In this short post I’d like to write about musical equipment, brand hype, gear snobbery, rip off pricing and the common misconceptions that ‘big name’ brand is best, compared to much cheaper alternatives.
The Rock ‘n’ Roll era
Since the early days of rock ‘ n’ roll, beat groups, jazz, pop and rock etc, electric instruments and amplification came to the fore and with it, a slew of what is referred to as original ‘name’ equipment such as: Fender with its famous Tele and Stratocaster and Gibson, with its famous Les Paul and of course later guitar models also.
Other brand ames like Selmer, Vox, Epiphone etc, also dominated the early guitar and amp scene, while for drummers, Slingerland, Ludwig, Gretsch and Premier held sway. Everybody who was anybody wanted to own and play these instruments and equipment which name artistes and bands helped make famous.
It then became ‘cool’ to be the proud owner of a ‘prestigious’ piece of equipment and with that came the ‘snob’ aspect, with remarks like “And what do you play? Oh, I’ve never heard of that?” or “I only play X” (substitute the name brand here).
Whilst alot of musical technical purists would argue the toss that you only get a certain sound from a certain guitar/amp/keyboard/drum kit, nowadays with mass production of ‘name’ guitars, amps, drums etc, cheaper instruments and equipment often equal the name brands.
Cheaper V Name Brand
Over the years I have had both cheap and expensive instruments and equipment and to be honest, apart from build quality, I could not notice, see or hear any difference. For example, like me, I’m sure many musos have paid out a fortune in gear just because the name brands were always expensive.
For example,many years ago I purchased a music centre called Sakai, obviously aping the famous hi fi brand ‘Akai.’ It was made by an English company, Wren electronics and was absolutely superb in build quality, durability and sound and above all, it cost a fraction of the price of an Akai hi fi.
What it lacked was a ‘brand name.’ The same can be said for musical equipment and instruments. For instance, where cheap drums fail, is in their lightweight hardware, because often the actual drums sound good. This is not to say that you cannot buy a better sounding snare drum or cymbals etc, just that for recording purposes at least, with a bit of experimentation, mic placement and good engineering, a cheap kit can sound excellent.
The same applies to cheap guitars, I have a Fender Strat copy and amped up it sounds ace. Linked to an effects pedal, you couldn’t tell the difference between it and a real Strat or other more expensive ‘name’ guitar.
So….I guess you could call me perverse or an inverted music snob 🙂 but I do own both cheap and more expensive instruments and equipment. The only difference for me is that music shops put a premium price on certain items of gear because of its brand name and snob value, so of course, sometimes you just have to reluctantly shell out!
Of course companies would say that you’re paying for years of experience and moden innovation, that may be true to an extent, but the nefarious ‘mark up’ price never changes. So how do you get around this, without paying through the nose?
The answer is of course, to simply forget the brand names, ditch the hype and go for less expensive, but less big name brands. test and try before you buy where possible and like me, you’ll find it a more enjoyable experience, where you still get the sounds you want without paying a premium price.
Music and sound, is all purely subjective after all. One man’s favourite amp, guitar etc may not be another’s cup of tea! At the end of the day however, who’s to say that for example, that cheap amp sitting, un-noticed and untested, in the corner of the store with the BELINKO name on it, isn’t as good as the Marshall, the Fender or whatever? Why not liberate yourself today from the big brands and give the little guy a chance. I think you’ll be pleasantly surprised!