On the Subject of 'Pro' Gear

Read thru the Craigslist ‘Musicians’ section for your city some time. How many times do you see the phrase ‘must have pro gear’? You see that in many, if not most, of the ‘Guitarist, Bassist, or Whatever Wanted’ ads….right?
Well, let’s try to define the term ‘pro gear’, shall we? Must ‘pro gear’ cost more than your car? Must it be only from certain manufacturers, or must it be hand-built “boutique” quality? It seems these days that if your guitar rig isn’t one of a few ‘approved pro-quality’ makes & models, or a ‘boutique’ amp, you’re just S-O-L. It’s the same with bass amps; if it isn’t an Ampeg or a MarkBass or something along those lines, you must not be a good enough player to fit into a working, established band.
Equating a player’s worth by the gear he/she plays is a HUGE mistake that’s made by too many people who might otherwise find the perfect member for his/her band. Simply buying the top-of-the-line amps & guitars isn’t going to improve your playing skills one tiny bit. Spending thousands of dollars on a ‘Slash’ or Jimmy Page model Les Paul or a Eric Johnson Stratocaster isn’t going to make you as good as any of those guys, yet any one of them can take your inexpensive rig and still sound like himself with it. Hand Edward Van Halen a cheap but playable guitar and plug him into a $75 15-Watt practice amp, and within seconds, he’ll wrest sounds from it that you’d never dream possible. Billy Sheehan could take an old Japanese bass and a 1972 Peavey combo bass amp and blow you away with them. And then there are players out there who for whatever reason can’t afford ‘pro’ gear, yet who are good enough players (and equipment operators) to get the best possible sound out of what they have to work with.
Without dropping any brand-names, I can say that there is good gear out there at prices that won’t put you in debt for years. In fact, there’s really a niche market for just that, and several manufacturers are quite comfortable filling that niche and making a good profit for themselves from it. And they’ve been doing that for years; certainly long enough to figure out how to make perfectly serviceable equipment at prices that ‘Average Joe’ can afford. And there are lots of musicians who grind out a living in the bars & clubs with that equipment. But I’ve known too many mediocre players who have all the ‘good stuff’ and spent tons on it, yet who can’t do anything worth listening to with it.
Here’s the thing….buy what you can afford. Be selective and discriminating and look for gear that gives you the kinds of sounds you’re looking for. Then, learn how to wring the best tone out of it that you can. My belief is that you’ll find that you can do so, with a little time & patience with the equipment. Don’t rush out and buy something just because some famous musician endorses it. Those things come with added cost because that endorsing artist gets a cut of the sales of that gear for the use of his/her name in the manufacturer’s advertising and such, and that extra cost is passed on to you. Don’t expect to ‘plug and play’ a piece of gear and sound just like your favorite artist who also uses that gear. That artist had to learn to get ‘his/her’ tone out of that gear, just the same as you would have to. Define ‘your sound’, then go looking for gear that gets you there without impoverishing you….unless you actually like sounding just like someone else.
Many a band started out back in ‘the old days’ with department-store guitars and amps, and only began using the high-end stuff when they got to the point where they could actually afford it. Some of them stuck with some of that old inexpensive gear even after they got famous, because it gave them the sound that made them famous in the first place. Did the department-store gear make their early efforts any less viable? NO! They got famous for music that was recorded with those instruments! I’ve read that even Billy Gibbons isn’t above using some old Japanese junker out of his guitar collection vault if it has just the tone he’s looking for when recording a certain song. Many an old bluesman kept on playing their old Teisco Del Ray (or Sears ‘Silvertone’, or Montgomery Ward ‘Airline’) guitars even after they could afford better. It’s just that nothing else sounded like that ol’ Teisco (or whatever), and that sound was a large part of their sound
My point is this: You’re not going to get to be as good a player as any of your favorites simply by buying and using the same gear that they do. You’re only going to get that good by putting in the hours and years of practice that they did to get there. Learn to get the sounds you want from the equipment that you already have or can actually afford, and you’ll be far better off in the end, because you’ll sound like yourself instead of a clone of someone else. Throwing money down on ‘pro gear’ won’t make you a ‘pro’. That comes from work, lots of work, and nothing but work…on your part. It doesn’t come from the equipment you use, no matter what it costs. I’ll never be as good as Eric Clapton, even if I bought his favorite guitar from him for $20,000. But he could pick up my cheap Epiphone guitar and just absolutely make me cry with it. So, the point is (to quote an old Maria Muldaur song), “It Ain’t the Meat, It’s the Motion”.