Becoming a great musician requires patience, raw talent and hours and hours of practice. While that’s all well and good, what’s really fun to talk about is musician’s gear. Some carefully curate their gear collections to suit their style and to achieve specific sound (see: Dan Auerbach’s wild collection of vintage and obscure guitars and effect pedals). Others — like Bruce Springsteen and his $180, Frankenstein’d Telecaster — grab what works and make do (and make gold records). From either side of the spectrum, equipment has as much influence on their sound as their skill.
That said, if you’re just getting started, do what all the greats did and take inspiration from those you dig. Look to history’s greatest musicians and steal from their gear. After all, if it’s good enough for the pros, it’s more than good enough for you, right?. The gear used by Bob Dylan, The Black Keys, The Pogues, The Bill Evans Trio, Bruce Springsteen and Washed Out should help get you well on your way to stardom. And hell, maybe you’ll be as big as them someday. Maybe.
Bob Dylan revolutionized folk music, and he did so while playing a multitude of guitars — Martins, Washburns, Gibsons, etc. — it was a Gibson J-50 that made its way onto the early recordings that launched his career. Though Gibson no longer makes the J-50, the J-45 “Workhorse” is similar with its bass-heavy tones and simple design. It is worth noting that Dylan actually did play on a J-45 for most of the ’90s. Of course, Dylan music also requires a healthy dose of harmonica, and Bob’s preferred mouth organ was the Hohner Marine Band.
Hohner Marine Band 5-Pack ($157)
Hohner Harmonica Holder ($12)
The Black Keys
While most professional guitarists all seem to pick their axes from the standard Gibson/Fender dichotomy, Dan Auerbach prefers to play on vintage oddballs from obscure or defunct brands. One of the few new electric guitars you can buy today that comes close is the Eastwood Airline ’59 Coronado, a deliberate homage to Auerbach’s own vintage Coronado. Patrick Carney meanwhile doubles down on The Black Keys’ esoteric and funky style by using a Ludwig “Salesman” drum kit, notable for its colored stripes that salesmen once used to demonstrate the variety of kit finishes back in the 50s and 60s.
Marshall JTM45 and 1960TV Half Stack ($3,100)
Electro-Harmonix Big Muff PI Distortion ($81)
Ludwig Salesman (Learn More)
Bill Evans Trio
Though a jazz trio can technically be comprised of a combination of any three jazz musicians, the general setup is a pianist, a bass player and a drummer. Few trios demonstrated the supremacy of this setup better than the Bill Evans Trio. Often jazz pianists had to make due with whatever was at their venue, but given the choice, Mason & Hamlin is the jazz band favorite. And then, the bass — upright, made of plywood — gives great sound and is also durable if your act travels.
Shen SB80 ($1,775)
Grestch Catalina Club ($680)
In the early ’80s, The Pogues were at the forefront of the Celtic Punk scene. Regardless of your feelings towards the genre, combining punk and Celtic folk results in some pretty cool equipment setups. The Pogues rely heavily on proficiency in a variety of traditional folk instruments, including the accordion, banjo, mandolin, violin and even the penny whistle. Accompany that with an electric bass, a drum kit and a guitar and you’re in business.
Roland FR-1X ($2,199)
Ibanez M510 ($150)
Silver Creek Model 5 ($500)
Waltons Bodhran WM1900 ($60)
Clarke SBDC Penny Whistle ($15)
Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street Band
Few artists and guitars go together as naturally as the Boss and the Fender Telecaster. Springsteen has been playing his iconic Tele (technically a Telecaster body with an Esquire neck) since his early career, and it has been used for recordings, live gigs and on the cover of albums like Born to Run. Springsteen’s backing guitarists favor Fenders, too, often playing Stratocasters and Jazzmasters. Of course, the late Clarence Clemons’ ace saxophone playing set Bruce Springsteen and the E-Street band apart from other Rock & Roll acts. “Big Man” often played either a Keilsworth or a Selmer.
Fender Classic Player Jazzmaster ($800)
Fender ’65 Deluxe Reverb ($1,100)
Boss OD-3 Overdrive($99)
Selmer TS400 ($1,605)
Fender Standard Precision Bass ($580)
Most would think that Ernest Greene — the sole man behind Washed Out — would require a litany of expensive gear to achieve his complex sounds, but in actuality he uses just a few key pieces of digital equipment and software. Greene started by using GarageBand on his laptop, but has moved to better software like Propellerhead Reason. He also regularly uses Nord synthesizers and a voice processor to achieve the vocal effects that grant him his iconic, dreamy sounds.
TC Helicon Voicelive 2 ($730)
Apple MacBook Pro ($1,299+)
Propellerhead Reason 8 ($299)