We got a lot of feedback from last weeks’ “Humble Musician” column. There were way too many questions to actually even attempt to answer; but in the same breath, there were enough good questions to warrant a follow-up here this week.
Duff McKagan is the founding bassist of Guns N’ Roses, the leader of Seattle’s Loaded and a member of Walking Papers. His column runs every Thursday on Reverb.
One question sort of stuck out more than the others to me: What is a good starter guitar/bass/drum kit/amp?
First off, and before you make an investment into a new instrument and/or amp, make sure that playing music is something you will be doing for a while. Gear can be expensive, especially if it is only a passing fancy. Alright?
I had a paper route when I was a kid, and also some summertime regular jobs of cutting peoples lawns and whatnot. An older kid at my middle school knew I was into music, and offered to sell me a Gibson EBO bass for $125 (pretty sure it was, er, “hot”). Paper routes and cutting lawns is tough work, and when I paid this older kid for this bass in installments, the fact that it was my own hard-fought dough put an extra emphasis on my taking the next step and following through with actually starting a band. Walking Papers keyboardist Ben Anderson picked cantaloupe all summer in Arizona when he was a teen to get his first guitar. Paying for your own gear might help!
My first amp was a Peavy TNT 100 that I bought new on a monthly payment plan (my dear Mom co-signed for me).
Getting the very best and top-shelf gear from the get-go is probably not the most important thing. Gibson and Fender do make really good entry-level guitars and basses these days, and places like the big-box Guitar Center, and even American Music, can have ridiculous deals on these axes.
Amps are a bit different. There are entry level guitar and bass amps, but the sound varies a ton. You will never go wrong with a Fender combo guitar amp with tubes. Different pedals for distortion, or whatever, can be added between your guitar and amp to help achieve whatever added sound you are looking for.
Bass amps vary just as much. Make sure you have at least 100 watts, and that your tone isn’t too brittle. Listen to Led Zeppelin bass player John Paul Jones’ sound before you go shopping for an amp. You can never go wrong with his tone.
Drums are a whole different animal. Entry level kits are fine, but the sturdiness factor of inexpensive hardware can end up costing you to replace time and again. Good cymbals are expensive too. So if you are a new drummer, I’d suggest just going for it, as far as getting a good and not-so-inexpensive kit. Make sure the hardware is the best quality. Note: I was a drummer in my teens. I just couldn’t afford replacing cymbals anymore.
M-audio makes a great midi-keyboard with what is called “waterfall” action for around $100. Not the same feel as a piano, but with all of the computer software that comes with it, you can get whatever sound you need. And if you want a real piano, and have some cousins with strong backs, Craigslist always has free pianos just about every week.
Craigslist, in general, is a good place to find stuff if you’ve got all of the money now. You can often bargain, and just find plain old good deals left and right. Know what you want first, though, and don’t just jump on something if you have a feeling it isn’t “you” … if that makes sense. You have got to want to play the instrument that you get. It must inspire you!
A lot of you may have just got back from Sasquatch Festival. You have seen your heros play, or maybe found some new hero. Just remember, all of those artists who played over there last weekend have gone through what you are going through now. Forge on. Practice. Start a band. Music needs you!