This is the current state of my guitar collection (the 2 of 5-ish guitars that have survived the wear and tear of the past 30+ years).
The one on the left was my daily workhorse until 2020. I bought it in the 90s when my then-workhorse guitar (a blue mutant of a guitar made from many guitars) died and I needed a quick, cheap replacement (I had very little money).
Guitar Center always had a pile of Mexican Fenders in the front of the store for $199. I grabbed the one that felt best, even though I wasn’t crazy about the color, installed hot rails in the bridge so it could play metal, and off I went.
It lasted 20+ years before the frets wore down to nothing and part of the nut flew off when I played a low E. It now faces the prospect of either: my shoddy attempts at repair, a total neck replacement, or archiving to be used in the future for parts. It’s probably going to be a Partscaster now — a Fender guitar with parts that mutate over time to fit your exact needs/wants.
In my dreams (where I willingly spend 3X what the guitar was original worth) this Fender would get a 70s-style, maple neck with jumbo, stainless steel frets. Then, I’d probably go with the minimal, single-humbucker look for the body. After all, 95% of what I play is hard rock, so why deal with the hassle of the rest of the awful wiring inside a cheap Strat (the single coils sound terrible in this one)? Plus, I love the look of a well-designed single-humbucker guitar.
The one on the right is my “formal” guitar, an Ibanez JS-700, I bought used sometime around 2002. It sounds and looks perfect. It’s what I used whenever recording or playing in front of people. It’s stock, except for the P-100s, which replaced the way-too-noisy-for-home-recording P-90s. This guitar will make anyone sound ten times better than the really are. It’s that good. I learned songs on the workhorse to show off on the JS-700. It’s the opposite, to my mind, of the Partscaster. It’s a guitar you mold yourself to, to take advantage of its incredible sound, whether or not it fits your style or hands perfectly.
See any parallels here to creativity and what you’re into? From cameras to pens to apps, we face this decision all the time. It’s only when looking from decades on, you can see which actually got used most — what you got the most pleasure and “productivity” from.
The harder truth is that the tools you use are never Partscaster enough. If there are no compromises, there are fewer constraints to drive creativity.
I have to admit, $199 for 25 years of fun, learning, and creative output is pretty great no matter what I do next.