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The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

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The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby dubbmann » Sun May 01, 2011 7:12 pm

Hi all,

Over the years of reading discussions here and elsewhere of musos and the quest for the vintage synth, the marquee guitar, the boutique tube preamb, etc, I've been struck by two contradictory thoughts:

1) 90% of it is bollocks. If you're talking about the unique sound of a type of electric guitar, for example a Les Paul of a tele, most people play with so much FX that all of that is lost in the purple haze, so to speak, of distortion, reverb, etc. Likewise with laments for manufactures to re-issue gear like the roland TB-303 (to cite a topic being hotly debated in another thread): I listen to (and play) lots of electronica and am pretty familiar w/t gear involved, and if somebody can tell me that they can tell a real 303 from a clone (even a vst like rebirth) once it's been put through heavy distortion and other FX - as it almost always is - I'd be willing to wager they're mistaken. I'd love SoS to do a blind listening on this one, the way Downbeat used to (still does?) with musicians listening to unidentified records and giving their opinions. As I said, I think the fetish over most equipment is just disguised gear-lust. (One area of exception: if you play a/o record acousitically. Classical music, for example, is where the instruments and the recording equipment really do show their virtues and flaws).

2) that said, I believe people are sincere in their beliefs that, for example, an ARP Odyssey v2 (white face) is *way* better than an ARP Odyssey v2 (brown face) because the filter was slightly different. Ditto with buying a $3000 Fender Custom shop strat or a 192KHz A/D converter.

In medicine there is a well-known phenomenon called the placebo effect, which occurs when a patient is given a harmless pill but nonetheless gets better because they *think* it's real medicine. And this leads me to my question: is there a placebo effect on how people play (or record, I suppose) because they believe the gear is "top-drawer" (not to say top Drawmer ;-)? Do they play better once the gear they're using is better than the gear they were using before?

Speaking personally, I'd say the answer is no. Some of my best work is stuff I did nearly 22 years ago when I had 5% of the equipment I do now. Don't get me wrong: I've enjoyed the purchase of everything I've bought in the subsequent years, but I know little of it has made me a better composer or player. To the extent that I've advanced, it's because of lots and lots (and lots) of hours playing and experimenting and scrutinizing critically what comes out, etc.

But does the placebo effect exist for you? Has your playing improved when you've gotten that piece of gear you've lusted for and finally acquired? If so, why do you think it's happened?

Cheers,

d
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby Gary_W » Sun May 01, 2011 7:46 pm

Opinions warning - willing to be proved wrong or have the error of my ways otherwise pointed out

Whilst I think the placebo effect is live and well, there is more going on IMO....

I personally think that the most important thing is confindence in your ability to get the best out of whatever it is you happen to be using... If you personally feel that you know something backwards, you'll be able to wring every little last bit out of it and do something special. This goes for most things in life.... I'm very fond of cooking and, given ingredients I know well I can make something fabulous. If you gave me razor clams I'd be out of my comfort zone and would have to rely on top quality ingredients to give my dish chance to shine - my confidence in my own ability would be gone so I'd have to fill in the confidence gap with throwing money at it

If there is something that you are less confident in then the help of better 'ingredients', 'gear' or 'presets' is most welcome and, with a bit of the confidence restored, you ease up a bit on yourself and potentially do things better.... I think this may be where the placebo effect works with gear.

The confidence thing / knowing equipment backwards is why Seasick Steve can make a plank of wood with one string going through a £100 amp sound pretty amazing - he knows what he's doing with the stuff he's using.

As I'm primarily a guitar playing bloke who sings, when I need some synth sounds I rely very heavily on presets and have lots of 'em (Komplete 7 with Kore 2). To my (synth uneducated) ears, most of the presets are very good indeed and will do me fine. This attitude would probably disgust a keyboard player in a similar way to me being weirded out by keyboard folks buying guitar samples
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby Exalted Wombat » Sun May 01, 2011 8:23 pm

Follow the recorded career of any favourite player. Do you go "Aah! THAT'S when he got the [some piece of gear]!"?

I think you're more likely to go "Aah! THAT'S when he started working with [new producer/musician/drummer etc.]!"

