Sometimes you really do get what you pay for
Quality is such a subjective term. Particularly when we’re talking about the quality of the equipment tasked with carrying out a job or specific function. If it works, and does what we want it to do, then it’s good quality right? Well…not always. Musical instruments and equipment are a bit of an anomaly when it comes to this debate. There are so many different factors which affect overall quality.
It’s important when looking at the quality of an instrument or piece of studio gear to look at its merits relatively. The £100 audio interface used by a recording newbie is an improvement on a built-in PC soundcard. Wouldn’t it pass muster in a pro studio? Probably not. Does that mean the £100 interface isn’t good quality? No, of course it doesn’t. ‘Perceived value’ comes into play here. To the newbie, that new interface has the potential to improve his or her recordings ten-fold. In that respect it is quality.
Maybe there’s emotional or sentimental significance attached to certain pieces of equipment. We can talk about quality in quite clinical terms as being something that is well built. Something that uses good materials, which will last for years and can be relied upon. But there’s more to it than that. A battered old 50s Stratocaster might not look particularly high quality to the untrained eye, but in the hands of a decent player it’ll sing. There are some commonly accepted factors which we can equate with overall quality though. Here’s a look at some of the things that make good gear good.
Let’s refer back to the terms we used earlier when talking about quality ‘on paper’. These are the things which, will undoubtedly have an effect on a piece of equipment’s practicality or function. Build quality is a term which is used in almost every manufacturing process, whether it’s furniture, food or Fenders.
You’ll always see a premium price attached to something that is hand-built, for example. The reason being that the item in question is given the full attention of a bone fide expert. These people are commonly referred to as ‘master craftsmen’ by marketing departments They represent the engineering or design gurus who make the magic come together. And when you pay top dollar here, it’s because you aren’t just paying for the item in question, you’re paying for the experience and expertise that the producer has amassed over their career.
The benefit of this is that you know the item you’ve bought, whether it’s a mixing desk or an amplifier head, has been carefully and lovingly put together. It’s been checked constantly and tested for any imperfections.You’re getting a product that the producer is happy to put their name to, rather than something blasted out in an automated factory somewhere. Sure, there’s kudos and mystique involved when you buy a hand-built product. The true value, however, comes in the long life and reliable performance you’ll get out of it.
Hand in hand with the build quality and construction methods is the materials used to build the product. There are hundreds of different combinations of woods, plastics, metals and other fittings which impact on the finished item. They affect everything from the instrument’s sound, it’s durability (i.e. how many times it can be dropped before it dies) and how easy it is to play. For studio equipment, the materials used often indicate components used in the electronics, the tooling used to manufacture the housing and the availability of said components.
Another factor with studio gear, particularly electronic items, is the proprietary features which are often unique to each manufacturer. These are usually protected through patents or copyright. Again, this has an impact on quality and price, as certain producers develop reputations for their unique processes or procedures.
Durability means how long you can reasonably expect the item to last you for. Quality materials provide the item with the physical strength or robustness it needs to be hauled up and down the country on tour. The construction method impacts how long the item will continue producing that specific sound or functionality you bought it for. We’ve all had gear nightmares, where something has failed at a crucial time. The theory goes that as you progress in your playing career you’ll obtain better gear which will last you longer.
It’s rare for professionals to still be using the same stuff they had when they were starting out. ‘Learner’ gear generally isn’t built to last a lifetime or stand up to years of touring/gigging. It gets you up and running before you progress onto better quality gear. And, of course, the happy side effect here is that by the time you are in a position to afford the better equipment, you’ve learnt what constitutes ‘quality’ and you will appreciate it more. So don’t resent the fact that you can’t get your hands on the latest, top of the range gear. Keep playing, keep progressing and when you do get the better stuff you’ll know how best to use it.
Check out a full range of quality musical instruments over at the Dawsons website.
Journalist, PR and multimedia specialist. Write professionally on subjects ranging from musical instruments to industrial technology.