Tips for Managing a Gear Collection

As a lifelong collector of gear and a professional spreadsheet ninja, it's safe to say that when it comes to keeping a catalog of one's gear, I Have Some Thoughts.

For many of us, part of the joy of collecting is in the ongoing act of organization. Gazing upon a carefully curated vinyl collection organized alphabetically by chronological album release approaches the divine. Chances are quite good that if you're a regular visitor of Reverb, you've got a gear collection, perhaps a large one. What constitutes a large collection is relative, but at a certain point we all reach, keeping it organized becomes both important and, dare I say, joyous.

For others, keeping an updated gear list for yourself can save you serious amounts of time, and in some cases, money. Who might find it useful?

  • Studio owners who make their living on having a wide array of microphones and other tools
  • Gear flippers with large and varied inventories
  • Gear loaners who let friends borrow their equipment
  • Those with gear in multiple locations, like a home studio, project studio, and rehearsal space
  • Those in a band or partnership with lots of intermingling pieces of equipment
  • Musicians whose band practices in a room with other bands
  • Touring artists with a need to provide detailed logs of road gear for insurance purposes

If you're a lifelong gear-flipper like me who's had one too many jazz cigarettes, pinning down whether that Gibson ES-335 was a '74 or '75 off the top of your head becomes… challenging. Plus, wouldn't it be cool to take a stroll down Gear Memory Lane and remember your way through the ones that got away?

Unlike collecting vinyl with a service like Discogs, video games with Pricecharting, or books with Goodreads, I felt the ability to catalog my gear collection was lacking via current means. RigShare is a fun and viable service, but ultimately missing the level of depth and malleability I require. Further, I don't love the idea of the details of my collection being that publicly available. [Ed: Update from RigShare: The site does have functionality to store collections privately.] With this in mind, and as a former Microsoftee and dyed-in-the-wool spreadsheet ninja, my first solution took shape over 10 years ago as a multi-tabbed Excel spreadsheet.

Before getting too deep into the locking nuts and tension rods of gear-spreadsheeting, let's think about what it means to collect.

Decisions, Decisions

With every purchase and acquisition we must make a decision, oftentimes involving serious cash. Ask yourself: What drives your collecting decisions?

Are you a completist who just can't stop until you've acquired every single variant of vintage Big Muff with *gasp* original packaging? Are you a fastidious studio owner whose livelihood depends on not only having a full stable of enough microphones to capture every tom and splash on Terry Bozzio's drum kit, but the ability to quickly and easily take inventory after the session? Maybe you're finally able to afford all of the coveted gear from your youth, but also have a few sticky-fingered children who love losing Mom's toys?

Though I do have a (large) handful of choice sentimental pieces, most everything on my list is up for trade for the right deal; guitars and microphones and effects are my hammers and nails, and I'm always on the hunt for the best (or, frankly, dopest) tools.

Very recently I sold off a large lot of mostly unused guitar pedals in one fell swoop in order to fund an upgraded interface. While seeing the empty spot on the gear shelf made me more than a touch sad, knowing I was able to turn those effects into something I can and do use every day is well worth the effort and sacrifice. It's a pretty excellent feeling to put no new money into the equation and still be able to get your hands on the missing piece of your creative puzzle.

On the other hand, some folks will never, ever sell anything once owned. There is no right or wrong here, as collecting for practical or sentimental reasons are equally viable. I ask myself before any deal: Am I going to miss this piece, and why? If you swap gear for long enough you will absolutely regret at least one or two sales, but by mindfully following these thought processes we can mitigate potential future issues. That said, you're SOL on that Rhodes 54 you basically gave away a decade ago for the Strat you never even loved. Sigh.

Spread the Wealth

Alright, time to talk cells and tables. A few years ago I migrated my gear document to Google Drive for accessibility and version control issues, but the underlying structure and functionality remain much the same more than a decade after beginning this endeavour.

