As the snarky jazzpunk editor of this website, I tend to de-emphasize the importance of gear in favor of other stuff like good practice habits, preparation, posture, and living healthy. I usually find that musicians who place more value on gear than on those other things, are making less interesting music than those who do value “that other stuff.”
But something that I’ve been thinking about recently, as I spend so much time working on my practice routine, posture, exposing myself to new musical ideas, etc, is that comfort is incredibly important – maybe the most important aspect of free expression in music. Particularly in a live or band setting, when you’re not in your practice room/parents’ basement. Posture and comfort with musical language is half of that equation, while playing an instrument that you actually feel good about playing, is the other half.
“Feel good about playing” is a complicated thing. You could enjoy the weight of one guitar, while preferring the smoothness of another’s neck. Some drumsticks have great balance in your hands, but the rebound isn’t quite where you’d like it. You might love the way your bass feels and plays but can’t quite make the pickup/amp combination work with it. So, does it matter whether the thing looks cool?
I think so, just not as much as those other factors. BUT, my experience is that there’s a kind of placebo effect with visually pleasing instruments, that can help you
- overlook physical nuances that you don’t love, and
- feel confident about playing in front of people.
Which are both SUPER important. The goal with performing music is to let go of your practice habits, turning off the active part of your brain and to let the expression itself out into the world. You can’t do that if you’re obsessing over how your instrument looks and feels on/in front of you. But if the thing looks cool as shit and you FEEL cool as shit, an audience is going to pick up on that. Even if your twenty-eight string double-necked bass/guitar combo doesn’t normally look cool to THEM, they will sense and respond to your own confidence. They will think your instrument looks cool.
The important thing is that “looks cool as shit” means “looks cool as shit to YOU.” I know some of you might be rolling your eyes at the idea of arguing about what “cool” means, but I’m endlessly fascinated by it. Namely because it doesn’t fucking matter what “looks cool” actually means: literally anything can look cool. Colin Marston (above) plays the most ridiculous-looking Warr guitar, which literally looks more like the sword Ned Stark uses to cut peoples’ heads off than it does an instrument, but he owns it, because he’s confident in and actually likes the music he’s playing with it.
(Actually enjoying the music you’re playing is the other side of the coin, and a much more complicated one. But we’ll save that for another day.)
So, if you’re thinking about buying the deluxe version of that Charvel lime-green guitar because of the limited edition paint job, do it! Investing in yourself and your confidence is just as important as investing in a solid practice routine – as long as you remember that having a cool-looking instrument only gets you part of the way there.