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careful with that axe
hi my name is jeff, and i have a guitar problem
by jeff miller (@jmillerboston)
pop culture

I have an unhealthy obsession with the electric guitar. It's the reason I live in Boston, and the reason I can't escape New England weather. It traps me for countless hours that I could be spending working for world peace or, heaven help me, doing my laundry. Every year I get an itch at the base of my spine that says 'if you just had that one, surely the Most Glorious Tone Ever could be achieved.' And so another thousand bucks comes out of the Wedding Fund or the We REALLY Need to Buy a Freakin House fund.

The two-bedroom apartment I share with my all-too-understanding fiancee gets smaller and smaller as the guitars pile up, and the whole time I'm ranting 'I need more space! The walls are closing in!'

Still, rather than diligently saving my paychecks toward the great utopian artist's home, I buy more gear.

GEAR. Now, many people don't use this word on a daily basis, unless they've got a bad transmission. I'm fairly certain that prior to living with me, Gear had little or no contextual significance in my girl's day to day routine. My, how things change.

Whenever I ask her 'So, how's that savings account doing?' or 'Why can't we invest in killer income properties in Cambridge?' the standard answer is, "Well, we were doing pretty good but then last month you BOUGHT MORE GEAR".

It all started with the guitars. Guitars lead to amplifiers. Amps lead to effects. All that leads me to think that somebody may be interested in hearing me squawk around with all my gear , so I form a band. Bands need to perform, right? So now I need a PA system. And microphones. And let's not forget rent on a rehearsal space. Then, when I'm really invested, I decide I need to record my music for the masses. If only I could get my music to the people, I think to yourself, then I could make millions of dollars and buy more gear!

So now i have to decide - do I spend my hard-earned cash on recording time in some overpriced Boston studio, staffed with underpaid, burnt-out, often careless and unkempt engineers? Or do I - here it comes - buy some more gear and do it myself!!!???

The answer is obvious. Now I need to buy a high-end home recording system. It starts with a powerful computer, then some sort of recording interface. As in, I'm sorry babe, we can't plan our wedding because I need an Analog-to-Digital Recording Interface. And of course along with all that you need nice expensive monitors and some extra special microphones. I know I already bought some microphones, but those were for rehearsal. These are special Studio microphones!

So now I'm really cooking. I've got the band, I've got the songs, and I've got a CD in production. My money-siphoning habit is in full swing, and I've got everything I need (well, I suppose I could use a more powerful PA system...) to make music, record it and get it online for the whole world to hear. It's taken me almost a year to get the whole shabam together, and now the music is really flowing. Everything is in its place.

Then it happens. Again. I'm in rehearsal, screeching along to our latest three-minute fantasy, when it hits me - this doesn't sound quite right.

I twiddle some knobs on my amp, I tweak the tone controls on my guitar. I crank the distortion, I turn it down again. I pull all of the effects out of the chain*, so it's just the guitar straight into the amp. Why isn't this working? I can't seem to get enough sustain*...the low end* isn't tight enough...these damn pickups* aren't giving me what I....

[*please note these additional phrases that most folks never need to know about...]

And there you have it - it's time for a new guitar. The whole sick cycle leads me right back where I started, and I know now that it will never end. Even if I do somehow manage to finally organize the wedding and buy a nice home, it will never stop. At least once a year I'll lose copious amounts of precious time and sleep obsessing over my toys.

Eventually I'll wear myself down and buy the new guitar. Hey - at least it's not a crack habit or a tendency toward line dancing, right? Buying that guitar will make me happy, and for that I'll be a better person all the way around - more productive and motivated!

My rationalization skills are sharpened to a fine point, people.

I will have that axe.

I must. Have it. That axe. I must have it...


Brown eyes, brown hair, bluejeans and a T-shirt. Digs loud guitars and good design. Easily hypnotized by green-eyed blondes, shiny leather, B-movies, and brightly packaged foods. He's got a bustle in his hedgerow - but he is NOT alarmed.

more about jeff miller


something in the coffee
bean there, done that
by jeff miller
topic: pop culture
published: 6.19.01

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captain america goes to portland
by jeff miller
topic: pop culture
published: 4.20.12


jack bradley
4.11.01 @ 3:45a

I think this behaviour manifests itself in many people...and not just thier hobbies. Careers are sometimes obsessed over like this, to the detriment of the individual. It's a snowball effect, and I think Jeff captures that idea beautifully.

adam kraemer
4.11.01 @ 8:54a

I agree. Good article. I guess I'm lucky, in a sense. I, too, have the electric guitar, the accoustic guitar, the multi-effects pedal (with the obligatory fuzz wah), the amp, etc., but I'm not good enough to feel the need for more. Thank God I'm a mediocre guitarist. But ask me about my synthesizer some time.

joe procopio
4.11.01 @ 9:20a

Yeah, intrepid will make a million dollars as soon as I hook up that new Dell server at that Netgear RT314 that arrived today. Of course, it would really rock if I dumped 128MB more RAM into it.

I will also be thanking God that I enjoy the tone of a POS strat through a used Peavey with a DOD distortion. No one else does, mind you, but I do.

adam kraemer
4.11.01 @ 9:26a

Joe - I do, too, but I've found the only thing that sounds right is "Can't Explain" by the Who. And if you up the distortion all the way, you can sorta get the guitar solo sound from "Smells Like Teen Spirit."

jeff miller
4.11.01 @ 9:56a

I wrote this article almost a month ago - I managed to avoid actually buying another guitar, but i did buy a new stomp box, I'm customizing my parker with a single Seymour Duncan Humbucker in the bridge, and I've ordered a sexy new pickguard to bring the whole thing together. One pickup, one volume knob. it was good enough for Eddie, so it's good enough for me. Speaking of whom, I recently ordered me a VHS copy of Van Hagar's Live Without a Net. It really took me back, and is an AMAZING. energetic performance. Now, don't start spewing crap about how great Roth was - If I had my druthers, he'd be touring with them right now - but that first record and tour with sammy was just awesome. One oickup, one knob. Me and Eddie, minimalists at heart, right?

jeff miller
4.11.01 @ 9:59a

that's *pickup*. an oikup is what happens in the morning after I've played a show, partied until my girlfriend goes home without me, and I've ended up at IHOP with the drummer again.

joe procopio
4.11.01 @ 10:13a

I oiked up this morning. Gotta quit smoking.

My strat is from 1985, rebuilt in 1996, the amp from 1993, and the DOD from who knows when. It sounds like Bob Mould on the Sugar records. Although I gotta tell you, I put that strat through a borrowed Marhsall stack once and it sounded like God doing an impression of Jimi.

Shouldn't Cook be in on this discussion?

adam kraemer
4.11.01 @ 11:24a

Yeah. I have a Kramer (only a little on purpose) from, like 1987 (two pickups and a humbucker), a Boss(?) stomp box, and a 350-Watt keyboard amp. I'm fairly certain my guitar sound approximates nothing, and for a good reason.

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