It's all too easy for a solitary musician to get his head firmly stuck where the sun don't shine. I prescribe regular visits from a cynical practical musician who, after briefly admiring the new box of tricks, says "Let's get on with it then! What have you DONE with it?"
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby VOLOVIA » Sun May 01, 2011 9:01 pm

100% Correct. I am a multi-instrumentalist but the guitar is what I studied and worked on all these years. I also have a unique view point of musical instrument manufacturing with close family connections with Italian past glories such as EKO, ELKA, CRUMAR, FARFISA, etc..

So, guitars: EKO guitars struggled for years to capture the 'magic' of Gibson and, in the 70s, the YAMAHA SG2000. They produced a guitar called M24 which was built with the exact materials as a Les Paul, sporting Grover machine heads, Di Marzio pickups etc. Played from a Marshal amp with some overdrive the sound was if not identical, comparable with the above mentioned 'classics' and with similar, if not better playability of the Gibson. The retail price was half of the others... so, did it became a classic.. of course not!
The response from the retailers was: they couldn't feel the magic.

A step back. I was there when EKO again was experimenting with different electric guitar body materials and various pickup samples from Di Marzio. The shocking realisation was that even radically different body wood types made a tiny difference on the amplified sound of the guitar. Let alone when 'tubed', compressed, distorted and FXed.

The 'magic' for the guitarist is to hold an America made guitar which reminds him of gone days and many an idol from their youth. Little to do with the 'sound'! And as a proof, just listen to a musician with a unique sound and technique such as Santana. He played all sort of guitars through his life, from Gibson, to Fender, Yamaha and now PRS.
His guitar sound has hardly changed at all and it is readily recognisable from the first notes he plays. But...

On SOS pages we are bombarded time and time again that a replica of a vintage compressor would sound even 'better' if using a particular discontinued transformer. I wonder, if this is this a joke or for real? Do you really think that a transformer in one of the compressors used to record a vocal take, before being equalised and effected and double tracked will lift the song to a more 'professional' tone or sound?

And what about the 192Khz A/D converters and recording for pop? Toys for the boys... but, OK, it's fun! But let's be serious. In a typical home recording environment, a well set up £100 capacitor mic (in a acoustically treated room) plus a similarly priced decent pre-amp (maybe off a 4 channel Mackie mixer) will be almost indistinguishable (with a good singer) when recorded digitally at 16 bits than PT with exotic signal path. Fact. Tried and tested. But again: vive le toys!!
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby Exalted Wombat » Sun May 01, 2011 9:18 pm

bugiolacchi wrote:1And what about the 192Khz A/D converters and recording for pop? Toys for the boys... but, OK, it's fun! But let's be serious. In a typical home recording environment, a well set up £100 capacitor mic (in a acoustically treated room) plus a similarly priced decent pre-amp (maybe off a 4 channel Mackie mixer) will be almost indistinguishable (with a good singer) when recorded digitally at 16 bits than PT with exotic signal path. Fact. Tried and tested. But again: vive le toys!!


Well, the preamp won't cost anything LIKE £100!

"With a good singer". Interesting point. A bad singer will sound no different either. But a good singer sounds pretty good straight away and you more-or-less leave it alone. What if it's a bad singer (or, worse, a self-recording, and NOBODY likes the sound of their own voice!)? We're into that favourite home-studio game of "remedial mixing", or more graphically, "turd-polishing". That's where the search for that magic bit of gear really takes over :-)
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby nathanscribe » Sun May 01, 2011 10:47 pm

On the other hand (and I do agree with all the above) there are certain bits of gear that a person can just 'click' with and get a lot out of. Other pieces can be really off-putting for no obvious reason. Part of the relentless GAS-driven stockpiling of gear is to do with that, I think - the search for tools that really fit like a snug pair of *insert favourite piece of clothing here*.

For example, I've been through a few dozen synths. How many do I use on a regular basis? Three or four maybe. Often just a couple. I'm not a great player, far from it, but the interface and the way it feels is important to me - if I find it intuitive and somehow 'right' (and that's partly the control method and arrangement, partly the sound) then I'll get more use from it. If the sound is great but the interface is awkward I'll perhaps hang on but not use it, or maybe get rid.

The 'vintage' aspect is part of the mythology of getting 'that' sound, but there are some things within the mythology that are true - some synths can create great searing sounds, others not - some can provide rich creamy textures, or brittle weirdness, others not - so the search for what feels right is partly based on the 'mythology' of the history of that gear's use, in whoever's hands - and partly on the desire for attaining that level oneself.

