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What Price Value?

Recording our own music has never been more affordable, but there are still some pricing decisions that make little sense to me. For example, an overdrive pedal built around a 25 cent chip might cost you more than a decent computer monitor — or a large-screen HD television come to that. Most overdrive and distortion pedals are fairly straightforward affairs, and while some development is clearly needed to arrive at a workable design, I can’t see how it justifies the frankly silly cost of some of these devices. OK, so maybe some are hand-made on somebody’s kitchen table, but that’s the manufacturer’s decision and it doesn’t make the product any more reliable. Indeed, if you want a ‘hand-made on the kitchen table’ pedal, there are plenty of sensibly priced clone kits to be found online. All you need is a soldering iron and a kitchen table and you can make your own.

Paul White in his studio, 2017.You’ll also be familiar with the ‘just like the old ones’ myth. Many vintage pedals were built around the JRC4558 dual op-amp chip, so including one in a current pedal is seen as some kind of badge of honour. Well I’ve just ordered a box of 100 JRC4558s from China at a total cost of under £4, including postage, so they’re not that esoteric.

Then there are buzz phrases such as ‘point-to-point’ wiring — something amplifier manufacturers in particular make a big deal of — but back when valve equipment was somewhat less sophisticated than most of today’s guitar amplifiers, point-to-point wiring was just a way to save money by stringing the components directly between the potentiometers, sockets and valve bases rather than mounting them on tag strip — the latter being a much more mechanically sound and servicing-friendly method of construction.

We’re on safer ground with most recording gear, though it still amazes me that buying a plug-in that purports to emulate an old analogue mixer might actually cost more than a second-hand, perfectly good ‘real’ analogue mixer. Indeed some individual plug-ins might cost more than you paid for your DAW — which probably came with a perfectly good suite of plug-ins and software instruments. Thankfully, if you get on the right mailing lists you’ll see some very attractive ‘weekend special’ pricing.

Some plug-ins, in particular software instruments — Spectrasonics Omnisphere is a good example — involve a huge amount of work creating and editing samples, so the asking price seems very fair to me, but I do occasionally wonder why another company might be asking a similar price for an emulation of a historic equaliser that only the tiniest percentage of today’s engineers and producers are likely to have come across. Maybe it’s the Yorkshireman in me, but I think that a bit of pragmatism goes a long way. If you focus on what you actually need to get the job done, there’s never been a better time to get into recording.