photographing a guitarist
Posted in Advice
March 20, 2018

Why You Don’t Need to Buy a Signature Model Guitar Or Maybe Just One

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With each new release of the latest signature model guitar, a barrage of oohs and ahs seem to immediately fill every message board, facebook page, and hands-on review. Comments include some version of how these instruments are responsible for their latest bout of Gear Acquisition Syndrome (G.A.S.)[1].  G.A.S. is essentially the "all-consuming desire to expand your collection of gear" [2] . People exhibiting signs and symptoms of G.A.S. see something new and useful and shiny and need it real bad. However, there is another, more intense desire found amongst these sufferers.

When an intense degree of admiration for a guitar hero is combined with the knowledge that their gear can be acquired by mere mortals like yourself, it can inspire an even greater need for acquisition I call Signature Model Envy, Lust and Lunacy, or S.M.E.L.L.  It is driven by the misconception that playing the signature equipment endorsed by the musician of your admiration will magically transform you into an equally competent musician.

As you can see, G.A.S. sometimes, but not always, leads to S.M.E.L.L.

OK, OK, I say this in jest, but the sentiment is no joke. There are individuals who prefer to play the same exact gear as the musicians they love and nothing else.

In this entry, I have presented two sides: "Reasons Why You Don't Need to Play the Same Guitar as Your Hero" and the counter, "Reasons Why You Definitely Need the Same Guitar as Your Hero." I've also included quotes from several important creative individuals who believed in favor of imitation and others were against it. Read them and decide for yourself:

3 Reasons Why You Don't Need to Play the Same Guitar as Your Hero



#1 Having the same guitar will not make you a better guitarist:

A better goal might be to acquire a well-made, professional instrument. The last thing you want to do is struggle to get a good tone or suffer with a poorly-made instrument that is barely playable. Make no mistake: there is a huge difference between a $100 Toys R Us guitar and a $1500 American Fender Stratocaster.  But to think that having a signature John Mayer guitar will turn you into Slowhand Jr is a myth. Why? Because competence is a combination of incremental learning, distributed practice, and, in most cases, guided strategy. Instead of rushing to purchase the exact same thing as your heroes, try to work towards acquiring a well-made, professional instrument that you don't have to struggle to play.

PRS Santana Guitar

#2 Many guitar heroes did not start with equipment like the signature model guitar they eventually endorsed:

Some musicians may have lavish lifestyles, but many did not have all the resources you see today.  Some came from humble circumstances, playing guitars that were cheaply made or assembled from various parts. In short, much can be accomplished with even the most rudimentary instrument. When you notice your attention has been more on acquisition rather than performing, it's time to do a little reflecting. Be as honest with yourself as possible and find out if your search for an instrument that is "just right" isn't an excuse to hide or as a distraction from producing your art.  And don't judge yourself harshly if you can't acquire a famous instrument.  


#3 It's better to be an inspired version of yourself than a mere carbon copy of someone else:

“Always be yourself and have faith in yourself. Do not go out and look for a successful personality and try to duplicate it.” ― Bruce Lee

“The imitator dooms himself to hopeless mediocrity. The inventor did it, because it was natural to him, and so in him it has a charm. In the imitator, something else is natural, and he bereaves himself of his own beauty, to come short of another man's.” ― Ralph Waldo Emerson, The Divinity College Address (1838)

3 Reasons Why You Definitely Need the Same Guitar as Your Hero




#1 Emulating your heroes gives you a good starting point.

Don't know where to begin? Start by identifying those whose sound you admire and learn everything about them, their workflow, and the reasons behind their equipment choices.  It's a good starting point, but remember:  it's not the destination. The goal is to find who YOU are in the process. 

“Imitation is not just the sincerest form of flattery - it's the sincerest form of learning.” ― George Bernard Shaw


#2 The pros can serve as a benchmark:

The pros may provide a benchmark with which to measure your progress. Nothing wrong with that.   

“A prudent man will always try to follow in the footsteps of great men and imitate those who have been truly outstanding, so that, if he is not quite as skillful as they, at least some of their ability may rub off on him.” ― Niccolò MachiavelliThe Prince




#3 Be inspired by your heroes, but never take full credit:

If one of these guitar pros has provided the inspiration for your own creativity, give them credit. It's the right thing to do and demonstrates goodwill and maturity. 

"The golden rule applies: Steal in the way you’d want to be stolen from, with credit, respect, and transformative new ideas." -- Nick Douglas (lifehacker)

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