When I cast my mind back to when I bought my first electric guitar, I realise that there’s never been a better time to be making music as now.
The ‘instrument’ in question back then was a Jedson Fender Telecaster copy that actually looked half decent with a white body and scratchplate. I bought it from a friend and it cost $25 so I guess I couldn’t expect much for that money. How right I was. In reality it was absolutely dreadful. The machine heads were so tight that I had to use pliers to tune the thing – and the gap between the strings and the fretboard on the 12th fret was about a quarter of an inch. But as they say, every cloud has a silver lining. I learnt to play on that thing and even joined a band with it. Not surprisingly, every subsequent guitar I bought after that was so easy to play.
Today, thankfully, things are a whole lot better for the budding musician in terms of equipment quality.
Something for everyone
Modern manufacturing techniques such as CNC machinery means that instruments like guitars and basses can be mass produced with reproducible quality. Even budget guitars are pretty decent these days so whatever flavor instrument you play, and whatever competence level you’re at, there will be an instrument for you.
This applies pretty much across the board as well – there’s a plethora of synths, keyboards, guitars, basses, drums, effects, amplifiers, microphones and recording equipment out there. The choice is vast; in fact sometimes there’s too much choice. That’s where a resource like Making Music Pro can be invaluable. We can’t choose your gear for you but we can help you make informed choices.
Largely, musicians tend to fall into one of three categories but there’s often a lot of crossover here: casual players who just tend to dabble at home; performing musicians – amateur, semi-professional or professional; and recording musicians. Many I suspect will fall into a number of camps here as I do. When I first started playing I just wanted to play live; nowadays, recording music at home floats my boat.
For the record
In fact, it’s perhaps the latter that arguably has seen the most evolution. In 1982, Tascam unveiled its 244 Portastudio, which as the name suggests was effectively a ‘studio’ in a box. OK it was only four tracks and it used cassette tape that ran at double speed but you could get pretty good results with it. It was quite revolutionary because it comprised a mixer, a recorder and you could plug literally anything into it – guitars, synths, microphones, drum machines etc. It also had an auxiliary section for effects. Marvellous. In 1982 this would set you back about $850.
Today, home recording musicians have never had it so good. My set-up at home comprises a computer (PC or Mac); DAW (Digital Audio Workstation) software; an inexpensive MIDI keyboard, an audio interface to plug my mics and guitars into and a pair of monitors (or headphones). Seriously you can record music at home, with unlimited tracks, for as little as $400.
More bang for your buck
Remember the Jedson guitar I mentioned at the beginning of this article? Well thankfully you don’t need to buy poor quality instruments like that anymore. Musicians these days expect more bang for their buck and manufacturers have responded to that expectation. Legendary guitar brands like Fender and Gibson for example produce lower costs versions of their iconic instruments. In Fender’s case, US manufactured instruments are produced in Corona, California, but in the late 1980s, the company opened a factory in Ensenada, Mexico. Labor costs are often a company’s biggest overhead but some of this can be negated by manufacturing in countries with lower wage economies. This is what Fender did. The instruments are still high quality but half the price. With Gibson it’s the same story with its Epiphone brand.
Also true is the fact that music equipment manufacturers have realised that not everyone wants or needs to buy a Marshall stack to play their guitar through! Performing musicians will undoubtedly need more horsepower in the volume department, but for recording musicians, software-based guitar amp simulators are now of good enough quality to be used as a practical alternative to physical amplifiers. For those traditionalists who just want to bang out a few tunes at home and prefer the sound of a real guitar amp, there are bedroom-sized variants that sound excellent and don’t annoy the neighbors!
Unquestionably though, the one thing that has changed just about every aspect of our lives is the Internet and for musicians there’s just so much information and so many resources at our fingertips. If you’re buying gear, websites like makingmusicpro.com can help you make the right choices; if you’re an absolute beginner playing keyboards, drums or guitar, there’s a wealth of online tutorials to get you up and running. The best part is that much of it is absolutely free!