Why buying gear ain't what it used to be...
When I was 14 years old, my dad took me to Sam Ash on 48th Street in New York to get my first real bass guitar. I had put in the hours on my mail‑order Sears bass and was making serious progress, so my parents agreed that I was ready for my first professional instrument.
Unlike now, I was too naive to care about all the details of the purchase. I just wanted something that didn't feel like a toy, and if it happened to be a model that I'd seen in magazines, even better. My heroes at the time were the guy from Joe Jackson, the guy from Elvis Costello, and the guy from Duran Duran (I didn't know their names yet), and I was determined, with the help of my friend Chris, to decode their bass lines and appropriate them into my own burgeoning sound. The bass I chose was a used Ibanez Blazer. Hardly a classic, but, nonetheless, my first pro piece of gear.
In the coming months, I would need a new amp, pedals, strings, mics, mic stands and a bass stand. These items were all much needed and well used, but shopping for them failed to create a fraction of the excitement that the purchase of my bass had. In fact, I have come to the conclusion that I've never been more excited at the thought of using something new than I was with my Blazer.
When I was even younger and hadn't even played an instrument, I once saw a woman in my neighbourhood carrying a long guitar case with an Ibanez sticker on it. I was intrigued, so I asked her what kind of guitar it was. She said, in a condescending, tough‑girl way "it's an electric bass.”
It sounded so cool to me (and it probably was a major reason why I ended up playing an Ibanez). Everybody played guitar, but the bass seemed so 'outside the box'. I was hooked. "I'm going to play the bass,” I said. She gave me a quizzical look and replied, "Oh yeah, lead or rhythm?” I sheepishly admitted that I didn't know. She exclaimed "You better figure it out if you're going to play!”, and with that she brushed me off, went into a doorway and pressed the intercom button, muttering "lesson with Richie.” She was buzzed in and I never saw her again. Two years later, I took lessons with Richie too, and he was the best. To this day, after playing for over 20 years, I still don't know the difference between lead and rhythm bass!
When I was ready to get my second instrument, I knew what I wanted. It was, again, an Ibanez, but this was their top‑of‑the‑line model. I had seen it in pictures (with the guy from U2) and it had all the features that I thought would make me the most killin' cat in town. I got my new Ibanez and loved it instantly, but there was no buzz from buying it, no anticipation of coming home with it. I just put it in my gig bag and it was business as usual. The beginning of the end.
After bass, I learned guitar and piano and eventually the trombone. Add to that all the recording equipment I've purchased to create my studio and update it for 15 years, and I've spent an unspeakable amount of money on gear. Although I love researching products and finding great deals, I never feel that rush of having a new toy. My newest trombone sat in its package for two weeks before I took it out to play — two weeks!
We all get jaded as we grow up, and our youthful enthusiasm fades as our toys turn into our tools of the trade. I also partly blame myself for doing the majority of my shopping on‑line these days (my actual in‑store purchase fiascos could be the subject of an entire 'Sounding Off' piece). What seems sad is that I still get a kick out of buying kit but the joy is diluted by adult concerns. If I saved my allowance money and blew it on something, no one would care, but if I spent all my money on equipment now, my wife would leave me!
I still buy gear every week — sometimes major purchases and sometimes silly things like gig bags and software upgrades. I enjoy shopping for my gear. I love using my gear. I love finding great deals. I love finding stuff on eBay. I love buying things I can't afford. I love buying things I don't deserve. I love everything about buying gear. But excitement? The rush? The anticipation? I hate to admit it, but the thrill is gone.
David Ricard is an Emmy-nominated composer with hundreds of TV credits. He currently lives in Los Angeles, where he writes the score for the new Pink Panther & Pals series on Cartoon Network.