It's absolutely true that no amount of ownership will improve one's ability. But if i 'click' with a piece of gear, I get more from it, and maybe - maybe - as a result of being happier in using it, I relax into getting better results. I know the opposite can be the case - worse experience using something, worse results - but I can get equally bad results using almost anything, so who knows..?
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby zenguitar » Sun May 01, 2011 11:03 pm

I can see sense in all the scenarios put forward so far, and would add the 'Security Blanket' effect to the mix too. But putting them all together, I would say that anything that helps a musician give a better performance without putting them into debt is a good thing. But I would prefer it if people made their decisions with their own ears rather than learning by rote from magazines, web sites, and old wives tales.

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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby vinyl_junkie » Sun May 01, 2011 11:14 pm

+1 For the last two posts, couldn't of said it better my self.
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby Tony Raven » Mon May 02, 2011 5:47 am

Some years back, I had a chance to help out on overhauling the well-used axe of a local guitar phenom. To be brief: it was utter crap. Chewed-down frets, silly-high action to compensate for a clear neck bow, broken nut, no string correctly intonated -- no, hadn't been dropped down the steps, that's how he'd been playing it until he brought it in the door.

...yet he'd been making fabulous noises with it.

We were reluctant to "mess with the mojo," so rather than do a rebuild & full setup we pretty much just cleaned things up (literally, & with stuff like a light fret levelling) & poked it back towards normal. The owner was delighted.

If a tool works for the user, that's about all that counts, really. There's so much post hoc attempt to figure out how someone else gets The Magic that overlooks how much Magic comes from wrestling with an instrument's quirks. I remember trying to get a surf-guitar tone using various Fender axes only to find that the original had actually been recorded with a Gibson with minibuckers....
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby Dave B » Mon May 02, 2011 9:19 am

Exalted Wombat wrote:Follow the recorded career of any favourite player. Do you go "Aah! THAT'S when he got the [some piece of gear]!"?

Sadly ..... yes .... polyphonic synths, Fairlight, Eventide, Lexicon .... I hear them all creep in.

It's a bit sad, I know ...
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby The Elf » Mon May 02, 2011 9:20 am

Not just placebo, I'd say.

When I'm overdubbing lines of MiniMoog the instrument is constantly shifting (most noticable in pitch, but not limited to this) and I'm finding myself manually tweaking to keep things sounding sweet. Each overdub is adding random complexities that are very hard to emulate convincingly with VSTis and VAs.

I'm very familiar with this effect. Over at 'the other place' I use MiniMonsta (one example...) to pseudo my MiniMoog parts for artists. When I get back to home base I replace those parts with the real thing. The more parts are added, the more you get of the character of the instrument making its mark. Often I prefer MiniMonsta to the real thing - it depends on context.

So I'd say it's not just placebo, but too many people equate 'old' with 'good', which I see as unnecessary. Anything that can make a sound has something to offer - for me, the mark of true creativity is being able to see (and make use of) the good in everything.
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby Dave B » Mon May 02, 2011 9:23 am

The Elf wrote: Often I prefer MiniMonsta to the real thing - it depends on context

Heresy!!! He's a witch - burn him!!!

Actually, for publicly speaking (posting) such an obvious profanity, we demand recompense! Just send your 2600 to me and you Mini to Zuke and we'll let it drop ...

(This has been the Synth Correctness Police - we are watching you!)
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby The Elf » Mon May 02, 2011 9:35 am

Dave B wrote:
The Elf wrote: Often I prefer MiniMonsta to the real thing - it depends on context

Heresy!!! He's a witch - burn him!!!

Actually, for publicly speaking (posting) such an obvious profanity, we demand recompense! Just send your 2600 to me and you Mini to Zuke and we'll let it drop ...
Tch! What would I use to cover up the damp patch?!
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby Zukan » Mon May 02, 2011 10:37 am

Okay, that's it! First, you combine too many words together on Fridays and think I won't notice, then you come out with the Minimonsta remark.

You're really treading on some thin ice there Elf.

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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby The Elf » Mon May 02, 2011 10:44 am

Image

Ah dun got mah mind right now boss!

Ooh! Happy Birthday Zuke!!
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby Zukan » Mon May 02, 2011 10:47 am

Thanks Elfness!

