Hearing with your eyes
"Hearing with your eyes" is a real problem in some circles.I've had players tell me that they loved the sound of my "vintage" Vibro-King at a solo gig, going on to wax rhapsodic about the great old amps of the `60s and how they all kick the ass of anything built since 1969 because "they just don't make the parts they way they used to." Yup, there's nothing quite like those three year old Vibro-Kings... Others look down their nose at garden-variety "prosumer" gear: the Peaveys and Crates of the MI world. But hey, some of the best local shows and indy tours that I've heard have been performed on cheap gear. Who cares what's on the badge? It's the music that matters. I believe that nuances of "feel", as in "you may not be able to hear the difference, but I can feel it in my playing", are overrated. There's a lot of emotional baggage that goes into a pronouncement like that; the emotion should be serving the music rather than justifying one's brand choices. When players get into the more subtle issues I start asking questions like: "What brand of tubes do you think that guy has in his amp?" or "Do you think those are 500K pots or 250K in his guitar?" and other things that are endless sources of obsession amongst some guitar players. I have never had the experience of a guitarist correctly identifying any non-visible aspect of a rig just through the sense of hearing. The bottom line, as I hear it, is that we - as listeners - can only hear the big differences. I believe that the so-called subtle nuances are distractions at best. Picking technique and control adjustment has a far bigger impact upon a rig's response than all the little tweaks with which some of us concern ourselves. I had a personal epiphany when I learned to adapt to the gear, rather than expecting the gear to do the heavy lifting of "tonal" creation. The way I attack the notes, voice the chords, etc. has more to do with the musicality of what I play than all the obsessive gear tweaks.
And then there's the inevitable argument: "If the pros use all this (insert brand or type) gear, then it must be good, right?" This argument is frequently used to support expensive boutique gear. The problem with this argument is that the logic doesn't hold up. Pros choose their gear for a lot of reasons, just like the rest of us do. Odds are that the pros, who've worked at music for most of their lives, grew up with the gear they could afford and bought the high-end stuff once they could afford it. The point is, the pros didn't become pros because they played particular gear. They become pros because they worked hard at their craft.