Gear Ov Hell: The Upgrade


Out with the old, in with the soon-to-be-old.

There comes a time in every musician’s life when that crummy little Hello Kitty starter guitar pack just doesn’t cut it anymore. Either you’ve improved your abilities to the point where you need a higher-quality piece of equipment, you’ve destroyed your current gear through endless touring, smashing and beer-drenching, or you simply can’t exist any longer without owning that shiny, sexy new model. Whatever your reason, the end result is the same: you need new shit to replace your old shit. Time to upgrade.

The act of the upgrade itself is glorious. Part with [amount of money] in order to receive kickass new [instrument/gear item], which allows you to [“opening new doors” analogy], [“wow your friends” analogy] and [“take over the world” analogy] to embrace your rightful status as a [“metal god” description pulled straight from the back of a Guitar Hero disc case]. See? It’s a simple equation that starts with you spending money and eventually ruling the fucking world because you can weedly deedly real durn good, and everyone obviously will love your music and there won’t be any differences in musical taste due to language, culture or accessibility of said music media. All because you got yourself some cool new shit!

burned_guitarEhhh, I suppose I could start shopping around

My upgrade story: a few years ago I was in need of a second bass and picked up an Ibanez BTB 575 for an amazing price (I’d been playing an earlier BTB model for many years and had gotten so used to the unique string spacing that everything else either felt too narrow or too wide). When compared to my earlier bolt-on model, the new neck-thru model has a thinner neck, a drop in weight and a cleaner, flatter body topography, in addition to a full-instrument dark stain finish. No bare maple color to be found anywhere. The difference in pickup sound is worlds better as well – a heavier midrange, a higher output that sounds better with my pedals, and a slight rollback of both the super lows and super highs from my older, cheaper pickups. “Cutting through the mix” is a clichéd music magazine way of putting it, but this bass does it and does it well. Damn well.

Was it worth dropping some cash for? Absolutely. The only downside of it is that, due to the thinner neck, the action on the new bass gets a little fussy when I use higher gauge strings. Not a big deal really, but I also keep finding little hints of evidence that someone didn’t take great care of this bass to begin with, like a poorly filed nut slot (heh, nut slot) and a holy-fuck-how-did-you-not-burn-your-house-down soldering job in the battery compartment.

burned_bassDramatic reenactment of original owner

I reached out to a buddy of mine (with a killer screen name) who recently upgraded his guitar amp. Here’s his experience:

Smashmouth Can Have A Music Career Why Can’t I
I’m self-taught, about as casual musician as it gets, and I never needed or pressed for much. I could hardly tell you the hard specs on my equipment. Shopping or researching new gear was completely disinteresting until something broke. It took 17 years, elbows from my wife and bandmates, and my amp going weak and eating it during a live performance, but I switched up from my old Crate combo to a big ass Peavey XXX half stack. You know these right? I had jammed on one years ago, and any metalhead will tell you it’s just going to crush it. And really, it didn’t require much research into the specs and hard facts of each amplifier; you know that sound when you hear it. I went in with several brands and models in mind, and my ears told me it was this one. Now, it’s worth noting I had a hand from the guys at the local music store, who could lend their expertise to fill in the rest. Their knowledge was invaluable. That was the best part of the experience, hanging out and getting to know the local musicians better. Even if we had different approaches to our art, we shared the same passion for it.

And here are some additional accounts from our esteemed TovH authors who also like to make with the rock.

With Dischordia, I had a bass upgrade about a year ago from an Ibanez SR505 to a Warwick Thumb 5 (bolt on). The tone is worlds better, with a much smoother and fuller midrange and a beefy bass tone. My side project/personal recording sounds like absolute garbage by intention, so my upgrade to a Zoom H2N mic is probably getting too fancy.

Joe Thrashnkill
I bought a really fancy delay pedal to provide a simple slap-back effect and it makes everything I play sound so much more full and lush.

Boss the Ross
Awhile back I was growing weary with the Mexican Stratocaster I had. It was my first good guitar that I bought and I loved it dearly but I needed a change. The only problem was I didn’t have much money to play with, so a new guitar was out of the question. Then I looked into upgrades, anything that would change the sound and aesthetic of this guitar. Scouring thru websites and guitar stores, I soon found a Lace Blue-Silver-Red Strat Pack on sale for a mere $75. I grabbed them up along with a black pickguard and learned how to rewire my guitar. During the new pickup installation I had the bright idea of stripping the paint off of the body to stain the wood underneath. One heat gun and an hour later, I was looking at seven pieces of wood glued together with a top and bottom plate. Not exactly what I was expecting. Far too late to turn back I continued staining – a nice deep walnut and cherry mix. After all was said and done the guitar turned out pretty cool looking. The glue I thought I’d removed completely was still there, but it stained nice and dark along the edges giving the body an interesting patina-type look. I coated it with polyurethane laquer and called it a day. So for maybe $150, I had what appeared to be and what sounded like a new guitar.

Hessian Hunter
I’ve been playing with standard-size Ludwig Vistalite drums for years, and recently I spent a bunch of money I didn’t really have on a set of obscenely big fiberglass Tempus drums (15×14 rack tom, 18×18 floor tom, 26×20 kick). It’s way harder to play fast rolls on these things but they boom like nothing I’ve ever played. They’re perfect for doom metal but pretty silly when used for anything else, so they’ll just have to be part of a stable I keep, not my full-time kit for all projects.

365 Days of Horror
I yell into a microphone stuck in the oxygen tube of a World War 2 soviet tank driver gas mask. (365 said this was a downgrade. I think it’s a damn fine upgrade. – Cyborg)

Got a gear upgrade (or downgrade) story? Share in the comments below.

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