Rough Mix: Relieving GAS

Know when to hold 'em; know when to let go of 'em
Image placeholder title

Gear Acquisition Syndrome—It affects all of us at one time or another, whether we admit it or not: We see or hear something new online and, suddenly, out comes the credit card, followed by a moment of buyer’s remorse after we confirm payment. But once that beauty arrives, everything is kittens and cream—until the next time.

I don’t think GAS is necessarily a bad thing unless it goes unchecked. It can be a great way to balance out your rig or studio when necessary by forcing you to evaluate the items you already have versus what you think you need.

My recent experience with GAS was not an impulse buy (or so I keep telling myself ), but rather a thoroughly researched upgrade to my performance setup. I’d been keeping an eye out for a particular configuration of hard-to-find synth modules that I had used on occasion, hoping an affordable system would materialize on one of the forums I frequent. Last month, to my surprise, one did.

It was somewhat expensive, but doable. But I soon realized that, in addition to the financial outlay (which I could delay for a month using my credit card), this acquisition was going to cost me something more valuable than money: I would have to part with gear that I no longer use.

“Easy,” I told myself. “I can just sell a few things.”

Easier said than done. Why? Because, like many musicians, I’m a pack rat. (Sounds better than “hoarder,” doesn’t it?) I hate getting rid of anything. Broken mic, blown speaker, shorting cable—no problem; we’ll get it fixed… someday. That’s in addition to the tangle of RCA and MIDI cables in that crate over there.

But it’s worse than that, here. As a percussionist, I see everything as a potential sound source. In addition to all the “traditional” instruments I have, there are containers of various sizes for use as shakers, a box of light bulbs for smashing and sampling, leftover planks and pipes from a remodel that will sound great as a junkyard gamelan—and that’s just in the garage.

Then there is the closet, or more accurately, the computer graveyard. Will anyone want my Mac SE/30 with the 40MB hard drive? Or does it make more sense to sample it hitting the pavement from a third-story window?

Tough decision.

Now that I have to “consolidate,” I’m reminded of the old saw, “if you haven’t used it for more than a year, get rid of it.” The logical side of my brain would like to abide by such a rule, yet the creative side knows better: A time will come when, for example, that rare BBE Stinger pedal from the ’80s will be just the thing to give a vintage keyboard the punch it needs. Of course, I didn’t find the Stinger until I searched through the boxes that remain unpacked since our move several years ago. Inside them, I found other hidden gems and old friends that I was happy to meet again, but only a handful of items I could live without.

All the while, I know in the back of my mind that there are three vintage analog synths that I’ve been hanging onto for just such an occasion, all of which cost me a fraction of what their current value is to collectors. The real test is whether I am willing to part with them. But first, I have to fire them up to see what kind of shape they’re in so I can provide an honest assessment to the potential buyer.

Synth number one is the Micromoog. It needs work, but I found a buyer who was happy to do the refurb. Sad to see it go, but it’ll have a great new home and an active life elsewhere.

Synth number two is an Oberheim OB-8, a popular polysynth that I used on many soundtracks and records. It looks and sounds great, but it needs servicing if I’m going to entice a buyer. Fortunately, the repairs are minimal and I feel that the synth and I can amicably part ways despite all the good times we’ve shared.

Finally, there is the Sequential Circuits Pro One. Saying goodbye to it should be a no-brainer, since DSI now offers a Eurorack filter that sounds identical to the one in this instrument. And mimicking this classic little monosynth should be as easy as plugging in my MIDI controller and patching up the appropriate modules.

But as I fire it up, I’m reminded why the Pro One is such a classic: It sounds rich and full bodied, and it is really fun to play. I immediately fell in love with it again just listening to it arpeggiate chords while I messed with the envelopes and filter. Curse you, Dave Smith! The Pro One is now in the sales column marked “Last Resort.”

Sure, these decisions were totally arbitrary, subjective, and highly personal—just like music making. But the good news for me is that I was able to sell enough gear to cover my recent acquisition, while not regretting the losses (at least so far).

GAS will come and go, but when it does, trust your gut. And whenever you can, use it as an excuse to pare down your collection. At the very least, it’ll help justify your purchase.