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Second Sense

Article from Music Technology, January 1989

When is it better to buy secondhand gear, rather than new gear? Tim Goodyer looks into equipment costs and sound fashions.

IDEALLY, THE SOUND of a particular model of synthesiser or sampler, like the sound of a particular model of piano or guitar, is the reason you'd choose to buy it - or not buy it for that matter. Simple isn't it? But, as we all know, it's a little more involved in real life: other issues like facilities, compatibility, reliability, fashion and cost come into play.

Let's take a close look at those last two considerations, first of all the cost of an instrument. Obviously, if you can't afford something there's very little you can (legally) do about it. No matter what the instrument in question may be able to do for your music, you're going to have to live without it - at least until you've become rich and famous. Then there's fashion. Don't make the mistake of thinking fashion is only about the music you make; like it or not, "fashionable" sounds (along with "fashionable" production values), can make or break your song. And that goes equally for the charts and the A&R man's office. So you need the gear to make the right sounds or you're sunk, and you need the ackers for the gear or you're sunk. It begins to sound as if only those who are rich enough can ever hope to become a successful musician - at least where electronic musical instruments are concerned.

Of course I'm exaggerating. All those demos that arrive in the MT offices accompanied with a note to the effect of "sorry about the tape, it'll be alright when the Fairlight arrives" were a figment of my imagination. And the fact that you're going to spend so long drooling over the equipment reviewed in this month's MT represents a purely professional interest, doesn't it? Or am I getting a little too close to home for some of you?

Fortunately there's more to the story than this, as those of you who help keep MT's Free Ads section in such good health already know. I'm referring to the secondhand equipment market. Obviously you can pick up used equipment more cheaply than new equipment, the trouble is that you have to wait for someone else to tire of it before you can hope to buy it. More often than not this means that person is upgrading their equipment buying something that does a similar job but does more of it, does it to a higher standard or does it more quickly - or replacing it with something they see replacing it for them. As an example, look at how the secondhand analogue synth market behaved when Yamaha launched the DX7 and DX9 FM synths in 1983: the bottom dropped out of the analogue poly market and the analogue monosynth market all but died. Why? Not because they'd suddenly become less useful as instruments, but because their sounds were out of date. The analogue synthesiser had become a musical fashion victim.

But there's a lot to be said for using yesterday's technology. For some years now, electronic instruments have been sufficiently complex that they've demanded considerable time and effort In order to understand them and get the best out of them - ask a CS80 or ESQ1 user how he's getting on with his obsolete gear. The chances are that he's doing a lot better than you are with your M1 or S1000.

There's also the phenomenon of yesterday's gear coming back into fashion to consider. Looked at the asking price of an old Roland Bassline since acid house made the news? Or that of a Hammond C3 or B3? Seen a Minimoog for much under £400 in the last eight years? Bargains all. And there are better bargains to be had if you stop worrying about the "classic" status of these old gems. Pick up a Roland MC202 instead of that Bassline, or a Moog Prodigy or Multimoog instead of that Minimoog. Better still, work it out for yourself.

Only one question remains: is the editor of Music Technology in trouble with those companies that spend millions every year developing, building arid selling the most advanced - and most fashionable - instruments technology will allow them to? I don't believe so because, for most pieces of equipment unloaded onto the secondhand market, a new one comes out of a shop somewhere and Into someone's music. A healthy secondhand market means there is a healthy market in new musical technology. But more than this, it means that music itself is more healthy.

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Publisher: Music Technology - Music Maker Publications (UK), Future Publishing.

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Music Technology - Jan 1989

Editorial by Tim Goodyer

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