The Benefits of Gear Minimalism

The Benefits of Gear Minimalism

By Jean-Philippe Comeau

Musicians love gear. Or at least most do. I mean, what’s not to like? You can have multiple instruments and you can enhance, modify, and transform their sound with various accessories and electronic devices like amps and pedals. But is having more always better? How often have you been told: “Less is more” or “K.I.S.S. (Keep It Simple Stupid)”? There are no simple answers to these questions because it’s dependent on each player’s preferences and, of course, different situations might call for different amounts of gear. But I’ve found that using as little as possible, i.e., taking a minimalist approach to my setup, has made me a better player and made my life easier. Let me explain.

Enhanced creativity

Not relying on a ton of different pieces of equipment encourages you to be more creative with the ones you do have, especially the instrument you have in your hands or in front of you. Based on the premise that you brought what is needed for the gig (not to be confused with what you want), the lack of “superfluous” gear options will force you to explore more of the possibilities of what you have at your disposal and make you more creative in the way you approach playing, crafting tones, and creating moods and nuances. If you don’t default to changing instruments or turning on a pedal for example, you might start to fiddle with the controls on the instrument itself (for electric instruments) or change the way you attack the strings, keyboard, or drums to create a different sound. This is made easier by removing temptation in the first place to get yourself in that mindset. You’ll be amazed by the number of different variables you can coax out of your instrument and rig if you take the time to find them. I think that’s the most important thing you will get out of all this, while also being the most satisfying part of the process. As a big bonus, having only the essential gear for the gig lets you focus on the music you play, the people you’re playing it with, and the audience you’re playing it for. It allows you to simply be present in the moment.

Want vs need

If you want to give this approach a try, you need to be able to evaluate your needs objectively. Minimalism is closely related to essentialism (a term I prefer), so ask yourself what you really need to get the job done. The bare essential. Like the fabled “guitar straight into the amp” or the basic kick/snare/hi-hat drum kit. You might be surprised by how much stuff is there because you like having it and not because you need to have it. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nice having variety and fun gadgets, but there’s a big difference between being able to manage without something just fine but choosing to use it and using something simply because it’s there. The mindset is key here. Once you know what’s really needed for a particular situation and you’re comfortable with playing only that, you’ll be able to better evaluate what’s missing in your rig to spark your creativity or to make you feel better about your playing. The right gear can be a wonderful catalyst for your musical expression, but too much can have the opposite effect. Thread carefully!

Jean-Philippe Comeau is a Montreal-based guitar player/multi-instrumentalist and teacher with a bachelor's degree in music performance who's been active for more than 15 years on the local scene playing in various bands. He co-produced singer-songwriter and long-time collaborator Karolane Millette's debut album "La Tête Haute" on which he also played all the guitars, and he recently started working at Oakfloor Records as a session player and producer.

He can be reached at jeanphilippecomeau@hotmail.com.