How to Manage Guitar GAS in a More Sustainable Way

Are you locked in a constant cycle of seeking out more gear than you need? Learn how to manage guitar GAS in a way that’s better for the environment (and your wallet).

Picture it: you already own a few guitars and you’re pretty happy with what you have. Then, seemingly out of nowhere, the thought “I need a new guitar” pops into your head. Before you know it, you’re spending hours browsing through guitar listings online. You’re not alone. Gear Acquisition Syndrome (GAS) is a well-documented phenomenon that most guitarists (myself included) wrestle with from time to time. Excessive guitar consumption is often thought of in humorous terms, but it is arguably no laughing matter. In this post, I’ll discuss how I manage guitar GAS in a sustainable way and avoid frivolous, wasteful gear-related purchases.

Guitar GAS: A Bit of Harmless Fun?

According to GuitarWorld.com, Walter Becker of Steely Dan coined the term “gear acquisition syndrome” back in 1996. GAS is almost invariably used in an amusing, tongue-in-cheek way to describe the obsessive manner in which guitarists tend to collect gear. It’s a long-standing joke among guitar players that the ideal number of guitars is n + 1, where n represents the current number of guitars in your possession. Many upload photos or videos of their expansive guitar “stables” online and playfully ask if they need an intervention, often followed by a wink.

Is GAS truly harmless, though? Is it something to laugh about as we add our next guitar to our checkout basket, or is it something that we should perhaps examine with a more critical eye? These days, I learn far more so towards the latter than the former.

I went on the hunt for my first “good” acoustic guitar a couple of years ago. I didn’t know for sure what I wanted at the time, but I knew (or at least I thought I knew) I wanted something with a jet black ebony fretboard. Then I stumbled across the following video:

Taylor Guitars “The State of Ebony” – Guitar Wood – Bob Taylor Video

It was eye-opening and incredibly sobering. Like many guitarists, I’d never really thought about the impact my hobby could have on entire ecosystems. I ultimately purchased a Canadian-made acoustic with a sustainable Richlite fretboard. I also told myself it would be the last new guitar I’d buy for quite some time.

Godin Fairmount.
My Godin Fairmount with a jet black Richlite fretboard.

Even though I was adamant that it would be a while until the next purchase, guess what? I still found myself browsing through Long & McQuade’s listings as recently as yesterday. I didn’t buy anything, but the urge to do so was still there. That’s the problem with GAS: as much as you try to tell yourself you don’t need another guitar, that little voice in the back of your head can be very persistent (and persuasive).

What Drives Guitar GAS?

Much digital ink has been spilled by guitar enthusiasts over the origins of GAS. Some argue that the phenomenon has its roots in plain old consumerism and marketing, while others argue that it stems from self-limiting feelings of inadequacy. Here’s my take on it:

Forming Connections with Other Guitarists and Their Gear

We often become interested in guitars at a young age, when we’re at our most impressionable. We connect with certain musicians and, in turn, connect with the instruments they play. Me, for instance? I became fascinated with The Edge and Gibson Explorers back in the year 2000.

I vividly remember begging my mom to take me up to our local music store, just so I could stare at the Explorer copy (a red Slammer by Hamer XP-1) hanging up on the wall there. My parents gifted the guitar to me a year later, and it became my main axe during high school.

Since then, I’ve owned three other Explorers: a used copy purchased in 2014, a used (and alas faulty) Gibson bought and returned in 2021, and my current Gibson, purchased new in 2021. Even though I love my current Explorer, I still occasionally find myself looking at others and thinking “wow, what a nice Explorer — maybe I should buy it!” I don’t need another one, but I have that long-standing connection with their design and am simply drawn to them.

It’s not just about connections formed in adolescence, however. We can be inspired at any time. I recently went through a period where I seriously considered buying a Yamaha Revstar, solely because of Chris Buck. The reason why I wanted that Revstar hearkens back to an observation I made in my post about why I no longer play Les Pauls. We often mistakenly convince ourselves that the key to replicating a particular sound is to use the same kind of guitar used in during a particular performance — and this, accordingly, drives our GAS.

Looking at Photos and Videos of Beautiful Guitars Online

The last few decades have made it easier than ever before for guitarists to ogle over gorgeous guitars. Gear-focused forums, social media pages, YouTube channels, and online retailers have opened our eyes to so many appealing builds and colour combinations. It engages what I like to think of as the Pokémon mindset: gotta catch ’em all!

It would be interesting to see metrics for the amount of time guitar players spend on looking at beautiful guitars, and how this directly translates to sales. I know I nearly bought an Aztec Gold Telecaster based on the stunning appearance of the guitar in this video, for instance. Guitars are ultimately no different from any other product in this regard. We see it, we like the look of it, we want it, we buy it. Perhaps our easy access to all these enticing images and videos is one reason why the average guitarist now owns between seven and eight guitars.

