Music Store Magic and the Importance of Gear

When I walk into a music store, especially the Long & McQuade on Bank and Hunt Club in Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, I get into a transcendental, otherworldly, and almost hypnotic state. The magic of the music store is hard to understand for the average person, but to us dyed-in-the-wool musicians, that feeling is hard to beat and even harder to describe.

It’s a place to dream and ask, “what if?”

What if I take that pedal, combined with that guitar and that amp? Just imagine the possibilities.

A place to get inspired and find out what’s new. A place to chat with those in the know and exchange ideas. Usually, salespeople in these stores aren’t at all pushy and if you ask politely, they are very willing to share their knowledge and insights with you. Of course, they’re there to make money but none of them are driving home in an Audi or Mercedes Benz. They are there to make a living and share their love of music with their patrons.

I’ve lived in Ottawa, Canada for over two decades and one of the things I like about this city, other that it’s great livability and beauty, is the great music scene, especially amateur music scene. To that end, there are at least six really good music stores in town, and probably much more that I am not aware about, especially if you also take into account the several pawn shops we have here.

I’ve already mentioned one of my favourites, the Long & McQuade at Bank & Hunt Club, but the Kanata (western suburb of Ottawa) location is also really good, and the people there are especially helpful and friendly. I also like Fleet Pro Sound & Lighting in the section of town called Bells Corners. That’s where I bought my beloved Markbass CMD210 and a year later, my Fender Precision Bass and case, and my Tech 21 Sans Amp Geddy Lee boost pedal. I like all three of those items very much. The guys at Fleet are super nice too. I say “guys” because I have not come across female salesperson there yet. At Long & McQuade, there is better diversity in that regard, which is cool, but honestly, I go to music stores for me and my own selfish needs so that’s their business.

We also have a really high-end store called Lauzon Music, a testament to the substantial French-Canadian influence in Ottawa. Lauzon has an odd vibe, almost like being in a museum – don’t touch! I’m exaggerating a bit, but they are quite snooty there. They sell super high-end guitars, amps, basses, accessories, and other instruments such as pianos. I love going there but I haven’t bought anything there yet. I once saw the famous country guitarist, Doyle Dykes there giving an in-store special presentation on finger-style guitar. The man is an absolute genius in that realm. One those anointed and blessed players who occupy a different plain of existence than the rest of us mere mortals. A real decent human as well. I think those tickets only cost about $20 (about 10 years ago, but still, what a bargain).

We also have a Steve’s Music in Ottawa but it’s in a bit of a sketchy neighbourhood and the parking is terrible around there, so I pretty much avoid it. The few times I have gone there, I found they had a nice selection of guitars and amps, and the store is surprisingly big when you walk in. It just doesn’t seem that big from the outside. There is also a Steve’s in Montreal and Toronto. The Montreal location is very impressive.

We also have in Ottawa, a store that specializes in used and vintage guitars called Spaceman Music. Just their website is cool trip and a great way to spend a few minutes fantasizing about all kinds of vintage guitars and amps.

All of the stores I’ve mentioned so far have great websites and offer online sales so please, support Canadian business and buy from them. Amazon is great, but don’t think they always have the best prices and best selection, because they don’t. Compare before you buy. The same goes for camera and video gear. Shop around before you just settle on Amazon.

I’ve always heard that Los Angeles has fantastic music stores and guitar stores. It’s a fantasy trip of mine to spend a week in LA shopping for guitars. Doing a Google search on guitar stores in LA revealed one of the coolest bios I’ve ever read of someone not so famous:

It’s amazing to me how many guitar stores come up just typing “Guitar Store in LA” in the Google search bar. Definitely a trip to make one day.

Good gear is essential to good guitar playing and it’s available from so many different sources. I find it great fun to search, shop and just learn about new gear that is available, and vintage restored stuff that’s available to buy as well. You don’t need to go crazy and buy every little effect that comes along but adding to your rig is a pretty exciting and exhilarating feeling. As long as you can afford it, it improves your tone, and increases your enjoyment, then why not splurge every once in a while, and get something really cool for you guitar sound? But do your research and always read the reviews, as well as check out reviews on YouTube if you can, because you don’t want to regret your purchase either.

Learning to play well is essential if you want to be a good guitar player (well, duh, that’s obvious) but that takes practice. But if you want to sound good, you have to invest a bit into your gear to assemble a rig that you’re going to be proud of, and that will help make you sound good. Practice your scales and all your fancy chords. Repetition is key. Over and over and over again. But as one of my gym teachers in high school was fond of saying, “Practice doesn’t make perfect. Only perfect practice makes perfect.”

Even though I really didn’t like that guy very much, that was a sage piece of advice that I’ve carried around with me for decades. It makes total sense. Learn the passages correctly. Learn to play them properly, and then repeat the hell out of them. Muscle memory is what will make you master the guitar. And once you get to a certain level of competence (not even talking mastery, just competence) invest in some decent gear if you’re at all serious about guitar tone.

Of course, having a good guitar is crucial but just as a good camera with a crappy lens won’t take very good pictures, a good guitar with mediocre accessories won’t sound very good. Invest in a good amp and invest in quality pedals to maximize your sound output. Even the cables that connect all these components are important.

In the video below, my good friend, Kelly Coughlin, not only treats us to some of his excellent guitar playing, but also takes us through his gear setup for the day of our practice, including his Marshall JVM, Gibson SG, and Fender Telecaster. He also gives us an overview of his Metropouluos Supa Boost Pedal, MXR Chorus Pedal, and MXR Phase 90 pedal. He is also careful to include a noise gate and even obsesses about the type of wireless connection he has between his guitar and amplifier, a Boss WL50 wireless system. Everything has weight and everything matters. It’s a real joy to play with someone who takes that much care in shaping his tone.

I also take you on a tour of my bass setup, including my beloved Markbass CMD210, my Tech 21 Sans Amp YYZ Geddy Lee signature boost pedal, and Fender Precision bass. These three components combine to make, what I consider, a killer bass tone. I also spent nearly $50 on two patch chords that connect the guitar, pedal, and amp.

I hope you enjoy this video, and as always, I am always happy to see your comments, whether positive, negative, or mildly critical.

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