Tone snobs. Boutique braggarts. Posh posers. Those who engage in general cork sniffery are everywhere. They're not just guitar players, but we guitar players can be pretty brutal to each other because of it.
I must confess, that I occasionally request a cork so I can breathe in its bountiful bouquet and flavorful aroma when it comes to guitars and gear. However, it usually doesn't take long for me to realize that I have partaken of the highbrow snobbery and come back to earth.
Most of my tone snobishness is around having a particular brand. One area that I do tend to be a bit of a sniffer is with my Strat. Fender makes Strats. Nobody else does. A lot of companies make a most excellent Strat-copy that is sometimes a superior instrument to the ones that it copies, but it isn't a Strat. On the other side of that, I believe that my Epiphones are generally better guitars than my Gibsons that cost twice (or more) the price.
I have a couple of SS amps, a hybrid amp, and tube amps. Sitting in my music room, I prefer the sound of the tube amps. They have a warmer, more organic tone than my others. But put those amps in front of a crowd in a loud room, and the vast majority of those listening aren't going to hear the difference. I'm not currently playing out, but, depending on the gig (if I don't need an actual amp), I have a Fender Mustang Floor that I am very open to using. Its amp sims are really not that bad. Then, all I have to do is carry my guitar and something the size of a small pedal board, and I can feed the sound tech whatever tone I want them to hear.
Technology continues to move forward so that the SS sims and the hybrid amps are getting more and more believable, and they're difficult to tell apart from the tube amps these days. Don't believe me? Go test drive a Kemper, and tell me anybody in your audience is going to hear the difference in it and the 400 pound AC30 or Fender Twin you haul around. Not saying that the Kemper is cheap, but neither are those amps, and the Kemper only weighs like 15 pounds instead of 70.
I like pedals, and like every guitar player, I have a drawer full of them. Many don't get used often at all. I've got boutique pedals, regular pedals, and cheap pedals. Looking at the OD pedals, I hear slight differences in the Klon KTR, the Wampler Tumnus, and the EHX Soul Food. I can't hear enough of a difference in them to really justify the price difference between them. That's not necessarily good or bad. Some can hear the difference in them. I'm sure that Bill Finnegan and Brian Wampler can (otherwise why would they have made them). I can't. Consequently, the Tumnus is usually on my board because I'm a Narnia fan. However, my preference is the Soul Food because it's the cheapest of them. All three are good pedals. Correction, all three are great pedals. Use the one that fits your budget, sounds the way you want it, and makes you happy.
Which brings me to guitars. I've got guitars that are all over the price spectrum. As I've mentioned, my Strats are Fenders. I try to be honest to others and to myself and admit that it's because I want the name Fender on the headstock of them. That said, I have MIM and MIA, and they're all good instruments. I've got Epis and Gibson, and they're all good instruments. I've got "cheap" guitars that sound and play better than some of the expensive ones, and I've got expensive ones that there is a reason that they cost what they did.
Here's why I don't believe that I'm a tone snob. When I started playing back years ago, when you walked into a guitar store, it seemed there were the beginner guitars that everybody started with, and there were the pro guitars that everyone wanted to play into. The beginner guitars were definitely inferior instruments. They were generally made from inferior parts, they sounded like the cheap instruments that they were, and most of them you had to fight to play. I wandered into the local Guitar Center yesterday, and they still have a handful of those beginner type instruments, but, by and large, the gap between those less expensive guitars and the expensive ones seems to be continuing to close. Going back to my Strats, I heard somebody just this morning say that they "would never pay that much for a MIM Fender." They were talking about a MIM Fender that was almost as expensive as the lowest MIA Fender.
Now here's my problem with that mentality. The person making the comment was implying that the MIM guitar was not worth the asking price. To that person, I guess that may be the case, but when you look at it from an overall perspective, that MIM guitar was every bit as nice as some of the ones that are MIA. I've got MIM and MIA Strats, and some of the MIM Strats actually cost more than the least expensive MIA Strat. Granted if you adjust their cost for inflation, that may not be the case, but dollars out of my pocket at the time it is. If you look at the MIM guitars, the fit, finish, playability, and quality have been great in my opinion. How they compare to the MIA guitars can be argued, but, if you're buying it for the MIA on the back of the headstock, at least be honest enough to admit it. Just because that is on it doesn't meant that it is automatically the better guitar.
There are also cork sniffers on the other end of the spectrum. I know one guy who hasn't paid more than $300 on any of his guitars, but he's put $1000 in mods into every one of them. He also has nothing good to say about any piece of gear that would be considered boutique or even that cost more than what he's willing to pay. He also swears up and down that he's not a cork sniffer because he doesn't own any "nice" gear and his favorite amp is a SS amp. What he doesn't realize is that he's still a cork sniffer...he just drinks 2-buck Chuck.
To me, it boils down to the old saying that beauty is in the eye of the beholder. I like, and have, some really nice gear that cost enough I had to scrimp and save for it, and I have some really economy gear that I bought on the cheap with the change in my car's ashtray. My take is whether or not it makes me happy. My Strat says Fender on the headstock and not Suhr (or any other copy). That makes me happy. My Les Paul says Epiphone and not Gibson. That makes me happy. I have gear that falls all over the economic spectrum. I have pedals that cost $15 sitting on my board next to a pedals that cost $300. I have SS and tube amps. But it's because that's what makes me happy. I try to be open minded about gear. As long as I believe it's quality, then it's a contender.
Play what makes you happy.
That's not to say that tone snobbery is always bad. Heck, if the old urban legend is true that Eric Johnson can tell you that the battery in a pedal is a Duracell and not an Energizer, then I guess he deserves to be as much of a tone snob as he wants to be. I can't hear that difference, so I can't say that I care about that. Besides, I use a power supply anyways.
I also like Dominoes instead of the trendy neapolitan pizza place downtown. And In N Out and Whataburger most of the time instead of the gourmet burger place up the street where the burger by itself costs more than the entire combo at one of the other places. That's not saying that I don't like the gourmet burger. Truth is, the gourmet burger place has one burger that I would have to say is one of my all-time favorite burgers. I just don't need to eat that one all the time.
Snarf is a wannabe musician who currently resides in the great state of Texas. His wife is his favorite. He believes chocolate milk made from milk that is anything less than whole milk is basically water and deserves to be dumped down the sink so nobody has to suffer through it. He hates having to shop for clothes. But he has a thing for really cool bags, and, consequently, has more gig bags than guitars and a closet full of messenger bags and backpacks. He still misses his dog who was taken by cancer 5 years ago. Check out his Reverb shop and see if he has any gear he's trying to get rid of.