The Blood On the Bleeding Edge

The business of buying a new keyboard reminds me of something I think is pretty important about technology.

I think trying to stay at the cutting edge of music technology (or any technology) is generally a losing proposition. Synth models typically last only two or three years before they're replaced with something that is, at least on a technical specification level, more capable. Companies have to do that to stay competitively viable. That's just the way it is.

But on the financial side, the amount you spend by always having to buy the Next Big Thing is just enormous. Buying technology when its brand new is buying at the very top of the market when the price is at its peak. And when you sell it to buy the Next Big Thing a couple years down the road, you'll only get between 40% and 60% of what you paid for it. Do that for a number of years and you've lost a hell of a lot of money in depreciation. Its like taking half the money you spend on gear and throwing it down the toilet. Financially it makes more sense to buy used, preferably one generation behind so that you can take advantage of the guys unloading the Last Big Thing in order to buy the Next Big Thing. Let them take the depreciation hit. And when you sell that gear, its depreciation will be a lot less, typically only 5% to 20%.

You may be thinking, "Yeah, but now you're saddled with dated technology." So what? A Yamaha Motif XS is one generation behind, but I don't know anybody who would reasonably argue that its not still a powerful and great-sounding synth. I say if you can't make a compelling sound with that keyboard, the problem isn't the synth. In fact, you can usually go back 2 or 3 generations and say the same thing. The critical point is if you can make compelling music with it, everything else is bullshit. The audience just doesn't care about the instrument.

There are creative advantages to this approach as well. The truth is, I wouldn't get very far with my instruments if I dumped them for the latest thing every couple years. There are over 1000 pages of user manual associated with my new synth (not the Yamaha BTW). It usually take months for a person to master a complex synth; longer if they're not full-time musicians. In a couple years, I will have hit my stride in really knowing the ins and outs of it. I will have programmed all my sounds I use at gigs into it. Why give up that mastery and investment? I can be far more productive and creative musically by committing to things than I can constantly switching it up and having to re-learn and re-configure everything.

Are there disadvantages? You bet. One, buying used you don't get a warranty and you may not know how the gear may have been treated. Some people just can't deal with that uncertainty. I say you have to mitigate that risk by studying up on the instrument by reading user comments on the Internet so you have an idea about the reliability of the model in general. And then you also have to thoroughly vet your sellers and be willing to walk on deals that don't smell right. But in the end, you have to be willing to accept the risk. Buying used, I accept upfront that occasionally I will get something that will need repair. But over the years the amount of money I've saved buying used way, way, way outpaces the amount I've spent on repairs. In the long haul, unless you're an incredibly unlucky person, it just pays off. One notable exception, however, is that once something gets about 10 years old, it can be hard to find replacement parts. For that reason, I like to stay only one or two generations back. Any older and you may not be able to get something repaired.


  1. I love this post. You are so right. People are programmed to think a certain way and you have broke from that. As you said in the blog buying older technology is a risk as far as whether the owner took care of the gear. This is Big Grime from Korg Forums


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