Gear vs. talent
In answer to the question:
Has anyone else come to the realization, whether accurate or not, that it doesn't really matter what kind of guitar you play, or what kind of amp, let alone cables, tubes, strings, and fuses... you still sound like you when you pick up a guitar?
Yes, I still sound like me no matter what I play. I like that - I don't try to copy anyone.
And yes, gear does matter to me. Certain body sizes, neck profiles, scale lengths, string sizes, ... feel more comfortable. Certain pickups, amps, speakers, ... have the sound that I prefer.
I wish I could say that I started out with the gear I've ended up with. It took me four years to get where I am.
As a very happy owner of a Vibro-King and a custom-designed Koll guitar, I can hardly argue that mass-market gear is always good enough. On the other hand, I firmly believe in trusting my own ears over my eyes and the recommendations of others. Along the way I've learned a lot about the amps and guitars that I do like, so I can get my sound out of a lot of different gear. Not only that, but I can now recognize the characteristics of gear that will not work for me, thus avoiding the long, painful process of fighting something until finally having to admit that it's just not right for me.
While I agree that, tonally, a modern mass-produced non-boutique amp or guitar can deliver 90% or more of the nuances of boutique or custom gear, it's that last few percent that make the uncommon gear worth the extra money. It's the law of diminishing returns - the closer you get to perfection, the higher the incremental cost for a smaller improvement.
If you're an "A"-level pro player doing 300 gigs a year with a band that won't bury your expressive nuances, then the boutique gear might make you feel more comfortable in terms of tone, feel and reliability. Likewise if you're a pro session player or a talented amateur with your own studio, a great ear, and perfectionist tendencies...
But a lot of boutique gear is in the hands of people who, bluntly stated, have more money than talent. To drag in the inevitable automotive analogy, few people really need a BMW or a Lotus, and even fewer can really push them to the limits of their performance. But ownership conveys status, and that's important to some people. Others just like to pamper themselves - nothing wrong with that.