When we’re buying musical equipment, price is (more often than not) a factor in our decision. If you’re young, or not particularly affluent, then it can be the absolute key factor. This is understandable. But, as you progress or start looking up the price ranges, you’ll often come to the same conclusion. Buying cheap, while sometimes unavoidable, should be a last resort. Where possible, clearly.
In this context, bargain bin can mean one of few things. It could be gear that the local guitar store has bought by the hundred, stacked up in the middle of its floor, and covered with huge tags showing an absurdly low price.
Or, it could be the outer reaches of your favourite internet auction sites, selling unloved and unwanted gear from some poor sucker who made the mistakes we’re about to outline.
Whatever it is, the bargain bin is good for what it is – a quick fix or experiment – but basing your gear lust on the amps you’ll commonly find in this bracket (we all know the culprits) is unwise.
Allow us to expand. And, before we’re hit with accusations of “well, you would say that”, we can back up our reasoning. Buying amps from the bargain bin is pointless. Here’s why.
The first, and most obvious reason, is quality. We mean the quality of what you’re buying. If it’s in the bargain bin, the chances are that one or more concessions has been made at the manufacturing stage. Or the people who made it cared only about profit margins etc etc.
This could manifest itself in a jack socket that becomes crackly after a week, or a tone that you’d literally pay money never to have to hear again. Whatever it is, somewhere along the line that money you’ve saved will become a monkey on your back. “Wahey! I saved £20! My tone might sound like aural bin juice, but still. £20! Yaaaaay!”
You get the picture. Put simply, if something is in the metaphorical bargain bin, it’s there for a reason.
Unloved and weeded out
Without wanting to bang on about it, guitarists are a unique bunch. We are famous for stockpiling guitars, amps, pedals and other gizmos in a way that non-guitarists find bizarre. Safe to say most of us will have stories about gear we purchased on a whim. If you’re lucky, you strike gold and find a bargain. If not, you’ll end up stuck with a dud.
Chances are, most of these duds end up for sale on internet auction sites or guitar forum classified sections. So, if your search/budget/hunt leads you this way, look out for certain giveaway signs.
This could be an immaculate looking product, only a few weeks old, at significantly lower than the RRP. Or it could be that perennial favourite, “never gigged” in the description. These are clear signs that someone bought something and then found something fundamental about it that they don’t like, or didn’t live up to their expectations. Learn from their lessons.
Think long term
If price, and price alone, is the deciding factor, rest assured we feel your pain. With the best will in the world, a budget will only stretch as far as it can before problems arise.
If that’s the case, you have to make every penny count. You may however be aware of the term ‘false economy’. If so, you’ll understand its basic principle. If you buy cheap, you’ll end up buying twice. Because cheap rarely equals value, in the long term.
The next big thing
Our final point touches once again on the guitarist-specific psychological condition we know as GAS.
If you’re anything like us, you’ll have doubtless frustrated partners, families, friends and bandmates by getting a new piece of gear, and then within a short space of time be thinking about what your next conquest is.
This is normal, relax. However, what we would ay from experience is that buying cheap/budget/poor quality gear only heightens the anticipation of what’s next. At least when you buy something decent, you can kick back and relax knowing you’ve got the gear you really want/need/deserve. If you buy rubbish, your acquisition spidey-senses will be tingling in no time at all.
Do your loved ones a favour. Buy something proper. They’ll thank you for it in the long run.