Gear Nebraska with Red Cities’ Matt Bokovoy

I started guitar on cheap gear; no name electric, Peavey combo. I now play “cheap gear,” since I often worry about my guitar or amp “walking” mysteriously from backstage. I’d never get bummed if something was stolen, I could get the exact same stuff without bankruptcy. I have two very nice guitars I bought in the late 1980s, and two nice amps I played through an ABY box. Same rig as Swervedriver.

Brian Baker — when he was in a band called The 400 way back in the early DC punk days after Minor Threat — told me when I was a kid, “You got to play two amps, one clean, one dirty, no pedals.” Let the amp and guitar make the sound; use your volume knob for solos. Direct signal. This is still my mantra.

The problem with this set-up is that it’s too loud for small clubs, but was fine for the early punk days, when a P.A. was just for vocals and the kick drum. I had not bought any new gear since the late 1980s, so I had saved a set sum for new gear, and decided to buy stuff that I thought sounded good and played well. Music technology has come a long way, so I lived in the dark ages until recently. I bought this used Vox  4 x 12 cabinet for very little. I thought I’d buy a new Marshall vintage plexi, but it’s like buying a new car. So I saw this little Vox vr30r at a local music store, and it had two master volumes on the clean channel, and also reverb. 30 watts of hot rod distortion and perfect for playing club gigs. It had an out jack for a 16 ohm cabinet! My mind was rolling.

“Hey dudes, can I hook this up to this Marshall cabinet,” I asked the sales guys. “Sure, dude,” they said. “This sounds amazing!” we all agreed. Half stack for less than $350. Sounded better than my expensive gear.

I thought I’d buy a new Gibson Les Paul Standard around 2010, but again, huge bucks. So I came across this guitar company from Ft. Worth, Tradition, while living in Norman, Oklahoma. They played well; were hefty; had hand-wound PAF 1959 pickups; and sounded great. These guitars’ templates and electronics are licensed from Gibson, 1970s Les Paul templates. I bought two of them, and banked the rest of my gear money. They have giant frets, and I play them with 11 gauge strings. They are indestructible.

This works out well in our band, since Byron Anyway and I play different sounding amps, his a Marshall, mine a Vox. If we had two Marshalls, it would wash out. Josh Leeker has a big set; Eric Aspengren has a giant bass amp. We get over it.

The lesson I’ve learned is screw brand name, studio-quality gear, and buy what feels or sounds good. Now that I am 46 years old, I’ve come full circle back to cheap gear.

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