There’s a building on Harvard’s campus called Cruft Hall. Built in 1915, it housed Harvard’s radar lab during WWII. Over the years, new technologies were invented, rendering previous generations of equipment obsolete.
This old equipment began to accumulate in spare rooms and unused spaces in Cruft Hall. So much so that students passing by could see piles of unused technical machinery stacked in the windows.
And if a place filled with defunct machinery was called “Cruft Hall,” then that machinery itself must be called “cruft.”
Thus was born a wonderfully nerdy term to describe anything leftover, superseded, unused, out-of-date, and unnecessary.
The term is popular with computer programmers, who also speak of “technical debt,” the eventual consequences of cruft accumulation. Often technical debt needs to be resolved before a project can move forward.
Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about cruft, and how it pertains to my guitar playing. Like so many of us are, I’m mostly self-taught. In the twenty years I’ve been playing guitar, I have picked up a horrifyingly large amount of cruft.
My cruft is mostly a bad sense of time. I’ve written about it here, here and here, but the gist is that (self-taught + very little metronome use + a couple thousand solo shows) x (20 years) = shaky sense of time.
As a result, the technical debt I’m working off is a real bitch. This cruft is woven so deeply into my playing that it takes a huge amount of persistence to eradicate, and an equal measure of diligence to guard against accumulating more.
There are other forms of cruft & technical debt a guitarist should be worried about too.
The cruft of poor technique creates a technical debt that prevents you from playing clean & fast. Better to spend some brutal hours with a good teacher early on than to realize years later that you’ve screwed yourself. (Don’t be like me!)
The cruft of TAB & other shape-centric thinking creates a technical debt that prevents you from understanding music theory. This troubled me so badly that I built a whole course around the idea of resolving my guitar debt crisis in an enjoyable way. If you’re interested in early access (and a better price), be sure to sign up below.
And of course, there’s cruft in the original hardware sense of the word, in buying gear that you’ll eventually grow out of. Better to save your shekels and buy just one amazing guitar (amp, PA, mic, etc) than to own three mediocre ones that haven’t retained enough value to warrant selling. (And I hope you already know this, but buying gear shouldn’t put you into the regular kind of debt either.)
I’d love to know about the cruft you’re wrestling with. Leave a comment below!
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