=729= Word: Does Gear Matter?

I was watching Adam Neely’s videos again. One of it discusses, does gear matter, found it interesting, so gonna talk about it here.

I think many teachers would discourage young players to buy expensive new gear because learning how to play and learning proper techniques is far more important. I may own expensive gear now, but if you track my progress, the period of time that I grew the most as a musician was when I did not have such gear. I simply worked my way through my practice gear, my church’s drum set and Leb’s gear. Those days, I had to make do with G2’s paiste cymbals. They aren’t bad, just not the sound I like for church.

I was often told that I crash on the ride too hard and that it was too loud. The cymbal was just so dry and ringy. I really found it too harsh.

When I finally got my cymbals, it was when I really started to understand and really pick the sounds I want to use.

The first dream cymbal I bought, the 20 inch dream vintage bliss crash ride, was such a beautiful cymbal, till this day, I still love how crazy dark that cymbal is. In the store, I loved how it reacted. Super expressive. However, I realised that it doesn’t exactly fit what I need for a ride in a church setting. It was just too washy and dark, hence it really doesn’t cut at all. Cymbals reacts differently when you hit it with different strengths. The cymbal that sounds clear when hit soft, might sound very washy when hit hard. I realised that even though I play in church, I actually hit rather hard and need something that reacts better at the strength I hit it at.

Eventually, I slowly refined the cymbal setup I own and now the setup that I have is really good for what I do in church.

Does gear matter? I think for a percussionist, it really does. Something that is really quite necessary in church playing is swelling. There is literally no set that I have played for that I didn’t have to swell for a worship set. Zero. Every set requires me to swell. If I use bright cymbals for the job, swelling sounds too bright, jarring and harsh. If I use too dry a cymbal, swelling sounds really metallic and the role as a cushion the song is lost. It is like giving me a thick marker and telling me to draw a thin line. Is it possible? Perhaps after tilting the marker slightly, it could be possible, but it is certainly easier to draw the thin line with a thin marker instead.

I guess that is why, so many of us drummers are so into gear and owning our own cymbals and snares. It is because beyond our playing, the sounds that we choose are very much part of our job as a percussionist; to choose the right sounds for the job. I might say that the sounds we choose is part of our identity.

I must say this though, I am sure if you put Leb with cymbals that he is unfamiliar with, his playing will still sound like him. Musicianship in a person won’t disappear once you strip him/her of the instrument that he/she is comfortable with. However, I am certain that you will hear Leb sound better when he plays with instruments he is comfortable with.

We as musicians are affected by the sounds we play. For example, I recall for a recording, we tuned the floor tom rather high and Leb was really uncomfortable with it. He used it nevertheless, but he would have used it more if he was more comfortable with the sound. It is perhaps like playing with a broken string. You can still play the same chords, but it will sound different, despite being the same musician.

We will definitely be affected when we play a badly tuned/spoiled instrument. Perhaps what you hear may still sound good, but it is really a depressing feeling when you hit the snare and it sounds really bad.we as musicians are very emotional beings. Being limited by the gear is really quite an annoying feeling. Imagine a keyboardist being limited by a shitty sounding patch that sounds like a xylophone for the entire set because the keyboard could only load that sound. Trust me, the keyboardist will get annoyed. We know that we can still make music with the bad sounding sound, but we get annoyed that we are limited by it.

Please don’t throw the, “this musician plays this sound and it sounds amazing!” Card. When a musician gets obsessed with a sound, he will find means and ways to play it. He isn’t limited by the instrument, he enjoys it. Like I said, every job has its needs. If a metal drummer uses a jazz drummer’s drum set, I like to see how he gets clarity with his sizzling ride while doing blast beats. I love Benny Greb and JoJo Mayer, but if I ever use their drum sets, meant for Jazz/Fusion/electronica, for church, I would find a hard time playing too. If I ever use Chad Smith’s drum set for church, you will find me cringing every time I swell.

I don’t see people using a big screwdriver to screw open a small tiny screw, so why use cymbals not meant for the job?

Don’t get me wrong though, I am not saying that expensive gear is definitely better. If you see my cymbals, I use dream and pantheon cymbals, both brands’ prices on cymbals aren’t that bad. For a cymbal that sound as good as they do, I think the prices are really reasonable. Expensive doesn’t mean good. Use your ears to find gear that you want. Not the brand that your idol uses, not the model that people recommend, use your ears to find the exact sound you want. Don’t think, oh man, it is made in China/Taiwan, it won’t sound good. Trust me, finding a musical instrument is like mining. You go through plenty of coal to find one gem. Does it matter if that gem is from which country? What matters is that the gem is a gem.

Does gear matter? No if you are trying to practice. Yes if you are trying to do a job properly. I am sure you will be able to make wonderful music even with the wrong gear, but having the right gear for the job just makes you comfortable to do the job properly.