By Chester Eu
Fancy guitars and pedals. More accessible now than ever! There are so many local retailers, both online (relying on Instagram and/or Carousell) and brick-and-mortar shops, that are bringing in more brands of guitars and pedals that it tends to facilitate needless spending on gear.
Compared to 10 to 12 years ago, a lot of new musicians have the funds and access to higher-end gear to start off with. A lot of bands used to go onstage and plug in direct to the amplifier and their drummers use the in-house drum-kit and cymbals. Now, even hobbyists have a decent-sized pedalboard and use a nice guitar or bass.
Davis Guitars, a music store that has been around since 1989, says that sales on pedals, pickups, and guitars have been increasing steadily over the years. Jackson (aptly named), a floor staff there, says that even secondary school students who are beginners buy straplocks and costlier leather straps by brands such as Levy’s for their guitars. He also says that artist models of guitars and pedals sell more readily. Advertising plays a big part, he adds. “I may see an Instagram post about a certain product and have people come in to buy it the very next day.”
Teo Chee Kee, who set up the TY Music Center shop 10 years ago, says that the biggest difference between then and now is that the majority of customers today are realising the importance of, and are more willing to spend on, quality instruments and patch cables. Teo, being the cool guy he is, also acknowledges that teens and young adults are more willing to work part-time to buy the equipment they want.
TYMC offers express servicing because most of the people who send in their equipment for servicing need it back on the same day. “Most of the musicians who come in asking for a setup or a restring do it the day before a gig, or when they have to jam later in the day or the next, like you (referring to me),” he says.
Chong Aik Ming, the 21-year-old lead guitarist of this year's Baybeats budding band, FXTRT, has a love for Tom Anderson guitars and has an expensive guitar collection (he declines to reveal how much he has spent). He started out with an Epiphone Les Paul Special 2 at the age of 14, when he first saw a video of Paul Gilbert playing, and soon upgraded to an ESP Horizon Brett Garsen signature model. In his current collection, which is constantly changing, are a Tom Anderson Classic 99' signed by Mateus Asato, a Tom Anderson Koa Drop-Top Cobra S signed by Guthrie Govan, a Bigsby-equipped Palir Titan, an older-model Strandberg Boden OS, and an unknown $50 guitar which “felt great in his hands when (he) tried it”, hence the purchase. He uses GruvGear fretwraps on all his guitars in different colors. These guitars are used extensively on their EP, Palette, which was released in early 2016.
Eugene Soh and Ernest Foo, both 23, from local psych-rock band Bakers in Space, have, and use, many pedals for their live shows and recordings. Soh, the band’s vocalist who also plays bass in another local band, The Roses, recalls his first pedal being a second-hand Boss DS-1 modded by local guitar tech, Beez, while Foo was a little more fortunate to have an MI Audio Crunchbox as his first. Eugene recalls having his first “nice” pedal, a Roland Space Echo, stolen at an underground gig seven years ago. Since then, he has always packed everything up immediately after his set before watching the next band! Ernest still has his first “nice” pedal on his pedalboard, a Strymon Malekko EKKO 616. Don’t let their fancy setup fool you, despite the both of them having massive boards with multiple presets triggered by switches for different parts of songs, Soh says: “I still have to (do the pedal) dance onstage as I also trigger loops live.” Looks like they replaced a third guitarist with their effects pedals!
Elaborating on what inspired these guys to have huge setups, Soh recalls hearing the delay effect on The Fall of Troy’s song, F.C.P.R.E.M.I.X. as a deciding factor on his gear choice. He quips: “When I first heard that intro riff, I was like, whoa, I wanna play like that! Then I realised he was using the effect called delay”. Foo is inspired by bands such as Tame Impala and Queens Of The Stone Age. This led to Soh using an MXR Carbon Copy, which is a “darker” delay, while Foo utilises a “brighter” delay with the EKKO. When writing songs for Bakers, they focus primarily on having a great sounding melody and “hook” and use their effects to achieve both. They try not to incorporate “fancy” chords and arrangements as they feel that it will diminish the intention of the music they produce. Check out their EP, Implosions, on Spotify as well as the music video for Mute on Youtube!
The most important thing to keep in mind are that the gear does not make a better musician; practice does! The musicians interviewed for this article spent their fair share of time woodshedding to be where they are now, and their gear are just a means of their musical self-expression. As always, support local music!