GAS: Gear Acquisition Syndrome

Monday, March 8, 2010 at 10:00 am

GAS: Gear Acquisition Syndrome. A longstanding in-joke amongst synth-heads, it is in reference to how easy it is to start acquiring waaaay more equipment (gear) than you need. Impulse buys off Craigslist; some classic synth you’ve always wanted… never mind the dozen you already own. It’s a hard thing to fathom if you’re just getting rolling in the hardware game, but many people find themselves with bad GAS before they even know it’s coming.

How much gear do you NEED? It’s a nebulous question; impossible to answer completely. The bare minimum is the computer. Other than the computer, having certain things makes the job easier — knob boxes for making things hands-on, hardware synths for better, weirder sounds. At some point, you start to have more than you can use at once… but even this is not unreasonable. What guitarist uses every stomp box he owns at once? Creating novel combinations of kit is part of process… so you keep buying. You wind up leaving synths in the closet for weeks, but when you dig them out, it’s like getting a new synth all over again! So, why not get a couple more keyboards? A slippery slope… demon on one shoulder, angel on the other.

Clearly, there’s no distinct line between “not enough” and “too much.” I look at it in terms of return on investment:

Gear Return On Investment

As you get more gear, you get more results… but it’s not entirely linear. In the above graph, the green line shows Gear vs. Results, and the blue line is y=x for reference. If you get less than 1 unit of result for 1 unit of your gear, you’re wasting your money. Obvious enough, right? I’ve marked a couple “phases”:

  • A: You got your computer and not much else. You start off by buying knob boxes to control your plugins. They make it easier to jam out.
  • B: You have all the knob boxes you could want, and start to buy hardware synths, drum machines, groove boxes. However, you don’t have enough to really do much. In fact, it’s kind of out of your way.
  • C: You have a physical mixer, a decent soundcard, and enough hardware to start really cooking. The hardware starts to take your tunes to another level.
  • D: You have all your bases covered, but not duplicated. You can use pretty much all your gear at once. You can rock the fuck out.
  • E: You start to acquire gear purely for flavor and variety. Instead of using the same monosynth every time, you pick one of three, whichever you feel most appropriate for your mood (or something). As you get more stuff, ROI tapers off.
  • F: You have a pile of synths gathering dust in a closet. You buy a second SH-101 “just because”. Your spouse issues an ultimatum regarding future synthesizer acquisition.

I feel that A, B, and E are the best cutoff points:

  • A: If you’re happy using just the computer, stay with it.
  • B: Hardware controllers let you bust the computer open. Plugins feel almost as good as hardware. This is enough for some people.
  • E: You have enough hardware to ignore the computer, but not enough to start a museum. The butter zone for those that want to seriously get into gear.

If you’re just getting started in this, it might be a good idea to think about what you’re shooting for… as with any sort of financial thing, planning ahead is the best way to keep a handle on your enthusiasm. Avoid GAS — gear should be used, not collected! 🙂

Categories: gear, studio

One Comment on “GAS: Gear Acquisition Syndrome”

  1. I have the SSAS variant: soft-synth acquisition syndrome. It’s even harder to fend off because it takes up no physical space in my room…

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