People spend way too much time worrying about gear. They'll see someone performing on their chosen instrument and immediate wonder what equipment is being used. What horn, what mouthpiece, what reed, what bow, what strings. So many folks are more worried about the gear than the work. So many strain to see the make and model of the instrument and miss a wonderful performance in the process. To these folks the fact that Jimi Hendrix played a Fender Stratocaster was the reason for his sound, not that he came up with a unique style of playing guitar.
As an active member of many social media saxophone boards I see it a lot. Folks are more interested in the mouthpiece and horn used by, say, Joel Frahm than what he does in his practice time. More than this, we have folks who spend thousands trying to put together the exact same gear as their heroes in an attempt to catch the same 'lightning in a bottle'; not understanding that even the most talented of these folks spent hours upon hours daily for YEARS to arrive where they were. Their sound was the result of sweat more than gear. Chris Potter would sound like Chris Potter on a student Bundy saxophone with the stock mouthpiece. Understand that a wind player's sound comes from the wind player, not the instrument. One can even see it with pianist. Chick Corea would sound different than Herbie Hancock even if they played on the exact same piano. Every single great musician develops a unique voice due to who they are as a musician; not due to the gear they use.
I LOVE GEAR!
I'm fascinated by it. I want to know how things work. I love discussing it. I love exploring it. I can't wait for Paul Haar's online publication The Saxophonist each month because he does such a great job of approaching gear reviews from not only an academic standpoint (Professor Haar is Professor of Saxophone at Nebraska) but a real world 'trench knowledge' standpoint as well.
Now, having made my admission I want to drive home a few points.
- I have spent years playing and studying the saxophone as well as music in general. I have a degree in Saxophone Pedagogy and I'm in the process of transferring from one graduate program to another. I have spent years learning to play. I have spent years developing my sound and my style. A different horn, mouthpiece, etc isn't going to change that. Grabbing Tim McAllister's gear would no more make me sound like Dr. McAllister than grabbing a Conn 10m tenor would make me sound like Dexter Gordon.
- My interest in gear is more about EASE of playing. I am looking at ways to play in a healthy, pain-free manner until well into my 80s.
- I try out gear with no illusions of a 'magic bullet'. I just enjoy seeing how things work.
Now, full disclosure time.
I am an endorsing artist for Marca Reeds. Additionally I have working relationships with Marmaduke Music out of Japan and Key Leaves. To that end, I have received free gear from those companies. I talk up their products on social media quite a bit. I do so, however, because I'm a fan of their products. I use Marmaduke's straps and harnesses exclusively now. I do so because I have neck problems and their products allow me to play pain free. I endorse Marca Reeds because they are the best most consistent reeds I've played. I use Key Leaves on my horns because they help keep keys from sticking and with that will extend the life of some of my pads. I am a fan of all three companies because they are good companies owned by some of the genuinely good folks in the industry.
So, let's talk about some ground rules for gear.
- Being a 'gear head' is fine as long as you understand that EFFORT creates the sound, not the GEAR.
- Make sure your equipment is in good repair. A well set up student horn will blow the doors off a poorly set up pro horn ten times out of ten.
- Just because your hero plays a certain set up doesn't mean it will work for YOU. I picked up a $450 mouthpiece from a student of mine this spring. All I could do on it was squeak every five notes. It was simply a bad mouthpiece for my embouchure/oral cavity.
- If you spend more time worrying about gear than approach to the instrument and/or practice time, you're doing it wrong. $1000 mouthpieces don't create a great sound. Long tones do.
- Time spent on fundamentals will help you more than the best mouthpiece, horn, etc.
- If you pick gear, do so based on good information, advice from folks who are truly qualified, and for the right reasons. Will the product make playing easier or more comfortable? Will it help keep your instrument out of the shop? These are the truly important reasons to get a piece of gear.
- If you are a high school student, stop reading and go practice.
Because I mentioned the companies with whom I have endorsement deals/relationships, let me provide their information
Ok, you've read about gear. Now, get to work!