The document needs at least two tabs; Owned and Sold. When something is sold, cut and paste it into the Sold tab. I've settled into the following; use as much or little as suits your collection:

  • Type: Recording/Live Sound, Guitars, Bass, Synths, Accessories, Amps, Tools, etc.
  • Year
  • Brand
  • Model
  • Serial
  • Finish
  • Case/Packaging
  • Paid: cash only; trades go in the Notes
  • Value: current market value. Reverb Price Guides (found on the bottom of product pages) are an excellent resource here.
  • Trade: X if you would trade. This is useful when trying to work out a trade with a fellow gear flipper.
  • Will: Perhaps morbid, but as I don't have an actual will and most of my life is tied up in gear, this is where I list out who would get what should I happen to shuffle off this mortal coil in an untimely manner.
  • Notes: Modifications, where/when purchased, trade details

This table is set up to easily be sorted and filtered. In the header I also keep a date modified entry, and entries for the sums of my Paid and Value columns for easy reference/a reminder of my addiction. Freezing the header and leftmost columns also helps with easy viewability and sorting, and entering your newest acquisition from Reverb is as simple as inserting a new row in the spreadsheet and logging pertinent information in each column.

A picture of the top row in the author's spreadsheet.

What isn't worth cataloging? The more fastidious among us might argue the answer to that is, well, nothing. Personally, I've found it prudent to avoid anything disposable, such as picks and strings, and I've given up on cataloging software. This made more sense when purchasing physical boxed copies of Reason or the Native Instruments Komplete package, but with downloads I've found it slightly difficult and unnecessary to track. Also, let's be honest: It became a little too painful to see how much I've spent on Universal Audio UAD plugins.

Again, this isn't one-size fits all; maybe you're really into orchestral instruments so you'll keep separate entries for Brass and Woodwind, or shudder at the thought of grouping your basses with your guitars and absolutely must keep those accounted for separately.

An inside look at Steve Vai's personal collection.

It might feel a little (or a lot) overwhelming at first, so take it in chunks. If you're the sort of person that likes to tackle the biggest part of a project first and also have a deep love of boost pedals, start with your Daredevil Hype and Xotic EP Booster. And remember: this is a living document. It will bend and change every time you open it, so don't feel like you have to do this all at once.

That said, it's easier to keep up than it is to catch up, so build updating your document into your standard gear acquisition process; when you've received payment, when the pickup or drop-off was made, when you delete the listing... reflect that all in your document. Any time I have ever listed something for sale, the first thing I do is go to my Gear List and copy the entry for that piece, which is such an incredible time-saver, not to mention that whole poor memory thing we talked about earlier. Sometimes you'll find you're missing some details in your document—that's cool, fill it out now.

Working backwards can be tough to retroactively fill in details or even items you've previously sold or traded, but it absolutely can be done. After your initial brain dump, take advantage of the resources you already have. Use your receipts, be that via your purchase history on Reverb, email exchanges with shady Craigslisters saved in your inbox, or Messenger chat logs from even shadier Facebook selling groups. Swipe through old photos and talk to your former bandmates and collaborators—you might be surprised how much you're able to remember.

Are you thinking, "This is cool, but I want to take this even further?" First of all, let's be buddies. Second, remember that spreadsheets are your friend, and now that you have all of this neatly arranged data, you can do cool stuff with it. Want to see how much of your collection is distributed across different types of gear? There's a pie chart for that. Need to compare the relative value of plain finish Fenders and dad-top Gibsons based on what you paid versus what they're now worth? Have I got a bar graph for you, friend.

Pro-tip: search is awesome, so press CMD + F (CTRL + F on PC), start typing in whatever it is you're looking for, and bask in the glory of highlighted results. Yes, you did sell that Rhodes for too cheap, Sarah. So did we. So did we.

Do you have your own method for cataloging your gear? Anything we missed? This is a living document and as such there is always room for improvement, so please let us know!

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