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.
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location: Portland, OR USA

Facets: attitude, goals, philosophy, technique, @musings info

Gear minimalism vs. collecting

There's a tendency among guitarists - it seems - to always be in search of a new toy. This is exacerbated by the relatively low cost of so many of the available products. This can lead us into an endless cycle of distraction, obsessing about nuances that not even someone with dog's ears would care about and justifying our obsession with arguments about intangible and unquantifiable properties.

One must give consideration to the availability of time and resources as well as the need and practicality of having a large collection. If you're a full-time musician playing sessions and clubs and tours all the time it makes more sense to have a large collection of musical tools than if you're working a white-collar job for fifty or sixty hours a week, leaving barely enough time to study and play music on the weekend.

Collecting for the sake of collecting is another matter altogether. Some people collect instruments for sentimental reasons. Others collect with an eye toward financial appreciation. (The owner of a large local music store is heavily into collecting as an investment. He told me once that his retirement fund is stored in a warehouse.) I have no complaint regarding either scenario. It's important to realize that collecting in either of these senses is completely separate from being a musician.

I've always tried to keep my gear to a minimum. (Well, almost always. Let's not talk about that time that I had more Mesa/Boogie amps in my living room than the local dealer had in stock... That was years ago.)

For a long time I followed the rule that gear that didn't get played regularly was out after a year. Now I'm even more aggressive about weeding out gear that I won't use.

I've found that it's good to have a goal for the gear I own. That seems obvious to me now, but for a long time I thought of the gear as providing "colors on a tonal palette." The more variations, the more complexity, the more buttons and knobs, the better - right? Eventually I woke up to the fact that how I play is at least as important as the gear I play. I began to focus on the attributes of the instrument that I found most important to me. I got rid of the guitars that didn't fit my needs. Eventually I knew enough about what really works best for me that I felt confident to commission a custom guitar.

I have three guitars now. My selection is kind of like the "basic tonal groups" of pickups - humbuckers, P90s and single coils. They're all quality instruments, but more importantly they're all instruments that are comfortable, familiar and reliable.

I have a small collection of pedals that get infrequent use; I hang onto these despite my "must use" rule, realizing that it's better to have a pedal for the rare occasions when I need it than it is to go through the whole cycle of research and evaluation to find the pedal I need. None of my pedals are from boutique builders. They're all commodity pieces available at most music stores. When I've put so much effort into guitar selection, why would I choose such "pedestrian" pedals? It's because the guitar is the instrument, responding to the nuances of my touch. Pedals just alter the sound.

Ditto with amps. I used to seek out subtle differences among amps. I was a hard-core "tube guy". Now my amp choices are based upon convenience, clarity, consistency and "carryability". You can always add dirt to a clean amp using a pedal. You can never go the other way...

Short recap: Collect if you want. But if you want to create music, don't get overwhelmed by your tools.

June 18 2009 05:10:00 GMT