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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby desmond » Mon May 02, 2011 11:31 am

Yeah - FM8 is really no substitute for a DX1, it really isn't...
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby hollowsun » Mon May 02, 2011 11:59 am

desmond wrote:Yeah - FM8 is really no substitute for a DX1, it really isn't...
It's the Zuke's bidet, for God's sake! That was just cruel!!!
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby ken long » Mon May 02, 2011 12:05 pm

Happy Birthday Zuke!
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby vinyl_junkie » Mon May 02, 2011 12:46 pm

Happy Birthday ol'chum
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby desmond » Mon May 02, 2011 1:19 pm

hollowsun wrote:It's the Zuke's bidet, for God's sake! That was just cruel!!!

I have no idea what you are talking about... I was just picking a random example out of the air to support the conversational thread...

Totally at random...
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby hollowsun » Mon May 02, 2011 1:44 pm

desmond wrote:I have no idea what you are talking about... I was just picking a random example out of the air to support the conversational thread...
The Zuke never did get over the trauma of selling his DX1!
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby desmond » Mon May 02, 2011 1:49 pm

hollowsun wrote:The Zuke never did get over the trauma of selling his DX1!

He had a DX1? Wow...

And sold it?

Wow.

Still, must have got an absolute *fortune* for that, those things are kinda once in a lifetime rarities... no-one's gonna part with one of those for anything less than serious cash...
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby Exalted Wombat » Mon May 02, 2011 2:04 pm

There's a DX5 in my shed. Not working, but probably fixable. And a TX802. Has that stuff become "vintage" yet?
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby desmond » Mon May 02, 2011 2:12 pm

Exalted Wombat wrote:There's a DX5 in my shed. Not working, but probably fixable. And a TX802. Has that stuff become "vintage" yet?


I always wanted a DX5. How broken is it?
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby Exalted Wombat » Mon May 02, 2011 3:23 pm

desmond wrote:
Exalted Wombat wrote:There's a DX5 in my shed. Not working, but probably fixable. And a TX802. Has that stuff become "vintage" yet?

I always wanted a DX5. How broken is it?

No sound comes out. I haven't investigated further. The volume slider has been replaced with a rotary pot. Well-gigged but not particularly battered. It's in East London/Essex.
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby tomafd » Mon May 02, 2011 3:38 pm

Dave B wrote:
The Elf wrote: Often I prefer MiniMonsta to the real thing - it depends on context

Heresy!!! He's a witch - burn him!!!

Actually, for publicly speaking (posting) such an obvious profanity, we demand recompense! Just send your 2600 to me and you Mini to Zuke and we'll let it drop ...

(This has been the Synth Correctness Police - we are watching you!)

Back in about 1985 or so I was working in Rod Argents shop in Denmark st (when it still sold synths). We ordered in a bunch of them TB 303 things (new at the time) and about six months later started punting them out at 50% off, because everybody they thought they were crap and we couldn't shift them.

I still think they're crap....
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby VOLOVIA » Mon May 02, 2011 4:04 pm

Tom, in 1986 I was on the other side of the road, the better Rose-Morris ( ). Sure, the Tuberculosis 303 sounded as pleasant as its namesake, but then its blipping noises became 'cool' in the house-music/acid dancy community. You can make pretty unique note slides with it, or so it appears! Horses for courses, obviously... And apparently these amazing sounds it produces cannot be replicated by the most sophisticated analogue or modelled apparatus known to man. Interesting world. I am glad they assigned me to this planet!
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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby ken long » Mon May 02, 2011 5:41 pm

tomafd wrote:
Dave B wrote:
The Elf wrote: Often I prefer MiniMonsta to the real thing - it depends on context

Heresy!!! He's a witch - burn him!!!

Actually, for publicly speaking (posting) such an obvious profanity, we demand recompense! Just send your 2600 to me and you Mini to Zuke and we'll let it drop ...

(This has been the Synth Correctness Police - we are watching you!)

Back in about 1985 or so I was working in Rod Argents shop in Denmark st (when it still sold synths). We ordered in a bunch of them TB 303 things (new at the time) and about six months later started punting them out at 50% off, because everybody they thought they were crap and we couldn't shift them.

I still think they're crap....

Yeah Tom. I totally agree. Who needs all that old junk now anyway?

So what time shall I come pick up that Studio 440?

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Re: The Placebo Effect and Vintage Gear

Postby vinyl_junkie » Mon May 02, 2011 8:45 pm

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