Beats Per Month: Gear Lust

When I was a kid, I can remember begging my mom for some Casio keyboard that I saw on a commercial that conveniently aired around Christmas. As time went on, that keyboard became a drum set, which became a bass guitar, which in turn became two turntables and a mixer. Throughout my years playing music, regardless of the instrument, there has always been a desire to try something new. When I played drums, I wanted more drums. When I played bass I wanted more strings. As a DJ, I’m always searching for new tunes and as a producer, the list is endless. I was a DJ long before I ever bought my first pair of turntables. Fortunately, I had plenty of friends who were also DJs and would let me practice on their decks. Finally, after more years than I care to recount, I was able to buy my own 1200s. Back then, making songs of my own was the furthest thing from my mind. Not only did I have no idea how to go about producing electronic music, the equipment needed to make anything worthwhile was a lot more than I could afford at the time. It wasn’t until years later that I began to dabble in production, albeit on a computer and not on the racks of samplers and synthesizers that producers used in the ‘80s and ‘90s. That, however, does not mean I wouldn’t like to add those racks of hardware to my studio now. Over the years, this desire for more seems to have become a common occurrence and it’s something I’m still guilty of today—gear lust.

Gear lust is exactly what it sounds like. Somewhere, out in the vortex of the universe is some unattainable piece of perfect equipment that would make any musician’s compositions exponentially better simply by possessing it. Whether it’s a state-of-the-art guitar pedal or a vintage Roland TB-303, there is always something missing from your repertoire. Even on the occasions that one of these items becomes part of the setup, another piece of gear steps to the front of the queue and your desire returns. I know people that have switched MIDI controllers more than three times in a span of 3 years and others that sell current gear to buy new gear. By no means am I knocking them, for I am plagued by the very same monster. The lust can only be extinguished for so long.

As technology has progressed, recording and production have become easier and more affordable for musicians. DAWs, virtual instruments, and the algorithms used to program them have improved by leaps and bounds in the last decade and yet, there is something that digital formats lack in the eyes of many. Purists and audiophiles will argue with you all day long about the superiority of analog over digital and I tend to lean towards this school of thought myself. Although I write computer-based music, I strive to make it sound as organic as possible. While I have invested in several digital EQs, compressors and other virtual instruments, my desire to “warm things up” has only led to more gear lust. First on the list was a Mackie desk and soon after I turned my interest to an old rack-mount Akai sampler. After doing some research, I found that most of these samplers are very difficult to repair and parts are scarce. Since then, I have developed what some might deem an unhealthy obsession with the Roland RE-201 Space Echo. At the moment, there is no other piece of equipment that I would rather have than that particular tape delay. With a built-in spring reverb and the ability to self-oscillate, I get chills just thinking about the possibilities. I’ll not bore you with more of the specifics, but suffice it to say that I torment myself quite frequently looking at Ebay auctions featuring the Space Echo. With prices upwards of $600, it’ll probably be awhile before I get my hands on one, but I can always dream (read: lust).

This may sound very shallow to some but I can assure you that I see these things only as tools to reach the end goal of making the best music I am capable of creating. While I frequently think about how great it would be to have certain equipment, I’m also not losing any sleep over the lack of it. I’ve been fortunate enough to be able to do what I want musically for quite some time now and although I might not have all the pieces to the puzzle, I’m very thankful for the bits I do have. It’s also gratifying as hell when you are finally able to make that new addition to your setup regardless of how long you might have had to wait. Ultimately, I think the ends justify the means. Until then, I, personally, will be drooling over tape delays, spring reverbs and dub sirens.