Today I had an experience that has me feeling unsettled. I spoke to a guy putting together a band about possibly playing guitar for him. I liked his music, he seemed to like my playing and singing. Then we got to discussing equipment. He was looking for a specific sound and was not convinced that my digital modeling gear was sufficient. He said this was a “pro-level” gig and that there needed to be real Les Pauls through real Marshall stacks. We chatted a little about it and basically parted ways amicably with the decision that I wasn’t the guy for the job.
However, this exchange continued to bother me and I tried to analyze why. I certainly don’t begrudge him his opinion or knowing what he personally wants in his band. Then I realized that it resonated with something deeper in me. An insecurity. I’ve encountered this attitude before from people. People who don’t take me seriously because, in their ears, they don’t take my equipment seriously. I realized that I was bothered because I felt like I had been dismissed, or looked down upon as less than a professional.
I consider myself a professional musician and I know many who would serve as references for my skills as “pro-quality.” I’ve always had a very well developed ear. I am self taught on all instruments and have always learned by ear. When I’m in bands, I’m always the one (or one of the people) that others turn to when there’s a question on how something is played or some sonic detail. I’ve spent the last 30 years honing my ear and one of my talents that I’ve been hired for from time to time is the ability to copy, replicate or produce something that is “like” something else. However, it’s all subjective. Something that sounds good or “correct” to me, may not to you. However there are opinions, and there are facts. “A digital modeler can never sound as good as the real thing” is an opinion and can not be right or wrong. I felt bummed and irritated that this guy who I don’t even really know might think less of me than I deserve. That’s stupid, but yet I know that’s one my own issues and insecurities common in many areas of my life. I really don’t know how to not care what other people think of me. Obviously I have some weird deep-seated insecurity of being the person that everyone is pointing and laughing at or something. “Yeah, this guy is obviously an amateur. I mean he uses those digital toys.”
I often have various other people who may disagree with a guitar tone I’m using. They think it’s too trebly, or needs more mid-range, while I think it’s fine and just what I wanted and was going for. I’m always open to opinions and collaboration but in the end I feel like I’m the guitar player and that’s my arena to decide. Sometimes I don’t particularly care, so I don’t resist, but while I may offer my opinion on another musician’s parts or sounds, I’m certainly not going to dictate to them how I think they need to set their gear if I respect their own opinions and abilities. Basically we all have opinions, and I don’t want to be made to feel like mine is somehow wrong or inferior when I have dedicated a large part of my life to learning and honing my skills and my ear.
I’ve always loved technology. When I heard about the first “Digital Modeling Amplifier,” the Line 6 AxSys 212, I got one and loved it, even though it wasn’t perfect. Over the years, technology has come a long way and I’ve stayed with the times. I now play a Line 6 James Tyler Variax that can digitally model many different guitars and I use a Line 6 POD HD-500 that digitally models amps, effects, speakers, mics, etc. I personally think that technology has come far enough now that there is no perceptible sonic difference. When I switch my guitar to a “Les Paul” setting, and stomp my footswitch for a “Marshall,” it sounds and feels like a Les Paul into a Marshall to me. I’ve seen blind sound tests when people could distinguish which was real and which was digitally modeled.
Some people have their minds made up that nothing can ever sound and feel like the real thing. That is probably technically true on a microscopic level but I personally disagree as far as a human perceptible level. I believe that so much of what we perceive is colored by what we want or expect to perceive. If you have your mind made up that a movie is going to suck, then you’re probably not going to like it. If you think that a piece of gear is not going to sound as good as another piece of gear, then that’s probably the conclusion you are going to reach. Even if you think you’ve “given it a fair chance” it’s probably affected by your subconscious bias.
This, of course, goes for me as well. Maybe because I want to love the digital revolution, I hear awesome sounds that are just as good as the real thing. I try very hard to be open-minded and listen to feed back. I mean really listen and take it in and consider it and not just get knee-jerk defensive about my own opinions but I’m human and I’m sure I’m still susceptible to subconscious preference. I wonder if there will be a day when people look back and say “They used to use amps powered by vacuum tubes! Can you believe that? How antiquated and steam-punk is that?”
I have chosen my place as a digital warrior and I love that I can get so many (accurate, in my opinion) sounds out of one guitar and one amp/effects simulator. In 2 pieces of gear, I have the equivalent of a truckload of hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of sounds. And more so, the guitars and amps aren’t based on “average” models, they are based on particularly “exceptional” sounding models so it’s not just like have a Strat and a Marshall, it’s like having an exceptionally awesome sounding Strat and Marshall. They even model all the knobs to respond exactly like the knobs on the original equipment. When you get into the guts and details of Line 6’s digital modeling, it’s actually amazing what technology can do.
I could easily go on for hours about this stuff and how amazing it is and how it’s allowed me to experiment and discover tones and guitar and amps I may never have had a chance to before and how I can, in an instant, go from a Les Paul/Marshall combo to a Gretsch Duo-Jet tuned to Open E into a Park-75 amp with the flick of a switch and they all sound just like the real thing. I could ramble on about opinions, subjectivity, snobbiness, and any one of the other hundred talking points I’ve touched on here in this meandering diatribe.
I definitely have my share of insecurities about so many things, but I suppose I should be happy that at least I don’t doubt myself. I have pride in my own abilities and talents, even if I sometimes think that others may not see or appreciate them. I am fully entrenched in the world of digital modeling music gear and have no desire to change that, as are many top pro players. I guess if someone is going to look down on me for that, then they aren’t someone I was meant to be playing with anyway. It’s still kind of a bummer though.