic sax (grafton), he always sounded like Charlie Parker
Image

I have a Gibson ES-330 and an Epiphone Casino. Almost identical guitars. They both feel good in my hands and play equally as well. The Gibson costs at least 4 times as much as the Epiphone. Why the difference? Made in the USA, better wood, real MOP inlays, Gibson headstock and other 'luxury' features.

The Epiphone has aftermarket (Duncan) pickups. Unplugged, the GIbson with better wood sounds better (hollow body archtop electric). Plugged in, the Epiphone actually sounds better. Pickups are more important to the sound of the guitar than the wood.

On the other hand, my Parker DF fits me so well and has such a delightful variety of tone options, I hardly even touch the Gibson or Epiphone anymore. In fact, I've had the Parker for over a year now, and it has cured my GAS except for another Parker so I can have 2. Plus, the DF is the mid-priced Parker.

And Jimmy Page demonstrated that he can play a Danelectro better than I can play any guitar ever built.

So how important is a high-end guitar? Depends. Not even a fraction as important as your talent and technique but like driving a Lexus instead of the Camry with the same body, it feels better and can do a few additional things but they will both get you to the same place.
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Postby EzraplaysEzra » May 7th, 2012, 9:26 am

I have to agree with just about everyone that high-end gear is unimportant and I have disagree with everyone that high end gear is unimportant. The leap in quality from a $100 instrument to a $600 is pretty steep. The leap from $600-$1000 guitars to high-end, professional models is more a matter of nuance. You could play mid size clubs your whole life and never want more than a trusty Epi LP. However, In a studio setting where you might be blasting through 10 completely different tunes, the limitations of that same guitar might start to become clear. The epi might sound okay on some tracks but flat and lifeless on others, whereas a standard les paul will have sustain and overtones and a much wider vocal range tonally. The average person doing 60mph in a Ferrari might think, this feels a lot like my Tercel, its not until you push the performance of it that you realise the difference. Lesser guitars, and I use that term only for lack of a better one, are geared more to mass appeal where your Higher-end stuff are specialized more.
But lets face it, 99% of guitar players, even touring ones wont require a $5000 SG. The $900 model could probably do everything ever asked from it and even more. Even guys who get regular work in studios might not be required to play through both solos of La Grange every time. Most high-end stuff is engineered for 1% of consumers. If your playing clubs, recording in a home studio or hourly studio for a demo, high-end gear probably wont be worth the expense. That doesn't mean you wouldn't appreciate it more. The high-end stuff is really more suited to guys who are house musicians and session players who have really specific needs from a single instrument.
With that, I say it again; The only thing that will make any guitar sound bad is the schmuck holding it.
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Postby Crow » May 7th, 2012, 9:38 am

A friend of mine from conservatory once shared a story about a music symposium in which Doc Severinsen was the keynote speaker. Doc played a brilliant solo to open his presentation, then told the audience that his horn was a student-model Getzen trumpet -- nothing special or custom-made. His point of course was that the price of the horn matters way, way less than the skill of the player.

I think generalizations about low-priced/mid-priced gear are a problem. Guitars at least are individual creatures & deserve to be treated as such. The sum of the parts, no matter how cheap, is often greater than the quality of the parts themselves.
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Postby Niklas » May 7th, 2012, 12:04 pm

Jack White used some cheap Sears-guitar with the White Stripes. Not sure what pickups he used in it though. For sound the electronics are a much more dominant factor than everything else. So this discussion should really be applied to acoustics in my opinion if we're going to take about different quality in woods.

I think a lot of the money you pay for a made in american Standard Gibson Les Paul is the fact it is just that. You will probably never feel the need for another Les Paul-style guitar again because you have what's considered the best, the original. That is what you pay for. That's the difference between a $1000 guitar and a $2000 guitar. Is it worth it? I don't think so and would never pay it. I'd rather have two great guitars instead.

