Whenever a decade closes, I find myself looking back over it with total amazement at the changes in my life. And 2010 is like that multiplied by a million.


Just for fun, I asked my musician Facebook contingent to give me the best developments in gear for the last ten years. I already had my list, but I was really curious what other musicians thought had totally changed their work and their music for the better. Aside from the two or three purists that I know who insisted that there had been nothing better developed since vintage instruments made in the 1950’s (always a contrarian), the following came in on top:


Boutique Everything


Highest on the list were handmade amps by small manufacturers or independent craftsman. Several were mentioned, but let’s just say, that this was the single item most heralded by guitarists. Corporate giants take note…crappy products made in other countries don’t impress anyone anymore. They want their tone. They want it affordable. And if the giants can’t provide it, the players have no problem finding a little guy who delivers. Much of the same was said about boutique pedals, mics, and EQs. In general, players were impressed with the quality of the new smaller manufacturer pedal market, though not as impressed with the prices. But they would still rather have a more expensive piece of handmade gear than low priced crap.


Small Package Big Sound

Also generating excitement were smaller amps that delivered on power and tone without breaking your back. Seems that the average working player is no longer interesting in hauling those enormous cabinets just to look like they belong in the game. Go figure. Top on my list are smaller guitar amps with XLR outs and XLR ins for a second instrument. Also in this category are the new tower PAs for acoustic artists that offer great features in small packages.


The Rise of the 500 Series

Pro engineers and project studio owners mostly offered up two personal joys: well made modules for the 500 rack series, and the rise of fast processors and cheap hard drives in the computer market. No shock that all of them said these tools allowed them to be more effective and get more music done. Performing players liked the ease of digital in sharing files for rehearsal, learning new music, and recording demos.


Virtual Instruments, Plug-in Suites, and Sampling Libraries

Not mentioned by others, but top on my list as a small project studio owner are virtual instruments and the vast array of plug-in suites and sampling libraries. Soft synths changed everything for those of us who are not primarily keyboardists – putting great sounds at our fingertips without having to mortgage our homes to afford a stable (or even one!) great synth. Ditto for sampling libraries, which have become more and more affordable over the years and offer project studios access to instruments previously un-recordable without an enormous budget.


Digital Distribution and Digital Collaboration Technology

Another big winner was digi distribution – punctuated for a lot of folks by the ability to easily collaborate with others via the internet, either by e-mail, file sharing, Skype, or other real-time technology. Engineers said this made their work easier and more efficient. Players said they liked the ability to work with people they knew who didn’t live in the same city. Those who argue that technology has divided us rather than united us, have strong opponents in the music community.



Though trounced by the purists who would rather die than use a solid state amplifier, modeling of all kinds – amp, mic, instrument, and speaker – came out top on my list. While modeling won’t score among the tone heavy hitters, truth is, they offer semi-pro and casual players a whole lot of sound options for a small price. I’m personally not a fan of the one trick pony – particularly in this recession. And I know plenty of weekend players, hobbyists, and even part-time gigging folks who agree with me. When it comes to music, options are nice, and modeling has developed so well over the decade that it delivers up lots of useful choices without destroying your bank account, which in my book gets it a massive thumbs up.


If all goes right in the world, we can look forward to another decade of great ideas in music and equipment. Personally, I can’t wait to see what’s next.

Happy 2011, musicians and audiophiles…it’s been a damn good decade!

Originally posted 2010-12-31 21:31:24.