Dissatisfaction with the Gear We Have

In my experience, another main driver for GAS is this: we start disliking some aspect of the gear we already have. Maybe we develop back issues and can’t use iconic boat anchors any longer. Maybe we’ve grown out of a particular guitar phase. One way or another, once we sell the offending piece of gear, the hunt for its replacement is often on almost immediately.

When I gave up on Les Pauls last year, I wasted so much free time researching alternatives. I spent hours reading opinions on forums, days watching comparison videos, weeks scrolling through used listings online and in local classifieds. Sadly, this was all time I could have spent actually playing the Les Paul alternative I already owned!

Managing Guitar GAS Sustainably

While I haven’t been able to shut off the GAS valve completely, I’ve learned how to better manage it in a way that is more sustainable for old growth forests. When I find my mouse hovering over that “add to cart” button, I remind myself to do the following instead:

Ask Yourself: Does it Differ Significantly from Your Other Guitars?

It’s easy to get caught up in the way a guitar looks. As much as I would enjoy having a different Gibson Explorer to match every outfit and mood, however, I just can’t stomach the thought of that kind of waste anymore. When I think about owning multiple versions of the same type of guitar, all I can see is this video.

I’ve personally narrowed down my electric guitar collection to four pickup configurations:

  1. Dual humbucker (Gibson Explorer)
  2. Triple single coil (Fender Stratocaster)
  3. Dual single coil (Fender Telecaster)
  4. Dual P90s (Epiphone Casino)

There’s very little I can’t play with those four guitars, and they all sound distinct. If I find myself looking at another guitar, I compare it to those four. If the guitar I’m considering does not offer anything sonically unique, it’s no longer on the table. Simple as that.

Modify an Existing Guitar

Unless you believe in keeping your guitars bone stock, shaking things up a little can make an old guitar feel new. It can also fix something that was bothering you about your old gear and driving your GAS in the first place.

My Telecaster is a great example. When I bought it, I was soothing the blow of having to return my first Gibson Explorer. It was, admittedly, an impulse purchase. I’d always wanted a Telecaster, and the only decent one I could find locally at the time was a Honeyburst American Performer. I wasn’t 100% sold on the way the guitar looked, but it sounded great and felt great to play. My mild dissatisfaction with its appearance was resolved with a simple pickguard swap.

Fender American Performer Honeyburst Telecaster.
The original black pickguard looked off to me, but parchment is just right.

Before making that pickguard swap, it was a guitar I loved playing, but not one I especially enjoyed looking at. Now it’s both, and my interest in owning a more aesthetically pleasing Telecaster is gone. Buying a new piece of plastic is not without its own issues, of course. Relatively speaking, though, it’s obviously more sustainable than buying a new guitar.

Learn a New Song

These days, when I find myself thinking things like “I could play this song if only I had this guitar,” I try to reframe the thought. Could I use one of my existing guitars to play the song in a different way? What other new song could I learn with my existing guitars?

By channeling unproductive thoughts into productive action, that GAS fizzles away to nothing. Learning a new song is a great way to remind yourself that no, you don’t “need” that new guitar. Actually playing a guitar you own feels so much better than fretting over your next purchase.

Buy Used if You MUST Buy Another Guitar

If the above approaches fail to cure a GAS flare-up, browsing the used market is a wiser choice all around. There are, of course, some risks associated with buying used guitars. Used guitars are occasionally offloaded by dishonest sellers who fail to disclose issues. Fake “partscasters” are sometimes sold as more expensive “authentic” products. If you simply end up disliking the guitar, it might also be difficult to return it to the seller.

For the most part, however, buying used is a great way to give new life to an unwanted instrument. More importantly, buying used means that an old growth tree isn’t felled just to satisfy your desire for something new. You’ll obviously also save money in the process that you can put towards new pedals or plugins (😉). Doing the environmentally conscious thing can be more expensive at the consumer level, which is a big reason why many people say they can’t do it, but that is fortunately not the case when it comes to guitars.

Conclusion

At the end of the day, it’s your money, and you’re free to do with it as you please. My intention in writing this post is not to judge those with large guitar collections, but rather to challenge the idea that GAS is little more than a harmless, amusing distraction. If you have ethical concerns about what excessive guitar consumption does to natural habitats, the simple, practical solutions offered above can help you enjoy your hobby in a more sustainable way.


Questions?

Do you have a question about the subject matter of this blog post that I didn’t answer above? Feel free to leave a public comment on my YouTube channel by clicking on the button below, and I’ll get back to you there as soon as I can.

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