http://lamkins-guitar.com/music/article/good-better-best
David Lamkins picked up his first guitar a long time ago. As best he can recall the year was 1967: the year of the Summer of Love. Four decades later David has conjured up an amalgam of folk, rock and jazz solo guitar music for the occasional intimate Portland audience.
location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: comparison, evaluation, fetishism, human nature, marketing hype, opinion, philosophy, preferences, @musings info
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"Good, better, best": Irrelevant

"When I use a word," Humpty Dumpty said, in rather a scornful tone, "it means just what I choose it to mean - neither more nor less."

How many times have you read (or heard) someone asking about two pieces of MI gear - call them X and Y - "between X and Y, which one is better?" The question has no qualifiers, just that one word: "better".

Many of us reflexively assume that "better" is defined in terms of sound. But what is a "better" sound? Can you honestly say that you could go through all of the recordings and live musical performances to which you've listened or have created and rank every single one of them - unambiguously and without qualification - on a linear scale from "absolute worst" to "absolute best"? (I know that someone will answer in the affirmative. I feel sorry for you.)

"Better" can be measured along many dimensions.

"Better sound" is not a universal one-dimensional property (like a measurement of length, for example), but rather a cluster of preferences aligned with the player's musical taste, environment (which encompasses things like associated gear, location, accompaniment and audience), technique, skills and expectations.

"Better feel" is another of those properties that's neither measurable nor absolute since its meaning depends so completely upon the combination of the player, all of the gear, and the musical context.

There are in fact measurable aspects of products that can be unambiguously quantified: size, mass, cost, color, and (from a statistical rather than anecdotal viewpoint) reliability. We don't argue much about these. They are what they are.

Then there are properties that look good in marketing blurbs and comparison tables: features, flexibility and technologies. It's usual to evaluate these using the "more, newer, faster" mindset. But features, parameters and silicon don't make music. Musicians make music. The device is only a facilitator for the musician's expression. Deep and complex functionality may provide a broad field of sonic opportunities for the musician inclined to explore the available territory, or may be counterproductive to the musician who can't quickly summon the sound needed for an impromptu performance.

Everyone's needs and expectations are different. "Best", if such a thing really does exist, is nothing but an optimization of a set of factors for a particular player. One player's "best" is another's "are you out of your freakin' mind!?".

By all means, share your opinions. But give your opinion some meaning by telling the questioner what "best" means to you.

September 13 2010 02:54:39 GMT