But I think if you want a really good guitar where no corners are cut, you probably have to pay around $1000. I'm not Jack White...
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Postby cnev » May 7th, 2012, 12:11 pm

What's the old saying "If you have to ask how much it costs you can't afford it"

Given a choice I'd take a top of the line guitar that's no brainer, but, since I don't have a choice and money is important I'll make due with what I got.

Even before I started playing my two fav guitars were American made Strat and a real LP if I had those two guitars I wouldn't want any others.
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Postby imalone » May 7th, 2012, 4:03 pm

notes_norton wrote:I've had the Parker for over a year now, and it has cured my GAS except for another Parker so I can have 2.

"I'll never need another guitar again, but I might need a couple more of these" :lol:

Niklas wrote:For sound the electronics are a much more dominant factor than everything else.

Of course it's not just about the sound, there are other things like action, quality of the materials and workmanship used for the different components. That might be at the level of flaws, e.g. will a tremolo stay in tune, will you get weird buzzing which eventually turns out to be trem springs or, on one guitar I tried a while back, will adjusting the volume make an odd crackling sound? Or at the level where things become features, like compound radius necks, molding of the body, upper fret access. But lots of that you can get before you hit the high end.

At the low end, today I heard an interview with Damon Albarn (of Blur and Gorrilaz fame) and he was showing the interviewer the Russian 70s era synths he's been trying out recently. Rough transcription of the discussion of a particularly low end model:
Q: "So this is for home use."
DA: "There's no such thing."
Q: "But it's not a professional instrument?"
DA: "Yes it is."
On the other hand he's also having tuned bells custom-made.
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Postby rparker » May 7th, 2012, 6:06 pm

My son's friend shows up every month or so with his for-real gibby. It finds it's way into the corner somewhere while we play my Epis.

I've played many $1,000 guitars. I'll say that the difference between a USA Strat and lower end models is bigger (to me) than between a USA LP and an Epi.

I do now officially sing the praises of good quality tube amps. I don't mean many thousands of dollars of bo-teek models as I've never played them, but a for=real Fender Twin (even the re-issue like I have) is an incredible experience to play. So too is my smaller Blues Deluxe Re-issue. Even my economy Jet City single channel amp will give the cheapest of my guitars some nice sparkle to them. It's no Fender Twin, though. There was a $1000 difference. It was worth every cent....to me.

I also spent almost twice as much money on my Eleven Rack than I did for my GT-10. The difference in my didgital world is just as tremendous as it was with the amps. (Plus it vcame with Pro Tools!)

So, my take on all this is that it depends on the gear. :)
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Postby EzraplaysEzra » May 7th, 2012, 6:51 pm

Niklas wrote:Jack White used some cheap Sears-guitar with the White Stripes. Not sure what pickups he used in it though. For sound the electronics are a much more dominant factor than everything else. So this discussion should really be applied to acoustics in my opinion if we're going to take about different quality in woods.


Jack white might not be a good example. He relishes lo-fi tone and he's all about throwing a lot of noise out and doesn't care about dynamics, and I love his tone. But his guitar isn't contending with a lot of other frequencies either. Also, I disagree that the quality of wood is more of a factor in acoustics than electrics. I strongly feel the opposite. I'm not a Les Paul guy but for the sake of sticking with the example; if anyone's ever played a really light Paul with PAF's or T tops cranked up you understand why people are clamoring over the originals. They are living breathing animals and you can literally feel the notes through your arms. Bob Benedetto (the master of Jazz Guitars) semi-recently made an acoustic jazz guitar out of construction grade lumber to illustrate how construction methods are far more important than the quality of wood. Back in the 80's and 90's people were beating each other over the head to get the tightest, straightest grains on their spruce tops until they realized there wasn't any tonal difference to the cheap old B stock tops. I just last week played a Gibson J45 back to back with a Epiphone's version, the AJ400 (i think that's the model) and the Gibson sounded better in an A/b test but only when I really dug into it.
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